In a decade, the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York has become so essential that it is hard to imagine a time when the group wasn’t in existence.

The members of MPAC have patiently and unselfishly given of their time and attention in order to foster a better understanding of Muslims and Islam.

As a community we should strive to embrace diversity. The world is getting smaller every day as technology brings us closer to the world’s struggles.

This reality couldn’t have been driven home to Americans more than after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Muslim-American community – who number about 25,000 in Western New York – lived under renewed scrutiny. Non-Muslims were confused, upset and accusatory.

The situation intensified two years later when six Lackawanna residents were convicted of providing material support to al-Qaida.

Against that backdrop, in 2004 Dr. Khalid J. Qazi founded the Western New York chapter of MPAC, MPAC-WNY.

Among the organization’s achievements, it has:

• Enhanced homeland security by conducting numerous training sessions for government officials and law enforcement personnel. This includes introducing them to Islam and its teachings and the diversity within the Muslim community, interviewing tips and techniques and ways to effectively engage the community.

• Conducted training sessions for business and academia and civic, cultural and religious institutions regarding Islam and Muslims.

• Acted as an effective liaison between the Muslim community and members of government agencies, especially the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.

• Co-founded Building Respect In Diversity Groups to Enhance Security.

• Initiated, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a certification course titled Community Relations Executive Seminar Training.

MPAC has donated thousands of dollars and tons of food to the Food Pantry of Western New York and Vive LaCasa, a refugee agency. The group has reached across to other religions to co-found of the Network of Religious Communities and fostered interfaith dialogue through the annual Tent of Abraham dinner.

In June, the Department of Justice honored Qazi with the agency’s top award for community service. He was the lone recipient of the Attorney General’s Citizen Volunteer Service Award. It is an honor well-deserved.

MPAC honored William J. Hochul Jr., the U.S. attorney in Buffalo, at its annual dinner that month for his dedication in developing relationships in the Muslim community.

Bridges to better understanding can be built. MPAC has proven that.