AFTERTHOUGHTS ON THE 1993 NORTH AMERICAN MUSLIM POW WOW: WITH TWIN SANDALS OF FEAR AND HOPE
by Hakim Archuletta
The first North- American Muslim Pow Wow was something inevitable. As inevitable as many other events involving Muslims still to be seen. As inevitable as Islam in America in the first place.
I say this because so many Muslims talk about how to spread Islam in America and write manuals on how to do Da’wah. They go on about how we haven’t done this or we must do that, but the reality is that Islam has come to America and Islam will continue to grow in America, no matter what goals we set for ourselves and for our work, no matter what number we intend to reach. Allah will continue to carry out the real Da’wah, that Da’wah which opens the many hearts and expands the breasts to Islam. For one person this is meeting a particular Muslim who opens his heart. For another it is his own personal calling out and prayer that Allah answers with the gift of Islam. For another it comes from meeting a family of Muslims or a community or by seeing some of the din in action – an alternative to the mainstream American way. For some It is even by reading and what follows. By Allah, these – and other unique events are inevitable.
The Pow Wow was perhaps the first of many inevitable events for American Muslims in particular. This was certainly a showing of faces, a kind of coming out from the woodwork so to speak, a time to meet many others with whom we have much in com mon. This had to happen sooner or later. The balance was decidedly Euro-American, given the demographics of Islam in America. Even so, there was enough diversity to be able to say that the gathering represented a kind of cross-section of Muslims in America.
The Pow Wow was also a demonstration of what Shaikh Daud Ahmed said: “Events outstrip agendas.” I am grateful to him for this phrase. Many groups and “parties” were represented at this extraordinary gathering. Some came with their own ” agendas. Many came with a simple wish to rise above limited individual or organizational agendas in favor of the larger agenda, fi sabih lillah, Alhamdulillah! In any case, the energy of the coming together of such a unique bunch of people and the demand of the circumstances and the barakah of the land, meant that the agenda of Allah became apparent, and the lesser agendas became less important, a blessing for us all.
This was a remarkable meeting of an extraordinary number of such interesting people! I would have liked to spend three days with so many of them individually! We could talk about the grassroots nature of the event, about the fact that everyone came at their own expense, or that this was a demonstration that the time was ripe for such a coming together. We could talk about the difficulties of the logistics which for some was too much and for others an opportunity, an opportunity which called out an innate spirit for getting the job done and really pitching in together. We could talk about the many volunteers taking care of menial tasks, serving food, picking up the trash, about those in leadership positions who did so – and those who did not.
We could talk about how the difficulty of logistics was in fact a blessing and may have provided more to the harmony of the gathering than many may realize. We could talk about how we need to include the teens and children more in the programs in the future and organize more activities for them.
We could talk about the individual workshops and demonstrations, such as the one by the calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya which held the participants spellbound and thirsty for more. We could talk about the participation of the sisters in a meaningful way, about their taking full part in all activities even carpentry and building—and why this is a necessity at this time. ” We could talk about the demonstration of the martial art of silat that impressed many, or the tears shed at one of the workshops, or the interesting lectures by this scholar or that one, or about the sun rising on a crystalline horizon following fajr prayer – with everyone sensing the presence of countless angels.
For myself, there was one hope-filled aspect of the gathering. Representatives of two groups (groups that people had warned ahead of time would “...never agree on anything ... they have not done so for centuries”) recognized each other, gave respect to each other, and even went so far as to say that we have to leave behind differences and work together and support each other. This action of setting priorities and rising above petty differences is certainly a goal as Islam becomes stronger in America. The Pow Wow was inspiring to many in that it seemed to represent the POSSIBlLITY of this actually happening! Here was a demonstration of the importance of adab in action, Alhamdulillah!
Many times Muslims have come together and been supportive of each other for a time. Petty and individual differences and little nafs come in – with the help of the old familiar creator of distances – audu billah, and then fitna, trouble and such disappointment and bitterness result. I can safely’ say that no one attending the Pow Wow has been exempt from this in the past and yet there they were (with very few exceptions) eating together, praying together, and in fact, getting along with each other. It is possible. If you say, “Sure, for a short time,” I can only say that even so we should look at the possibility and make use of it.
