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The Preface: Blogging MANA’s (Muslim Alliance in North America) 2nd Annual Conference, Philadelphia, 2008


 Click here for complete coverage of MANA’s Second Annual Conference

The Preface: The next few days will be dedicated to blogging the MANA conference, that ended earlier today. While I am still recovering from “pretender-journalist”-fatigue, I thought I would at least introduce the topic while its still fresh in my mind.

manacard.jpgMANA (Muslim Alliance in North America) held its 2nd annual convention in the city of “brotherly love and sisterly affection”, Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Philadelphia of course is a historically significant city, and is now significant to Muslims for the obvious and large presence of Muslims in the city, to the point that some call Philly a “Muslim city”. Thus the site’s choice was strategic in this sense.

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A few months ago, we decided that it was necessary for to blog about the conference, because of its importance in the “indigenous” community. Also, since we have seen a flavor of what we loosely call the “indigenous-immigrant” divide on the internet, we felt that MM could provide an online platform to first recognize, then heal, and finally build the bridges between the two communities moving forward– if only to play our small part.

Being closest to Philadelphia, the blogging responsibility fell on me, and I was on my way to MANA Friday afternoon with Yasir Qadhi, who was scheduled to speak at the Conference for the first time. The invitation extended to Shaykh Yasir by MANA was in itself a step forward for both Yasir and MANA, as MANA recognized the need to diversify both its guest-speakers and its audience, and YQ recognized the need to be engaged with the “forgotten” community.

The two days that I was at the conference were focused on interviewing several of the guest-speakers at the Conference, including: Imam Johari Malik, Joshua Salaam, Esam Omeish, and many others. While I also had Ihsan Bagby, Sherman Jackson, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Zaid Shakir and Siraj Wahaj on my list of desired interviewees, it became quickly obvious that these individuals were engrossed in conference activities, and I’ll have to get who I can get. I also took hundreds of photos.

I am especially thankful to Imam Johari Malik, one of the key figures in the conference and MANA itself, for affording nearly 40 minutes of private time to give an interview on the conference, and on a tangent, discuss the blogosphere. It is great to see our Imams in tune with both the old media and the new media. And more importantly to recognize that the future belongs to the “new media”, which still includes the blogosphere, though who knows what the internet will evolve into tomorrow! I am also thankful to Br. Sultan Mohammed, nephew of the late Imam WD Mohammad, who arranged spiffy press-passes for our MM contingent and tried his best to arrange some interviews for us.

First, an important disclaimer and recognition: I am not quite cut out for field-journalism! There are some things that you can do, and there are others that aren’t quite in your “area of expertise”. Writing in your private space, at your own pace, is quite a different task from grabbing people on the spot to interview on video, while still trying to take notes and observations about conference organization, speakers, speeches, etc. Yeah, you can have a few canned questions, but the need to improvise with different “types” of interviewees can be quite challenging. I also realized that while my cousin Urooj (my helper and “amateur photographer”, may Allah reward him for his patience and stamina) and I were graciously given press-passes, our teeny camera and camcorder were no match for the professional equipment that REAL press people were carrying around! It was almost embarrassing, but hey, this is only a hobby (I think!). Note to myself: take equipment that at least appears serious next time!

Not only was I a bit unprepared and unbecoming of a “real” journalist, the pressure was redoubled when Imam Johari announced and praised the presence of Muslim Matters in front of a large audience (700+) in a key-note evening session on Friday. This led to one of the moments you want to put behind yourself as soon as possible! As the Imam was mentioning MM, he also seemed to be looking around, as if suggesting that people from MM stand up and be recognized. Shaykh Yasir who was sitting next to me started nudging me about it, so I finally just stood up and waved. Well, as you might have guessed, I am not sure recognition was on Imam Johari’s mind, because he didn’t quite notice me and moved on! Another note to myself: wait for a specific “call of recognition” before standing up in a big crowd! :)

