This post will conclude my written commentary on MANA’s 2nd Annual Conference.
The MANA conference was an important event, with a lot of important lessons and learning for the participants. I have a collection of miscellaneous and random tid-bits that I grasped. Obviously the time and logistics involved in getting the interviews left me with little quality time for attending lectures, so that’s an important disclaimer I thought I’d throw out first.
I’ll start off with a reminder from Sherman Abd al-Hakim Jackson, whose speech was the last one I heard. It was given as key-note speech at the banquet on Saturday night. Dr. Jackson reminder focused on healing and reconciliation. He also had important reminders for the immigrant community.
He reminded immigrants of a lesson from the Hijrah. When the Prophet (S) found Jews fasting on the day of the Ashoora, he (S) consulted his Medinan companions (the Ansaar) about why the Jews were fasting. He didn’t come to a conclusion on his own, neither did he have a discussion with his companions from the Muhajiroon. So, Dr. Jackson reminded immigrants that they need to ask the “locals” about “our realities”, to ask about the “history of America”, to ask about the “psychological history of America”, to “ask us”.
Dr. Jackson talked about “our social capital in America”, about the need to espouse that the indigenous Muslims are “from here”, they “belong here”, and never looked upon as alien to this society. He said that the “powers-to-be” have been extending Islamophobia and fear-mongering. And that without social capital, how do you confront these bigots?
He said that we need to look at America’s family laws, social laws, etc., but we can’t do that unless we “belong here. And that as indigenous Muslims, Dr. Jackson said we DO “belong here”, that we have the rights and obligations to determine the future of our existence in America.
Dr. Jackson then talked about the need for healing. That before we are Muslims, we are humans. And we need validation, we need love, because we have human feelings. He mentioned that there is a lot of “hurt” in our community, and that we need the recognition of this hurt and move on to healing. He reminded everyone of the value of the kalimah, “la illaha ilalla…”, and the power of being united under this declaration. That we are a community of love and that rancor is a curse. We can disagree, we can have more than one opinion but all in the wider circle of love. That we need to find a way to heal. Everyone has a role to play, each of us is a valued individual.
He talked about the siege of Medina in the battle of Khandaq, where the Sahaba, Nuy’am had the skills and “game” of an effective spy, who was able to create havoc in the ranks and morale of the enemies. The point being that Nuy’am was not a scholar or an academic or someone with a high rank among the Sahaba. He did something in his position of who he was, which no one, not Abu Bakr, not Omar, not Uthman, not Ali, not any other illustrious Sahaba could have done. It was his old “connections”, his past relationships with the foes, which allowed to be an effective “undercover agent”.
So, all of us have a role to play, we are all valuable. Some are good leaders, some are good workers, yet others are good mediators, and so on. We have to recognize and acknowledge the role others play. Everyone cannot be a Shaykh, and he mentioned two important roles:
Firstly, we have to recognize that something special is happening today [he was referring to Obama’s victory I believe], and that we are going to either capitalize the opportunities that the change presents or just let it pass us. That we stand up and be men and women who make decisions based on commitment to Islam, not fear. We have knowledge in our midst, we have to take responsibility to make decisions.
Secondly, we live in a pluralistic community. Imam Shafi’ said in a famous saying that his opinion was right, but with the possibility that it may be wrong, and that the opposing opinion was wrong, but with the possibility that it maybe right. We may not always agree on every detail of Islam, or how we can dress/marry/divorce, etc., but we are all in the circle of Islam that is large, accommodating many interpretations. We can’t allow legitimate differences (not something that is clearly against Quran and Sunnah) to divide us, but to learn to accommodate that. That there will be criticism but it must be civil and in the spirit of brotherhood. So we can become the community of love.
That was the gist of the speech, and I was not able to do justice to the spirit and power of Dr. Jackson’s oration. Besides the speech, the banquet was well organized. There was a moving video tribute to Imam WD Mohammed followed by a short speech by his daughter, Laila Muhammad. It was followed by an update from Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s wife who reminded everyone of the many Muslims who have been wrongly imprisoned in America, some in solitary confinement and harshest of conditions, completely disproportionate to even the crimes they have been accused of.
