Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
November 30, 1997 | M, M.
According to its organizers, the 22nd annual convention of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) held in Pittsburgh, PA over the July 4 weekend was attended by between 3,000 and 4,000 people. A random survey of delegates by the Washington Report revealed that all conferees spoke English, most spoke Urdu and some spoke Arabic. All deliberations were in English.

The theme of the convention, “Win Duniyah, Win Aakhirah” (“Win Here, Win in the Hereafter”), symbolized the awareness, if not actual discomfort, of at least a section of the Muslim population that is growing up in capitalist (read materialist) America. The challenges that flow from the decision by Muslim immigrants to make their homes in North America were the principal topics of discussion, and word went out in almost every session of the three-day convention that “bridges have to be built” between Muslims and adherents of other religions in America without making any compromises on fundamental beliefs.
While not minimizing the inherent risks to Muslims, especially for the coming generations, speakers nonetheless emphasized the need for opening up America’s mosques and community centers to non-Muslims. Setting the tone of the convention, ICNA president Dr. Mohammed Yunus urged that Muslims close ranks and recognize that thisis not the “promised land,” but is instead a “land of promises” that affords an opportunity for Muslims to grow and spread the word of Allah.
In keeping with Islamic tradition, separate sessions were arranged for women within Pittsburgh’s David Lawrence Convention Center, where the convention was held. Similarly, separate meetings were organized for the youth.
However, participants met together in assigned areas during the general sessions. ICNA is known for its strict adherence to the word and spirit of Islam and its conservatism was visible during the meetings.
As in previous years, ICNA drew its members mostly from the East Coast and Canada. A heartening sign of increasing unity among North American Muslims was the participation of Dr. Muzzamil Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), former ISNA president Dr. Abdullah Idrees, and also a strong contingent of African-American leaders who included Imam Plemon Al Amin representing the Ministry of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Imam Jamil Al Amin from Atlanta, Imam Seeraj Wahaj from New York and Imam Khalid Griggs, chief editor of The Message, the ICNA publication.
While ICNA has given out a call to build bridges between “here” and “hereafter,” there are-more than cosmetic issues that separate groups within the American Muslim community. Efforts are being made, however, to see that conventions, conferences, seminars and workshops conducted by different organizations do not conflict in time and place.
All factions acknowledge that transplanted communities bring with them the baggage of divergent cultures and mores and are destined to go through a period of turmoil before pieces start falling in place. That such a community subscribes to a common faith, Islam in this case, is a positive underpinning, that eases the resolution of conflicts.
Speaking of the much more pressing issue of Islamic integration into North American society, Paul Kenny, a devout Catholic from Squirrel Hill, PA said at one convention session that “Islam is something that most of us have no experience with.” He said that after attending the ICNA convention, he realized that “people of different religious traditions have so much in common, but just let the differences get in the way.”
Dr. Jamal Badawi, an Islamic scholar and an academician from Halifax, Canada, urged Islamic organizations to place more emphasis on providing a holistic environment to the Muslim youth growing up in North America who are exposed to the temptations of a permissive society. “Just weekend schools are not enough,” he said. “Our children need to be engaged full-time and our homes should be the training grounds for them and our community centers should assist in their moral and intellectual development.” He emphasized, however, that these institutions should not become “havens of escape” or “islands of isolation” battening on attitudes of self-righteousness.
The major thrust of the ICNA convention was on spiritual regeneration and directing the coming generation to the righteous path. Less attention was paid to the issue that remains most under attack in the West: the role of women in Islam. A session in the women’s section of the convention, however, did discuss challenges facing Muslim working women in America. Very useful explanations were provided about the differences between the Western concept of feminism and the Islamic concept of motherhood.
Many of those who had attended previous ICNA conventions told the Washington Report that the 1997 convention showed not only that the organization was coming into its own, but also that signs of unity and organizational maturity between different Islamic groups were much in evidence.
Article Courtesy: wrmea.org

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