Overall, and remember this is only a preface, I enjoyed my experience in meeting people, getting different perspectives, and above all, breaking out of my “regular” circles, to be in an Islamic conference where I was a minority in a sea of “indigenous” African-American brothers and sisters. I enjoyed meeting Br. Tariq Nelson again, appreciated the private pep-talk from Imam Johari Malik, met some other people that I only kind of knew from the internet (like Dr. Esam Omeish), Abu Muslimah (who came as an attendee), and networked with many others. My new, spiffy MM business cards came in really handy too alhamdulilah (shout-out to Saqib & iMuslim for creating the design). Some other highlights and memorable moments:

  • Sitting at the banquet with Malcolm X’s personal dentist, Br. Abdul Salaam (I found this tid-bit him on the net thanks to Shaykh Google). He was sitting by himself on the banquet table no. 71, the table to which I was assigned. He was happy to see some company, and we immediate hit up a conversation, talking about Malcolm X, Imam WD Muhammad, Chicago and the future overlap of MANA and WD Muhammad’s own conference. Pretty cool to meet someone who had literally had a hand in shaping Malcolm X’s image :)
  • Being overwhelmed by a community, which for me (and I am sure many others), didn’t really exist when I thought of Muslims in America. Yes, we all know “they” exist, but how much have we really interacted with them, and gotten to “know” its people, and its history?
  • Being as much of a minority in MANA as I remembered (and some will remember this) at QSS conferences– the former being a sea of African-Americans, and the latter a sea of Arabs.
  • Seeing history in the making, of real changes, of real social impact that  is part of MANA’s agenda– a conference that is not just talk, but rather walking the talk. Take the example of the “Healthy Marriage Initiative”, for instance, which all the Imams at the conference became signatories to.
  • Recognizing that MANA wasn’t interested in breaking out a new movement based on color; rather indigenous itself was an evolving definition, one that included 2nd generation desis, Arabs, and one that was even expansive enough to include immigrants who believed in being part of the American social fabric, like Br. Altaf Hussain (not to be confused with Altaf Hussain, the exiled leader of MQM; trust me, those two are as different as clay and fire (in that order ;) ).
  • Understanding MANA’s interest in the uplifting of Muslims in the inner-cities, who are predominantly African-American. And who better to understand the issues and needs of these inner-cities than the people of MANA? Though we should remember, and this I hope will continue to be MANA’s future, that the responsibility for helping these less-fortunate brothers and sisters lies in the hands of all Muslims, not just BAMs. What more MANA is about, can be best described by MANA (see “About Us“). Readers will get a better feel of MANA’s objectives through the interviews inshallah.
  • And finally, listening to Sherman Abdul-Hakim Jackson’s roaring speech at the banquet, where he tied many threads together for a message as coherent, deep and lasting as only he could have put together. A message that resonated not only with the BAMs in the audience no doubt, but also with the immigrants and indigenous Americans in the making!

May Allah reward all the organizers, speakers and participants of MANA for putting together quite an event.

Stay tuned for more inshallah (soon)…

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").



  1. MR

    November 30, 2008 at 10:19 PM

    Can’t wait!

  2. Tahira

    November 30, 2008 at 11:23 PM

    I look forward to reading more about the MANA conference.

  3. Amad

    November 30, 2008 at 11:38 PM

    No more pressure folks!! Just kidding :)

    I hope Allah allows us to deliver a bit of the spirit of unity and reconciliation inshallah.

  4. OsmanK

    December 1, 2008 at 2:56 AM

    I never knew philadelphia had a muslim presence.

  5. sis

    December 1, 2008 at 4:21 AM


    Were the lectures recorded?

    This conf. seems to have been integral in the dialogue of Muslims in America. Share the benefit, y’all!

