Walt Disney World's Hilton Hotel in Orlando, FL was a challenging location for the Islamic Society of Central Florida's (ISCF) and the Islamic Society of North America's (ISNA) third annual conference from Dec. 21 to 25. How could organizers entice families to attend conference presentations instead of exploring Disney World in the mild Florida weather?
While the conference theme, "Islam: Model Community--Successful Family," was chosen in early spring 2001, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks organizers and speakers decided to address as well the new problems faced by American Muslim families. As a result, Mickey Mouse lost a lot of Muslim visitors whose urgent need for current information and advice outweighed even the attractions of Disney World.
Some Muslim attendees were afraid their gathering might invite outside trouble. ISCF president Imam Muhammad Musri and Dr. Zuliqar Ali Shah, president of ICNA, along with conference organizer Heba Ali and other staff met that possibility head-on, posting guards in the lobby and checking conference badges carefully at the door to assuage any fears conferencegoers may have had.
The action-packed convention included programs for Muslims of all ages and interests. Imam M. Bashar Arafat, president of Civilizations Exchange, and Imam Benjamin Perez, a Native American Muslim from Oakland, CA, discussed the importance of interfaith dialogue. Dr. Muqtedar Khan, secretary of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (MSS), and Dr. Louay Safi, MSS president, discussed the role of progressive Muslims in a session entitled, "Bridging the Gap: Islam and America."
Dr. Khan declared that as a result of Sept. 11, one-third of the U.S. Bill of Rights had been abandoned. The American constitution used to guarantee rights for all those who live in America, he said, but as America redefines itself, non-citizens as well as Americans are losing many freedoms. Dr. Khan advised the Islamic community to examine what it means to be American Muslims. Muslim immigrants don't just live in America to make more money, he said, but to enjoy the freedom and quality of life available to Americans. "I can talk to Muslims anywhere in America about Islam and I won't be shot because I'm talking `unIslamic,'" Khan explained.
"The colonial experience took the Islam out of us," Khan stated, and he recommended a revival or a return to Islamic roots "to make Islam more central to us." After 150 years of progress, how could Muslims in the end produce the Taliban? he asked rhetorically. If Muslims had applied the early Islamic principles correctly in Afghanistan, Dr. Khan argued, they could have had a successful civil society.
Dr. Louay Safi noted that Islam and Christianity share a core group of values: both believe in moral freedom, equal dignity for human life, freedom, charity, family and honesty. Secularization in the Western world has resulted in a great society, freeing people from the domination of one religion, Dr. Safi said. Nevertheless, he pointed out, there are anti-Islamic forces in the West, with Zionist and Christian evangelical organizations working to distort Islam's image. The Taliban and the Sept. 11 hijackers made it easy to depict Islam falsely as a religion of intolerance, Dr. Safi said.
American Muslims have a moral duty to bridge the gap between Islamic countries and the West, he continued, and perhaps even to shape the future direction of Islam in a changing new world. Noting that as Islam spread across the globe it always interacted well with local cultures, Dr. Safi argued that Islam in America must "adopt an American accent." As a result of the interaction between the two cultures, he concluded, this nation and all its inhabitants will grow.
Dr. Khan enthusiastically agreed. "In America we can grow a better breed of Islam, suitable for the future and not dependent on the past," he told the audience. "Let's not impose our own cultural baggage on our children. …