There was also a song by some sisters of “Progress Theater”. I don’t know how Islamic such a thing would be considered, but I’ll leave that to the people of knowledge. There were several stories in the powerful song, including the story of Malcolm X being asked if progress has been made, to which Malcolm X replied that a 9″ knife has been stabbed into us, and is it progress when the knife has been removed by 3″? Is it even progress if the knife was completely removed but no attempt was made to dress the wound?
The lifetime awards followed, and I was disappointed to learn that the “great one”, Mohammad Ali wouldn’t be in audience. Rather his son attended to receive the awards for both his father and mother. Mohammed Ali Jr then impersonated his father with a short quip, “you mean we came to Philadelphia just to receive this award”, and the audience enjoyed it.
Some other stuff that I gleaned:
- Asma Mirza, in a speech, reminded everyone of the MSA’s contribution to Muslim history in America. Interestingly, Dr. Ihsan Bagby instituted a program to train Imams a long, long time ago, with the first graduate Imam Siraj Wahaj!
- Imam Qasim mentioned an amusing story of an Arab tableeghi brother coming to him and telling him why people were not “dressed properly” in thowbs. And he told the brother that a child is born on the fitrah, born Muslim, and completely naked. He is not born wearing a thowb or a jelbabiya.
- Imam Faheem gave an interesting account of the the Declaration of Independence and what it contains. He reminded the audience that power in America rests on two parchments: the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. And only those who are violating what is in the parchments are truly unAmerican. That we need to look into these documents.
He mentioned that Philadelphia was the birthplace of America’s liberty, where the founding fathers did their “shura”, resolved upon with their own lives. They were not ignorant men.
He reminded people that politics is about self-determination, about determining what you want your future to look like. Do you want to go with someone else’s priorities? Do you want others to make all the decisions about your future? Don’t we all want security? Freedom liberty?
He said that for some people the name “America” has become like a vomit. And he said that these people have been framed! Why should I walk away? This is “my investment”, “my country”, “our power”, “our privileges”. He said America is not the government. You can demand change and that is America.
He asked why do we need sponsors? It is time for American Muslims to say that this is our agenda, that this is our destiny. He also mentioned several examples from the founding fathers and early American greats in showing tolerance about Muslims and Islam.
He ended with a parable about the stone-soup, saying that MANA is the stone, and that everyone has something to contribute to the soup.
- Imam Zaid Shakir had a slide-show on America post-Obama. I had some of his slides in the MANA photos. I missed most of it, but in essence it was about the need for Muslims to be engaged and the diversity of the Muslim community and need for recognizing that diversity.
- Rami Nashashibi, Executive director of IMAN, presented an engaging discussion on community organization, reminding people of Obama’s background as a community organizer himself. He talked about the tyranny of misogyny, of the need to ban cynicism, ban on “okie-dokies” and the need to become relevant. He also mentioned about the need to engage politically and how a dozen people gather a make-shift Masjid to debate whether they should participate in local council elections that would elect a person who would decide whether the permits would allow the Masjid to exist (the point of being out-of-touch with reality).
There was also the interesting drama performance “Unveiled: Stories from the lives of Muslim Women (Bayyinah Muhammed, Coordinator) a multi-ethnic cast of Muslim women explore the “mysterious” lives behind the veil through the dramatic performance of poems, narratives and ensemble pieces. The performance attempts to deconstruct some of the myths pertaining to Muslim women who walk among us veiled, providing an illuminating tapestry connecting all through the threads of humanity.” One of the performance was about the MSA, referred to as Muslim singles association, and how a sister romanticizes about what the salam from a brother meant about his interest in her for a wife (as we say in Urdu, she cooks a “khiyali palau”). The story then shifts to what the guy is thinking after saying his salams… about what food he’d like to eat! Quite hilarious.
There is a lot more to say but the post is already rambling and quite long. So, I urge everyone to get to know MANA, understand the different projects that you could get involved in, and it doesn’t matter if you are African American, Arab, immigrant, first generation, third generation, man or woman, as long as you believe in bettering the Muslim situation in America, and consider this to be your home, then you are welcome. Check out the SHARE (social service and advocacy institution), Community Re-entry Program (to decrease the rate at which Muslims return to prison and to help ex-offenders become contributing members to the Muslim community and society in general), National Campaign for Healing and Reconciliation (a campaign to improve indigenous Muslim relations and indigenous-immigrant relations), Healthy Marriage Initiave, and much more. Check them all out on MANA’s website. Don’t be a stranger!