Honoring Dr. Metwalli B. Amer

Recipient of the Building Unity Award for Outstanding Contributions to Interfaith Understanding and Cooperation

Dr. Metwalli Amer

Dr. Metwalli Amer

Photo By Jill Wagner

A native of Egypt and a Muslim by birth, Dr. Metwalli B. Amer came to the United States in 1961 to pursue his master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. In 1969, after a three-year return to Egypt, Dr. Amer immigrated to the United States with his American-born wife, Rosalie, and accepted a professorship from California State University, Sacramento, in the economics department.

Once in Sacramento, Dr. Amer saw an urgent need for Muslims to unite and reach out to the larger community to accurately convey their Islamic faith and to have their presence felt politically. Because Sacramento was rapidly expanding in area and population, many Muslims who did not live near existing mosques found it difficult to attend them. Additionally, though Islam transcends ethnic boundaries, the mosques generally attracted Muslims of the same ethnicity. “I also felt that not much effort was done to project Islam and Muslims in a friendly and favorable light to the media and to fellow Americans of other faiths,” said Dr. Amer. “Creating a dialogue among members of other faiths was needed.”

In 1987, Dr. Amer founded the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM), a religious, nonprofit organization promoting Islamic teaching, understanding and unity among all Muslims in the greater Sacramento area. SALAM was one of the first Muslim organizations of its kind, promoting both unity among Muslims and cooperation with the greater faith community. On February 24, 1987, Dr. Amer filed the articles of incorporation, which clearly articulate these mandates: to give Muslims and their children a sense of identity; to project the positive image of Islam within the community; to create cultural awareness of Islam between Muslims and non-Muslims; and to serve as a liaison among Muslims as well as between them and other religious groups.

In his first correspondence to the Muslim community about SALAM, Dr. Amer wrote, “We need an organized effort to mobilize our energies and work toward a united front to convey with pride the teachings, values, and heritage of Islam to ourselves, our families, and friends. We need to reach out to the greater Sacramento area to get every Muslim involved in such mobilization. We need to join hands as one block … to put Islam in its proper place in our community. … Here comes the need for a strong and organized effort to achieve such a goal.”

Dr. Amer’s insights into the political as well as religious needs of the growing Muslim population in Sacramento have served his community well. “He has a good grasp and understanding of American politics,” said Dr. Ayad Al-Qazzaz, a sociology professor at California State University, Sacramento. “Metwalli understands that, to be effective and have a voice in American politics, you have to be organized and be a member of a group. You also have to build a coalition and common ground with other ethnic, religious and civic groups.”

Dr. Amer is the board chairman and imam of SALAM. For Muslims who attend SALAM, Dr. Amer has modeled the highest qualities of his own faith tradition as well as those of the American tradition. “He has the most amazing ability and capacity to see through conflicts and anger — and elevate you to see the positives of all involved parties,” said Kais Menoufy, president and chief executive officer of Delegata. “He is very humble and quiet. Even if you disagree with him, he’ll come back to you, as he has no disagreement with you, and start fresh again in many loving ways. One moment that I remember very clearly was Dr. Amer’s Friday sermon after the Fourth of July. I was so touched to hear him describe the national anthem of the United States in a way that turned it into a religious event for American Muslims. He told us a story of his trip to visit his daughter in New York and translated the national anthem in a way that was meaningful and personal to all of us as Muslims.”

SALAM also has been at the forefront with the faith community, media and the larger community in working together to achieve understanding and acceptance of one another. As a past president of the Interfaith Service Bureau, Dr. Amer has consistently encouraged the Muslim community to communicate with others. “Our organization has encouraged area Muslims to go out and share, to be responsive, and our effort has proven to be healthy,” said Dr. Amer. “We try to reach out to the community and to other religious and civic organizations, to establish a good working relationship and promote understanding. It is my hope that the community will take with them an understanding of our rich diversity in Sacramento, that they will be more willing to accept each other and members of the larger human family, regardless of any differences.”

This approach has been very effective. The Rev. Michael Moran of Spiritual Life Center noted, “Dr. Amer is an outstanding example of a devout Muslim man of faith and wisdom. Shortly after the tragedy on September 11th, we arranged for the children of SALAM and the children of Spiritual Life Center to attend each other’s houses of worship and get to know one another. They attended our church service and the Spiritual Life Center children visited SALAM and sang ‘Arms Around the World,’ and they offered a prayer for peace and unity. Today we feel a lasting kinship with the Muslim community.” Evidence of this lasting kinship is evident in Oak Park, where SALAM has partnered with Spiritual Life Center, Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Sikh Temple of West Sacramento to build a Habitat for Humanity House.

The children of SALAM created this quilt to cope with grief following the September 11th attacks. The Grief Quilt was displayed in Manhattan at the New York Public Library on the first anniversary of the attacks.

Courtesy Of SALAM

Extending his hand to the secular community as well, Dr. Amer invites others to learn about the Muslims around them. He is on the board of directors of the CSUS Commission for Human Relations and is a member on the advisory council of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), located in Los Angeles. He is a senior fellow of the American Leadership Forum as well. “As a member of Class VI of the American Leadership Forum, Metwalli Amer was loved and respected by the fellows,” said Doni Blumenstock, executive director of the American Leadership Forum. “We all valued the calm and peace he brought to our often lively and hectic sessions. He is a gentle but powerful presence. One memorable day in our yearlong program, he hosted the class at SALAM. We were enriched by the experience of the Muslim culture, food and worship. It was a gift we will never forget.”

As the president and public relations officer of the Sacramento Valley Council of Islamic Organizations, consisting of nine mosques and two local Muslim organizations, Dr. Amer has brought Sacramento-area Muslims together more than once to stand united in condemning terrorism. As one of the speakers at the “United We Stand” event after the burning of three synagogues in June 1999, Dr. Amer spoke for his community when he said, “an attack on one place of worship is an attack on all places of worship.”

Dr. Amer organized a Muslim memorial service at La Sierra Community Center on September 24, 2001 for the victims of September 11th, where area Muslims contributed $15,200 to the victims and their families. And for the past two years, SALAM also has hosted a very successful event inviting Sacramentans from other faiths to share a meal with Muslims during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Of her husband and his efforts, Rosalie Amer said, “Metwalli is always referred to as a Muslim American. But he has embraced America. On September 11th, it was so clear. He was immediately able to verbalize American political values through effective interfaith dialogue. He is a Muslim. But he is an American, too.”

Dr. Amer was selected to receive the first annual Building Unity Award for Outstanding Contributions to Interfaith Understanding and Cooperation for his many efforts to bring together the faith community of the greater Sacramento area. He exemplifies the highest qualities of his own faith tradition and the shared goals of building a society marked by compassion, peace, justice and concern for a sustainable world.

More from A Call for Unity

Event Schedule
September 13, 2003 | 8pm | Robert & Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis

Building Unity
A Monument to Public Service

Celebrate the richness and diversity of our community

Celebrate the richness and diversity of our community

Proclamation of Call for Unity Week

Thank You
We would like to express our sincerest gratitude, appreciation, and thanks to those who have unselfishly given of themselves and their time to make this evening possible.