  6. Al-Madrasi

    December 1, 2008 at 8:41 AM


    “pretender-journalist”, you are qualified as full journalist, your articles are far better than many articles. may Allah reward you here and hereafter for all your good work. Looking forward to listen to the interviews. Barakallahu feek

  7. abdul-alim

    December 1, 2008 at 11:05 AM

    As Salaamu Alaykum,

    Brother Amad, to me you are the best journalist in this world, and may Allah reward you for covering MANA. I haven’t heard one word from any of those so-called full journalist. Not one word from anybody, except tor the Muslim radio programs in Philadelphia this Saturday. I’m also, looking forward to listen to the interviews.

    Was Salaam

  8. EAUSTRIA S. Sabir

    December 1, 2008 at 11:49 AM

    Asalaam Alaikum Please send me information on the mana conference that was held in Phile. this past week end. On work shops etc. .Look to hear from you soon. As Salaamu Alakum.

  9. AnonyMouse

    December 1, 2008 at 2:12 PM

    Masha’Allah, both the conference and your own experience sound like they were quite exciting! JazakAllahu khairan for taking on this task which you clearly found out of your league, purely for the sake of Allah and MM ;)

  10. aideh

    December 1, 2008 at 2:28 PM

    good intro. I’m looking forward to reading MM’s insight/thoughts on the MANA Conference.

    I share the sentiment of feeling like the minority in the indigenous community that predominantly makes up MANA.(It makes me think, how must they feel when they are the minority, majority of time and how they must feel when their issues are rarely if ever addressed within communities that don’t contain as many indigenous Muslims) In fact, my family and myself were present at the 2nd annual conference of MANA (dang they did pretty good for only their second!) as well and voiced exactly the same feeling to one another. I can’t deny it. It was a weird feeling, especially coming from Houston where the community is very diverse yet very Indo-Pak (maybe more Pak than Indo) majority in terms of certain Islamic events. And even though we ourselves are Arab, we seem to have gotten used to being with Pakistanis/Indians and have some kind of understanding into the South-Asian-American culture. However,(disclaimer) those feelings we did not perceive as negative in the least. We saw it in a positive light, a point that was also mentioned in this article, that we got to see part of the Muslim community in a light that we rarely ever get to see. It was humbling and enlightening to say the least! It made me realize how important it is that Muslims of all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds strive to understand and communicate with one another in order to sincerely act as one Ummah// Instead of acting like parts of a jigsaw puzzle scattered all over the place, not caring about coming together an act of coming which can only serve to complement and complete one another.

    I enjoyed the main event titled “Bridging the Ummah” in particular as well as the first main event (the title alludes me). I had actually contemplated skipping the first main event, expecting a boring and long (it was long but in a good way) introduction that has nothing to do with anything and makes teens slip out of their seats unheard and unseen while their parents are snoozing in their chairs—I guess experience from some other conferences (no names but its not the one in Dec alhamdulillah) made me have those apprehensions. But I’m glad I gave it a chance and I’m glad to say I was happily surprised (and not bored!)

    All in all, i thought it was a very well-organized event masha’Allah. I was so surprised to hear it was only their second conference with the apparent success that they had not only in numbers but also in terms of organization, (they actually start on time and not thirty minutes after the lecture was scheduled to be–excluding Jumuah Khutbah/Salaah) and the diversity of topics (and very interesting!) and speakers. Its rare to find these topics being addressed (and by their respective speakers). Even the fashion in which these topics are addressed are very unique and refreshing. MANA is off to a great start! May Allah continue to make them successful in all their hard-earned efforts in bringing together the Muslim Community and bringing a positive light to a part of the Ummah that is just as important and fundamental as their immigrant counterparts and their 2nd and 3rd generation offspring..

    haha I just wrote a mini article of my own but there’s so much I felt and learned that I just couldn’t resist sharing.

    JazakomAllahu kheiran, I appreciate the coverage and I look forward to reading about it, insha’Allah.

