Pine Bluff Commercial
Friday, November 24, 2007
By Rick Joslin
OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF
Despite its disadvantages — including a depressed economy, high crime rate and an unfavorable image — Pine Bluff is among “the many blessings” that Dr. Omar T. Atiq counts as he observed the Thanksgiving holiday.
Atiq, medical director of the Arkansas Cancer Institute, believes it’s the “negatives” of his adopted home town that provide the city a possibility to become the center of what he hopes will be an international positive.
“From some of our worst circumstances come our best opportunities,” said the 46-year-old Atiq, a Pakistan native who became an American citizen in 1989.
Grounded in that philosophy is the American Muslim Peace Initiative, which Atiq founded in June and serves as chairman. A lifelong Muslim, Atiq aspires to help bring accord to Pine Bluff and eventually to the world through the organization’s outreach.
Atiq believes that hatred is primarily generated along religious, racial and economic lines, but that most people have much more in common than they do differences.
“I believe that in our very essence, everyone is the same,” said Atiq. “But there is a general feeling that those who have been richly blessed may not care about those who are less fortunate.”
A former president of the Fifty for the Future civic organization here, Atiq is saddened by the struggles faced by “so many people in this area.”
“Because of my background — I was educated by Christian and Jewish instructors — I feel I can have a particular influence,” he said. “I want to help reach across and eliminate barriers.
“Race or religion doesn’t matter when we share a challenge. We need to define ourselves by our best.”
Toward that goal, Atiq’s organization recently donated $50,000 to the Delta Literacy Project, organized and directed by Dr. Fitz Hill, president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.
“Education is the key to curing our ills here,” said Atiq, who speaks of Pine Bluff with affection. “Our rate of illiteracy is appalling. Even some people who have completed high school can’t read or write.”
Meanwhile, the Peace Initiative has pledged $50,000 to the Heifer International Project, an Arkansas-based global effort seeking to alleviate hunger, poverty and degradation through gifts of food and income-producing farm animals.
It troubles Atiq that many persons of other religions view Muslims as supportive of terrorism and also despising other faiths.
“I want to dispel that perception,” said Atiq, who has worked with the American Jewish Conference in visiting Israel and publicly condemning terroristic acts.
“Through the American Muslim Peace Initiative, we want to provide assistance to others so that we can bring an awareness to the public that Muslim Americans are a part of the fabric of the American society.”
And while he longs to seemingly make the world smaller by bringing people closer — so they can move forward in peace by purging themselves of misunderstanding and resistance — he also wants to help celebrate and maintain diversity.
“God Almighty had the power and in His own wisdom created us differently,” said Atiq. “Who are we to judge Him? That’s His decision, not ours.
“We’ve all been blessed, and we should all have a sense of obligation. We must return to God the goodness we’ve received by sharing with others.”