We should continue to make the theme of tolerant coming together (the very basic theme of the gathering) an opportunity to address with adab, and courtesy, the many issues that face us as American Muslims in a unique time and situation in this country. We are not an homogenous bunch. Alhamdulillah! And, by Allah, we will remain different in many ways. The gathering showed a promise of many being able to rise above pettiness, to work together. Tolerance does not mean avoidance, and adab means that we feel “safe from each other’s tongue and hand” to the degree that we can talk about all that is necessary to talk about. This is, in fact, hard for us! In some ways the representation at the Pow Wow may have been heavily weighted towards those especially tolerant Muslims. If so, then Alhamdulillah! Maybe this will continue to be the nature of future gatherings. Not a bad deal.
One principle I have been fortunate to see in my time as a Muslim is the true and beautiful function of shura when it does work – the critical mass being large enough and balanced enough that no one-sided viewpoint becomes overwhelming. somehow the voice of reason and balance comes forth from somewhere in the shura. True, I have also seen this balanced shura come apart at the seams, mostly from short-sightedness and lack of hikmah in understanding (not so much the issues, but the persons involved in the issues). In these cases, eventually, with reconciliation, patience, openness and forgiveness, even more real brotherhood can come about. All the subject of Islahu Dhatul Bayn – the reconciliation of differences between the essence of ourselves—the very substance in fact of “...We have made you tribes and nations…”
This may very well be a central theme for us as Muslims in this country and may very well be one that is addressed naturally in spite of our many agendas. Allah has most certainly created us a diverse group whether we like it or not. As the children of immigrants grow up with less influence of their origin, as Euro-American Muslims increase in number, as African-Americans emerge with hikmah for the benefit of us all, as all the intrigues and agendas are played out—we will all find ourselves players in the drama of AlIah’s agenda. We will be able to accept this in varying degrees, and the degree of this acceptance should be equal to our ability to get along. This could mean a time with an Islam that has many diverse aspects to it, with acceptance and tolerance being, in fact, a high priority. This may happen due to the nature of this country and even, ironically, due to the lip service given to this issue—and to the kinds of Americans turning to Islam. Insha’- Allah, if this is so, this vigorous, richly colored and energetic Islam can be without dilution, without loss of real Ilm and hikmah. Recognition of the various madhabs, of diverse communities and colorings by many cultures, of the many points of view may in fact be a main part of our future in the creation of an “American Islam”—meaning really—only the way Islam looks in this particular time in this particular place—certainly without nationalism. There cannot really be cultism in any sense of the word or even “parties” that would be divisive or cause any split in the spread of Islam, but there can be diversity—a sign of , health. The way of healthy Islam is one of breadth, of scope, of the wide embrace, with a strong middle rooted in scholarship and tradition giving ballast to the wide embrace and “Rahmah to all the worlds”. The sufis with their leaders or their adamant stance about their ways, the salafi with their “correct” point of view, the scholars with their work and study to interpret and understand, and the many Muslims who are guided – by Allah’s promise – through their sincerity can all take part in an inevitable, unique unfolding of a chapter in history that will be without doubt exciting, moving and for those interested – a struggle fi sabi illah – with great reward.
I hope that there can be many more Pow Wow gatherings with representatives from many organizations, from differing madhab, from many cultures, from those who follow the sufic path or those who follow a salafi way or those who don’t even think of these things and simply pray and fast with their families. I hope that we can continue to come together to challenge the lie that we cannot get along or that we are divided in any way. I hope that we can shed light to destroy the American conception that “religion is the cause of so much war and killing.” I hope that the Pow Wow continues (with necessary improvements and more participation from the. beginning). I hope there will be participation by Muslims that want to defeat our real enemies by simply getting along together for starters, and then with adab to set about addressing the issues as mature, serious Muslims living in a country that certainly puts us to the test—by Allah. I hope for all this and fear lest we not do everything possible to bring it about.