  11. Amad

    December 1, 2008 at 3:58 PM

    jazakumallahkhair everyone for your kind comments. I think the interviews will be a good reminder about the pretender part :)

    Abdul-Alim, I wish I saw you there… if I wasn’t so completely tied-up, I would have come and picked you up for it. May Allah allow us to meet again soon. For everyone’s benefit: Br. Abdul-Alim was the first person I met in Philadelphia when I relocated from Texas to the Northeast. I had asked for contacts on the AlMaghrib forum, and Br. Abdul-Alim was the first to respond. Not only that, his hospitality to a stranger-brother, i.e. me, was immense. And that was one of my many wake-up calls that brotherhood extends beyond our own culture and our own desi or Arab cliques. Br. Abdul-Alim represents the best of the African-American brothers that Philadelphia, the “American-Muslim city”, has to offer :)

    Br. Abdul-Alim, I would like to add that one thing we learned from Texas Dawah Conventions is that you have to go AFTER the journalists. We know that the media is not running after Muslims to cover positive events, so I hope inshallah that MANA will build bridges with journalists/editors of Philly Enquirer and other media outlets in Philadelphia. I hope they had sent out a press-release to all media outlets.

    While our first experience at Texas Dawah was in being FORCED to respond to allegations, in future years, we had positive coverage nearly every year in Houston Chronicle. Part of the credit goes to brothers like Iesa Galloway there. This reinforces the need for a strong Public-Relations person within the organizational team, someone who is trained and preferably already has links with people in the local media.

    Sr. Aideh, I am glad that you wrote. Makes our burden a bit easier and adds more dimension to our experiences. If you would like to write a full post on it, we would definitely consider posting it… but its all about timing… so if you can get it in by today/tomorrow, that will be great i.e. IF you like to write something.

  12. Farhan Khan

    December 1, 2008 at 5:17 PM

    I guess I’m just totally naive about this immigrant-indigenous divide. I never noticed it at my masjid…at least amongst the HS kids I’ve looked after at our masjid. They really don’t care about race and such, to them its like “The best amongst you is the best at basketball”.

  13. abdul-alim

    December 1, 2008 at 6:18 PM

    As Salaamu Alaykum,

    Brother Amad, thank you for the accalades, but that was not me, it was Allah’s Qadar. Also, we are commanded to “want for your brother what we would want for ourselves”. So, when you ask for help, how could I not try to help you if I could. Allah has always helped me. Therefore, it was my pleasure to be of any assistance to you (the servant of Allah) that I could.
    When I talk to some of the Imans I know I will tell them about your insights, advice and the need for a strong Public-Pelations person. I think that is truly needed.
    All weekend long, I told my wife I felt like I was missing out on something by not being at MANA. I would have probably been in awe to see (finally) the Imams that I’ve listened to on tapes and CD’s for so many years, in one place. Insha-Allah I’ll be there next year.This is great thing that you are doing ( Islamic Journalism) and I pray that Allah reward you in this world and the next for your efforts. Also, I’m looking foward to seeing you again, Insha Allah.

    Was Salaam

  14. usman

    December 1, 2008 at 11:00 PM

    i actually know a few ppl who went from my community…inshallah i will ask them how it was…and leave a few comments here

  15. Abu Dharr

    December 3, 2008 at 10:00 AM

    Assalaamu alaikum everyone,

    I think it’s important to bear in mind that, while Philadelphia is being ‘discovered’ by some Muslims as the “Black Baghdad” of the US, and while other Muslims are smug or indignant that it took the immigrant-Muslim community this long to ‘discover’ this – there are differences amongst prominent black groups under this umbrella called MANA.

    I could go into this in detail – but that would be time consuming, and in my opinion, not very beneficial for anyone. Let it be said – some of those “differences” are substantial, going beyond mere differences of opinion in fiqh. But, as our tradition informs us, differences are a MERCY. And like any Divine mercy, a thankful heart is incumbent on us all.

  16. Amad

    December 3, 2008 at 10:29 AM

    JazakAllahkhair Abu Dharr. But I didn’t quite understand the first paragraph… I mean not about the differences, but what you mean about the discovery in Philly?

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