51st Annual ISNA Convention
The annual ISNA convention is an important gathering with the purpose of bringing together people of different backgrounds so that they can share ideas, create alliances, and network with others. It features renowned speakers and various topics. This year the theme for the 51st Annual ISNA Convention is “GenerationsRise: Elevating Muslim American Culture” featuring the Former President Jimmy Carter as a special Guest and speaker.
“GenerationsRise” is meant to be a hopeful celebration of the rising generation of Muslim scholars, thinkers, artists, activists, and community members who are shaping Islam in America. “Elevating Muslim American Culture” is about creating visions for taking the Muslim community in all of its noble pursuits to the next level of excellence, from education and the arts to service and interfaith engagement.
The convention took place at the Cobo Center, in Detroit Michigan from August 29th to September 1st 2014. The convention highlights were: Inspiring Lectures (105 sessions), Critical Conversations, Largest Muslim Bazaar in America (550 Booths), MSA & MYNA Programs, Networking Sessions, Interfaith Reception, Enlightening Entertainment, Qira’at Competition, Art Exhibit, Film Festival, Meet the Author Sessions, Fashion Show (Sisters), Photography Exhibit, Community Service Recognition Luncheon (CSRL), Health Fair, Basketball Tournament, Riverfront 5K Run/Walk, Matrimonial Banquets & Children’s Program.
Jimmy Carter’s speech
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. (born October 1, 1924) is a member of the Democratic Party who served as the 39th President of the United States from 1977 to 1981 and was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. Carter, raised in rural Georgia, was a peanut farmer, served two terms as a Georgia State Senator and one as the Governor of Georgia, from 1971 to 1975. He was elected President in 1976.
In his speech, Jimmy Carter said peace between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East is a dream he still prays can be achieved. “You can’t bring peace to the Middle East without justice and human rights for the Palestinians,” Carter told a packed hall at Cobo Center. “When my prayers are answered and we have peace in that Holy Land then the Israelis and all their neighbors will be blessed to live in peace and prosperity.”
Carter also spoke mainly about preventing violence against women and girls, encouraging all present to fight for equal rights for both sexes.
“My hope is all Christians, all Muslims, all people of other faiths, even those who don’t have one, will join in this crusade to end the plight of our wives, our sisters, our daughters.”
He added, “Men and women are created equally from one soul,” Carter said. “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’re wrong.”
Carter was referring to this Qur’anic passage: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women” (4:1). But he neglected this one: “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other…” (4:34)
At an earlier luncheon on Saturday Carter detailed the work his foundation does and told Muslim Americans to bring peace and justice to all those around them.
“We are all Americans in a system that allows basic human rights: peace, justice and the ability to treat each other as equals.” Carter further said, “I hope all of you will use the principals of Allah to bring peace and justice to all.”
Keith Ellison is the U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district, serving since 2007. He is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Born in August 1963, Keith Maurice Ellison was raised as a Roman Catholic in Detroit, Michigan. At age 19, while attending Wayne State University, he converted to Islam because he perceived it to be a faith that “might inform social change [and] justice in society.” After graduating with a BA in economics in 1987, Ellison enrolled at the University of Minnesota Law School.
He was one of the panels in the ‘Collective Conscience’ talk together with Ingrid Mattson and Linda Sarsour (community activist, director of the Arab American Association of New York). He spoke about what forces and values drive our social priorities, both as a larger American society and in the Muslim American discourse, and the challenges we face in upholding social justice.
Prof Ingrid Mattson
Dr. Ingrid Mattson (born August 24, 1963) is a Muslim religious leader, a professor of Islamic Studies and an interfaith activist. She lived and worked in the United States beginning in 1989 for over two decades and is now the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. From 2006-2010 Dr. Mattson served as President of ISNA; she previously served two terms as Vice-President, and was described as “Perhaps the most noticed figure among American Muslim women” in a 2010 New York Times article.
She is the author of The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life, as well as numerous articles exploring the relationship between Islamic law and society, gender and leadership issues in contemporary Muslim communities.
In her speech she stressed the importance of social justice in our community and how we can move toward a culture that equally advocates for moral causes that are important to the whole community, especially the disenfranchised and disenchanted.
Neturei Karta Movement
Neturei Karta (literally means "Guardians of the City") is a Jewish religious group, formally created in Jerusalem, British Mandate of Palestine, in 1938, splitting off from Agudas Yisrael. Neturei Karta opposes Zionism and calls for a peaceful dismantling of the State of Israel, in the belief that Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Jewish Messiah. In the US, Neturei Karta International is Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) who is dedicated to voice the position of masses of anti-Zionist Jews worldwide, regarding Zionism and Palestine. They actively participate in pro-Palestine rallies.
Protests against Israel in front of Cobo Center
On the Sunday, Aug 31st, hundreds rallied and marched through the streets of Detroit demanding an end to the siege of Gaza. Sponsors of the march included the ANSWER Coalition, American Muslims for Palestine, National Lawyers Guild, American Muslim Alliance, Muslim American Society, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Al-Awda: Palestine Right to Return Coalition–USA; the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and many others.
