Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

ISNA Holds 35th Annual Convention Sept. 4-7 in St. Louis, MO

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

ISNA Holds 35th Annual Convention Sept. 4-7 in St. Louis, MO

Article excerpt


The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) held its 35th annual convention at the America's Convention Center in St. Louis, MO over the Labor Day weekend. The convention attracted more than 17,000 Muslims from all over the United States, with ISNA activities filling almost all of the giant convention center's facilities from Sept. 4 to 7. The bazaar area, where more than 175 vendors participated, was jam-packed for four days.

Following a trend of recent years, the convention, entitled "Muslims for Human Dignity," included an increasing number of sessions on political matters along with the traditional religious and social topics.

In the welcome and inauguration session, ISNA president Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi thanked the convention organizers and St. Louis Muslim community for making possible what he described as the annual "convention of the Muslims of America."

"ISNA is to bring all Muslims together and motivate them to work together for the cause of Allah," Dr. Siddiqi asserted. He noted also that ISNA had invited President Clinton to this year's convention, as it has in previous years, but to no avail.

President Ayman Rayes of the Islamic Medical Association described ISNA's role in strengthening Muslim community ties in America. He suggested that it is time for ISNA to have its own newspaper, radio and TV. Steering committee chairman Rashid Qureshi discussed the role of American Muslims in dealing with the critical situation they face in the wake of the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar esSalaam and retaliatory U.S. missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan.

St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon told attendees, in a friendly and warm speech, that the Muslim community in St. Louis has grown dramatically in the past three decades to about 10,000 persons. "Islam unites people across race, geographical locations, and ethnicities" the mayor said. "It is truly an honor to us to have you in our city, and I am personally honored to address you today."

Michigan Congressman David Bonior, the House Democratic Whip, also addressed Muslim political concerns. "Our challenge is to insist on justice," he asserted. "People need to learn more about Islam."

Bonior encouraged Muslims to take concrete steps to educate the American people and to dispel stereotypes. He undertook a personal initiative for Muslim rights recently when he introduced legislation calling for religious tolerance of Muslims in America. Although Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States, it is highly persecuted, he noted.

Bonior criticized airport harassment and the use of secret evidence against non-citizen resident Muslims. He cited as an example of such discrimination the case of Mazen Al-Najjar in Tampa, FL, who has been imprisoned and denied bail on the basis of "secret evidence" which even his lawyers are not permitted to see.

The congressman further asserted that "U.S. policy in Iraq needs to change or millions will continue to suffer...The U.S. government needs to consider the humanitarian effects of the Iraqi embargo." Bonior also expressed his recognition of the need for a more balanced U.S. policy toward the Middle East. "I support a Palestinian state," he said, "and security for all peoples of the Middle East."

Turning to Muslim issues abroad, Representative Bonior said: "We [the U.S.] waited too long in Bosnia. Too many people were raped, killed and too many lives were lost. We can't do this in Kosovo. We should not let history repeat itself there."

He also called for U.S. attention to the problem of Kashmir: "We need to play a role in South Asia. We must work together. These issues are not only governmental challenges, but personal challenges as well," Bonior concluded.

In a panel titled "Media and Muslims," speakers discussed negative media images of Islam. Maha El Ganaidi, director of the Islamic Network Group who conducted a survey of religious stereotypes in the American print media, said she found that 80 percent of Jews were portrayed as heroes, peacemakers, and victims, 80 percent of Christians were presented as backward and outdated, and 80 percent of Muslims were seen as terrorists, corrupt, and abusive toward women. …

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