By Mariam Abu Ali, ICNA Council for Social Justice
Men and women, young and old began trickling into the York College Performing Arts Center in Jamaica, New York. The diverse crowd was there to attend a conference on Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shariah held on Saturday, December 4, 2011. Once the program kicked off, there were nearly a thousand people in attendance.
They were ready for the line up of prominent speakers and proved to be an enthusiastic crowd. Br. Naeem Baig, the executive director of ICNA Council for Social Justice, discussed the new campaign Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shariah launched this year to combat Islamophobia.
Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, Imam Shamsi Ali spoke about the Islamophobes but also on how Muslims should not behave in a manner that adds fuel the fire. This can be done by actually practicing the teachings of our religion and not allowing our cultural practices to trump Islam.
Dr. Tony Kireopolous, Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, gave an insight into the historical perspective on religious freedom. He also said that Muslims have a great responsibility towards protecting religious freedom of minorities in Muslim countries.
Sheikh Abdool Rahman Khan gave an educational powerpoint presentation which defined Shariah, discussed its aims and dispelled common myths.
With a great sense of humor, both Sheikh Yusuf Estes and Sheikh Hassan Abu Nar provided comic relief while at the same time tackling various aspects of the Shariah.
In his usual style, the famous Imam Siraj Wahhaj spoke passionately about the responsibility of Muslims to understand Shariah in its true sense. He also talked about Islamic penal laws with a focus on the punishments, emphasizing that there must be true justice in a society in order for them to even be applied. Having no such system anywhere in the world, they cannot be imposed. He concluded the event by fundraising for the campaign.
Asr and Maghrib prayers were held outside on the lawn.
Guests thought the event was “inspiring” and filled with “a lot of information.” Asked whether they, as Muslims, knew what Shariah meant, many had a similar response. “Basically I knew what it meant but not in depth.” said Alam Ahmed. “It’s important for Muslims to understand Shariah. It will give everyone a better understanding of what shariah really is” he added. “Hopefully it makes a difference in the way people view Shariah” another sister said.