The group gathered in front of the Cobo Center, with participants coming from various cities in Michigan, and from Ohio, Indiana and other neighboring states, as well as some from Washington, D.C including those attending the ISNA convention. Under the blazing sun, the march weaved throughout the downtown area, stopping in front of the offices of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, and the Federal Building, before returning for a closing rally at the Cobo Center.
Why Tariq Ramadan didn’t come this year?
Tariq Ramadan is Swiss academic and writer of Egyptian origin. He is also a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. He also teaches at the Oxford Faculty of Theology. He is a prominent Muslim figure in the US.
Tariq Ramadan has been a faithful participant to the ISNA annual convention. However, due to the development in recent years where the political positions taken by the organization’s leadership have not always been clear-cut, he decided not to participate. He believes that positions of principle must be maintained, re-affirmed and defended as well as voicing criticism over concerning issues be it domestic or world-wide. Not only for the good of the Muslims, but in the name of the contribution of American Muslims to their society, hence in the name of the values proclaimed by the United States.
However, in his opinion the ISNA leadership is not consistent in this matter, which leads to his decision to skip the convention because to attend the ISNA convention would be to endorse their silence.
Q & A Session with Jamal Badawi and Muzammil Siddiq
The question and answer sessions were a tremendous success. The sessions were held in a full-packed hall.
Turkish sessions were organized by Zakat Foundation of USA and United World Alliance. The moderator was Mr. Murat Kose. There were two sessions held; one was titled “Turkey at a Crossroads” and second was “Influence of Turkish-American NGOs into the American Culture and Daily Life”.
In the first session, the panels comprised of the Dean of Business and Economics of Kirikkale University Turkey, Prof. Dr. Nasuh USLU, SETA Foreign Affairs Director, Dr. Ufuk Ulutaş, and from Southern University of xxxxx, Prof Dr. Osman Kandara.
Dr. Nasuh Uslu briefly summarized the history of Turkish Politics and the latest developments in Turkey. Dr. Ufuk Ulutas discussed the different scenarios from 2001 to 2011 and how it developed in the past decade. Dr. Osman Kandara mentioned the recent development prior to AK Party came to power where the people were discriminated especially with their religious rights whereas now the people are more peaceful. The attendees were greatly impressed by the positive improvement done by AK Party.
The room was full and at the end of the session the panelists answered questions from the floor. One question was “why Tayyip Erdogan shut down YouTube and Twitter and how can you explain it with democracy”. Dr. Ufuk Ulutas answered by saying, “This was actually a national security issue (that the masses were not aware of) where there was a breach of the nation top secret information and was (maliciously) shared on YouTube. If this step was not taken at that time, it might have cause a terrible diplomatic crisis. Indeed after video was removed the ban on YouTube and Twitter was lifted off immediately. It was not a case or human rights or freedom of speech violation, or democracy for that matter but of national security.”
In the second session, the panels gave the overview to the influences of Turkish NGOs on American daily life. The session started with beautiful recitation by Imam Ali Tos. He then introduced the history and current activities of the Department of Religious Affairs. He spoke about the new Mega Mosque which will be built with the sponsoring of the Turkish Government. The $100 million mega-mosque will be built on a 15-acre, in Lanham, Maryland. It will likely become the largest and most striking examples of Islamic architecture in the western hemisphere”. The mosque is expected to be completed by November 2014 where Turkey’s New President Tayyib Erdogan will officiate the opening ceremony.
Semerkant Foundation was represented by Mr. Abdurrahman Mihcioglu where he shared some recent activities of this Foundation.
Dr. Sakir Yucel represented Uphill Foundation. Apart from describing the activities of the foundation, he stressed for the need of the people to match the meaning of the Qur’an and their daily life, and also encourage them to start reviving Quranic Circle in communities.
Mr. Bilgin Erdogan introduced WisdomNet Foundation. Although WisdomNet was initially founded by Turkish professionals, the foundation is open to all walks of life and religious denominations. He stressed the importance of brotherhood and unity which are the basis of WisdomNet formation and activities.
Mehmet Demiroglu presented the United World Alliance (Kotku Foundation), which is a non-profit organization who promotes education, friendship, moral values, strong family ties as well as mutual understanding with in the society.
Visitors from Akabah Foundation
Three brothers from the Akabah Foundation Turkey came for the convention; Omer Faruk Kayikci, Hakan Dinc and Osman Gaygisiz. Besides experiencing and learning the organization of the ISNA convention, it was an opportunity for them to touch base with their counterpart Uphill Foundation in the US, who is hosting their stay. They also brought the latest
English book by Mustafa Islamoglu, “What’s Islam” and presented it to the main speakers in the convention, i.e. Jimmy Carter, Keith Ellison and Ingrid Mattson, etc.
The importance of brotherhood and unity
The ISNA convention not only serves as a platform for Muslims to connect, re-connect and form networks, it also serves a bigger objective of developing and improving the spirit of brotherhood and unity amongst participants. It is especially important for the Muslims, mainly the non-American Muslims, to be able to unite and feel a sense of belongingness in the Muslim community in a land away from home.
Hopefully Turkey will organize an activity such as this not only for Muslims but also with other religious groups. Certainly we can learn from the organization of the ISNA and its convention. We do hope the visit from the Akabah Foundation can spread the knowledge and spearhead the effort to organize such event in Turkey.