By Masood Rab, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
November 6, 2007–In an effort to bring the Black American Muslim (BAM) leadership together, MANA (Muslim Alliance in North America) was established under the leadership of Imam Siraj Wahaj of Masjid Taqwa, New York. Similar calls for cooperation between various BAM groups were issued before – by the National Association of Masajid in seventies and as late as year 2000 by Imam Jamil Al-Amin of National Community Atlanta. The idea of establishing MANA was deliberated thoroughly by the indigenous leadership through various meetings, discussions and finally a constitution was adapted and Imam Siraj Wahaj was elected as the first Amir of MANA in 2005.
MANAâ€™s first annual conference was held over November 2-4 weekend in a very attractive Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia. The theme for this conference was very appropriately – â€œThe State of the Blackamerican Muslim Community.â€ â€œThis conference shall be a historic conference, insha-Allah,â€ commented Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, Imam Canton Masjid, Michigan, reinforcing the optimism shared by many leaders of the BAM imams and leaders all over USA.
â€œAfrican American Muslim Community is part of one Muslim Ummah,â€ declared Imam Siraj Wahaj starting the khutbah in his usual highly charged delivery, â€œand most of the Muslims do not understand the communityâ€™s psyche. Allah commanded us to help one another in piety and not in sin. This is the goal of MANA.â€ He explained the need of MANA for the BAMâ€™s, as the agenda of the indigenous Muslims was not, â€œPart of the agenda of the other Muslim organizations of immigrants.â€ The purpose of this conference as he explained was, â€œTo explore the state of the Blackamerican Muslim community by (1) assessing and analyzing the issues, (2)Â discussing possible solutions, and (3) formulating preliminary plans for implementation.â€Â â€œThis conference is a working conference in which speakers andÂ attendees will put their heads together to look at issues and seek solutions.Â We want toÂ go beyond talk.Â We are striving to build an agenda for MANA from the ground up, by seeking your input and participation.Â IÂ want attendees to leave the conference knowing that some progress has been achieved in improving the Muslim community.â€
â€œI also hope that attendees will be energized to join MANAâ€™s efforts to develop programmatic solutions.Â The State of the Blackamerican Conference will focus on these issues in workshops and main sessions:Â marriage/family, criminal justice,Â education, youth, young adults, women, health, economic developmentÂ and the masjid,â€ he continued, â€œThere will be three main sessions, one banquet, four workshop sessions and one wrap-up session with reports and feedback.Â During each workshop session there will be five parallel workshops.Â
The Friday eveningâ€™s main session, â€œAssessing Our Past – Planning Our Futureâ€ presented three well known professors – Amir Al-Islam from New York, Aminah McCloud from Chicago and Sherman Jackson from Ann Arbor. The moderator for this session was Muhammad Khalifa, a Ph.D. candidate from Lansing. The three speakers noted the following key points about the past and future of the community.
â€œAmir: This evening is historic and pivotal for us â€“ I have the audacity to say that we (BAMâ€™s) moved from â€œback of the busâ€ to â€œback of masjid.” We are the majority of Muslims in America, but we are not in the decision-making bodies. Now, we have audacity to come together to discuss our issues. Everyone (Muslim immigrant) entering the country is inoculated to say that blacks have no values, no morals! Why MANA now? We say where have you been so long? The Black community is in peril. There is a crisis in the village. Every time I see a young black American tears come out. A quarter of them will end up in prison. We have to stop doing business the usual way. We need a Muslim Renaissance. We need to create new facilities, new seminaries to train our imams, we need new institutions for the 1200 or so persons coming out of the prison every month.
Aminah McCloud: There is a disconnect between us and the education. In our community, women have been in leadership position for families â€“ but we are crumbling. Those women who are not bringing up children need to be in school. We need to tackle the media. When ISNA realized that a change was needed, they put a woman in the front and that too, a white woman! Our women who could not go through high school came out with distinction from the schools in Madina and Syria.
Sherman Jackson: We do not realize our historical role and, therefore, we donâ€™t know what we should be doing when and where. We are the only example in the world of a community that went through forceful conversion. You do not see Islamophobia here in Philadelphia even with Daniel Pipes is located here, because of the presence of so many Muslims. Our community (BAM) is the pulse of Americaâ€™s conscience. We have a problem, we are a victim of modern slavery â€“ your story has been taken away from you and given a supporting role in someone elseâ€™s story. Letâ€™s disagree for the purpose of understanding. We donâ€™t recognize our role as that of Moosa (as) and Yusuf (as) in the most powerful and rich country in the human history to bring the message (Islam). We know the agenda of Muslims in Palestine and Afghanistan. But we donâ€™t know our own agenda. We are afraid to face reality. Itâ€™s okay to have fear, but take fear to Allah. Even Moosa (as) said to Allah â€œIâ€™m afraidâ€ when directed to go to Firâ€™oun. We have to rearrange our psychological furniture. We have to learn a few things and un-learn a few things. Our job is to build human being social structure. We need to re-orient, leader and follower. True leadership is about service to community for pleasure of Allah. We have lost followership to super/hyper individuality. Our greatest tragedy is loss of love.â€
The conference included other workshops and sessions and talented speakers from various BAM communities all over US with presentations on various community related topics. Notable among them were, Ihsan Bagby and Zaid Shakir. The conference attendance on Saturday was estimated to be more than three thousand.
In the sold out Saturday Banquet Dinner for 700, more than 200 chairs were offered to participate in the event without dinner. The racially charged speech of Abdul Malik was toned down by Imam Siraj Wahaj by crowning Altaf Hussain, an Indian-born member of MANA Diwan (Shura), as the most hard worker and deserving to be an â€œHonorary Black American.”