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‘Elevating Muslim American Culture’

By Steve Furay
Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Islamic Society of North America held its annual convention in Detroit at Cobo Hall. This was the 51st annual gathering of the Muslim society with the goal of developing better relations between the global Muslim community, improving interfaith relations and civic engagement, and furthering the religious studies of Islam.

The theme for this year’s annual convention was “Generations Rise: Elevating Muslim American Culture,” promoting the needs and values of the next generation of Muslims in America. Among the dozens of seminars throughout the weekend, promoting social justice was a common issue.

“I’ve said to the Muslim community throughout the month of Ramadan that justice does not mean ‘just us,’” said Dawud Walid, the Detroit-based executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “If we think justice is just for Muslims, then we do not understand what justice means in Islam.”

Among the themes for social justice discussed by prominent Muslim American scholars, community leaders and politicians were labor rights, women’s rights, environmentalism, racism and freedom from police brutality.

“We have had four decades of income inequality and wage stagnation, and we better get real clear on what opportunity is about,” said U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a Detroit native and the first Muslim American elected to Congress. “It’s about education, it’s about public investment, it’s about giving workers some bargaining power on the job.”

Citing a Surah from the Qu’ran, Ellison urged Muslims in America to give new consideration for the fair treatment of workers and becoming an example of fair economic practices.

“In a country where you can’t open the (news)paper without hearing about how somebody’s business model was built to bilk the consumer or the worker or the investor, the Muslim community should be a source of honest and fair business dealing,” said Ellison. We should lead the way there and say ‘no, we know we can make more money if we cheated our customers, but we’re not going to, because our goal is not that.’”

“This kind of status distinction is something that Islam rejects, there is no indignity in manual labor,” said Dr. Ingrid Mattson of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. “This (division of labor) is a sickness in the Muslim world currently, in the places where the elite belittle and look down on people who are doing the manual labor — whether it’s women who are keeping their house or construction workers from Bangladesh who are doing their buildings.

“It’s the same thing in this country where we are willing to tolerate people in working environments, whether it’s at Walmart or at other places where they’re in miserable conditions, they’re not being given fair and decent working conditions.”

Walid urged attendees to consider the recent police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., as an injustice that must be considered by the Muslim community.

“I’d like each and every one of you to really understand the Black experience is an authentic part of the American Muslim experience,”said Walid. “We need to reframe and discuss how we think of it.

“The first Muslims here were African American, about one third of the American Muslim community is Black, and those who have been involved in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality, those names we don’t know preceding Malcolm X, to Muhammad Ali, to people (of) Masjid Wali Muhammad, that used to be Temple Number One off of Linwood and Burlingame in Detroit, have always been part of the Muslim experience.”

Intra-Muslim racism was also a topic discussed, giving voice to African American Muslims who often find themselves, as well as those of other ethnicities, victims of racism from others in the Islamic faith.

“You’re in a world (where) people will teach you that (as) a human being you have a series of rights (for how) people treat you,” said Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, a professor of anthropology and African American studies at Purdue University. “But then you go to places like your school or your mosque or wherever and that’s not happening to you. It’s dissonance, it doesn’t make sense.

Khabeer says intra-Muslim racism can affect the structure of family life, as racial tensions add to stresses on individuals which can lead to strife between family members.

Former President Jimmy Carter delivered a keynote address to ISNA on Aug. 31, discussing his work with human rights at the Carter Center. He spoke of the inequality of rights for women throughout the world, and the opportunity the Muslim world has to challenge not only the lack of rights in nations with a predominantly Muslim population, but also nations around the world.

Carter noted the enslavement and transfer of women for sex trafficking is a problem in the United States. He stated there is zero justification for the mistreatment of women in Islamic text.

Men and women are created equally from one soul,” said former President Carter. “If you were taught by your parents or you believe you’re superior to your wife just because you’re a man, Allah says you are wrong.”

Regarding the environment, Saffet Catovic of New Jersey, who works with the organization GreenFaith, noted Muslims are taught the idea of “walking gently on the earth” and being environmentally responsible.

“We understand we as human beings are Allah’s khalifas, his stewards, caretakers of the earth, the earth and all that is contained herein,” said Catovic. “It is a trust that has been given to human beings.

“The challenge of we as human beings, in our personal lives, in our communal lives, in our societal lives, is to manage the trust that has been given to us.”

The convention also featured cultural events, including a bazaar with booths for Muslim vendors and social organizations, as well as musical performances by many well-known Muslim American artists.

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