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Chicago: 43rd ISNA Convention

By Masood Rab, Exclusive to Muslim Media News Service(MMNS),

The theme for 43rd ISNA convention was, “Achieving Balance in Faith, Family and Community.”

The convention was held in Chicago suburb Rosemont, over the labor-day weekend, September 1-4, 2006.

The event has assumed more significance over the past years–ISNA declared during the event that Dr. Ingrid Matteson had been elected the first woman president of the organization–of course the “elections” were not open.

The convention offered sessions on many diverse topics over the weekend for all ages and interests. Most of the sessions for adults were set up around the subjects of Muslims and America; interfaith partnerships; political processes and human rights.

The main session of the convention on Saturday night is usually the highest-rated in attendance, and an opportune time to raise funds for the big ISNA budget.

ISNA brings all the key speakers into this session. This year it was no exception. The convention was also abuzz with rumor-mill news that the former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, was in town and would address the convention.

The Saturday night session was entitled, “Achieving Balance in a Troubled World” and included many of “the usual” speakers, Abdullah Idris; Hamza Yusuf; Zaid Shakir; and others.

Before the session started, Ingrid Matteson was introduced as the new President of ISNA and she set the evening program rolling with a very humble and modest speech accepting the responsibility placed on her shoulders.

She stated that all the elected persons work on a voluntary basis and that they need community support to carry on their duties. The program committee had courageously invited Robert Fisk, the noted Middle East columnist of the British daily newspaper The Independent.

In his speech, Fisk blamed Hezbollah for starting the war and Israel and the US for using the war to destroy Lebanon, kill civilians and create the current crisis in Lebanon.

What is happening in the US is the complete rejection of international laws on prisoners and torture, he said. The international media is not reporting the stories on both sides of the war, because the “embedded” reporters are on the side of Israel and the US and they have free access to electronic media. He received thunderous applause whenever he criticized Blair, Bush and Israel. The US Muslim community appreciates and showers their praise on anyone, especially non-Muslims, who agrees with the mass-feeling of dislike for Bush, Blair, and Israel.

Former-President Syed Mohammad Khatami was ushered into a security-enforced room away from the main podium of the convention.

For a brief hour, the convention, as pointed out by Syed Sayeed of ISNA, who introduced this keynote speaker, became ISNA A’sharia.

After his introduction as an ambassador of the “Dialogue of Civilizations and Cultures,” and his coming to the secured podium, a member of the audience stood up and paid an extempore glowing tribute to Mr. Khatami in Arabic, “you’re among the best of the humans, Ayatu-Allah Khatami,” followed by enthusiastic applause by the audience assembled in the small hall.

“As Salaamu Alaikum–good evening, brothers and sisters,” Mr. Khatami started in English, “it is my pleasure to be speaking with you–to the fellow Muslims and citizens of the world in this great city of Chicago; I am totally honored.”

Then he continued his talk in Farsi with interpretation in English.

“It is a pleasure to speak with such unanimity in a gathering of knowledgeable and cultured Muslims in America. I regret that this discourse is taking place in a world overcome by anxieties, apprehensions and frustrations of humankind–both Muslim and non-Muslim–resulting from the insecurities and injustices. We must elucidate who “we” are as Muslims and who “they” are and how can this “us” and “them” come together to build a better world.

The world before us is facing new as well as old predicaments from the bitter reign of the age of colonialism to today’s logic of double standards, from recurring catastrophes in every corner of the globe–the most obvious examples of which as seen today in Lebanon and Palestine–to the degenerating circumstances in critical spots of the world, from power-mongering and subjugation to the unrestrained support of despotic and racist regimes, from disregard to the rights and repute of human beings to intensification of poverty, deprivation and other instances to such calamities and trepidations–one must add the harrowing devastations and tragedies as of 9/11, the misuse of religion as a tool of violence and terror, and the emergence of various forms of destruction resulting in extremism and doctrinism,” Mr. Khatami continued.

“Amidst all this, Muslims who believe in the message of the Prophet (s) of righteousness, justice, peace, compassion towards mankind at all times and at all locations–they must seek new identity in order to deliver mankind,” Mr. Khatami said, “work for humankind in a world where people must feel safe and respected just because they are human beings.”

“It has been rightly stated that the Islam of the media is an unrealistic image of Islam–[this] is the greatest predicament of our time. Media’s Islam resulted from a one-sided understanding of Islam in solitary cliché and vicious way. At the same time, the image of the west is revamped and introduced in an assortment of ways–caring and diverse. The political image of Islam that is displayed is merely an imaginary version of Islam, which is void of compassion, alien to modernity and dodges dialogue,” he observed.

He blamed current U.S. foreign policy for triggering terrorism and violence in the world. “As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence,” Mr. Khatami said.

He said the American Muslim Community can play a key role in promotion of unity, justice and security for humanity “through active participation in the social arena.” They can form civil lobbying groups by working with other fair-minded Americans. He said Muslims must forge a new identity that embraces the modern world, tolerates other religions and works toward peace.

About 9/11, he said, “As president of Iran I was among the first leaders to condemn the attacks of September 11 as a barbaric act. I knew this inferno would only intensify extremism and one-sidedness and would have no outcome except to retard justice and intellect and sacrifice righteousness and humanity.”

Mr. Khatami’s message to the Muslim community in particular and the West in general is to shift the focus from the “clash of civilizations” to a “dialogue of civilizations and cultures.”

The US and British policies of using mighty force in the war of terror in the Muslim lands are creating more extremists and radicals in these lands.

The remainder of the convention program went on smoothly, after Fisk and Khatami. The attendees were back in the bazaar in throngs the day after the main session on Saturday, looking for bargains. This was also the first for many non-Muslim vendors to partake in benefiting from the Muslim “green.” It was not just the jewelry, clothes and the handicrafts that were being sold; Robert Fisk and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now were also big-time beneficiaries in the sale of their books. People lined up for an hour sometimes to have Robert Fisk autograph his books.

The finale of the convention was the entertainment on Sunday night–comedians, standup lady rapper and singers. Aw! What a feeling – Muslims are becoming a part of the landscape and are as happily confused as ever.

Fisk, in a follow up article on the ISNA convention for The Independent, summarized his thoughts about the Islamic Society of North America–that it is distinctly pro-Saudi.


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