Glimpses of the 1993 North American Muslim Pow Wow
by Sheila Musaji
Something of the essence of the gathering can be experienced by those who were not there from these comments made by participants.
A’alia Djomehri - California – It was wonderful to see this dynamic group of Muslims together in such a beautiful setting. We all grew from having touched each other’s lives, even if it was for a brief moment in time. The theme of tolerance and open-mindedness set the tone for the whole camp and the test which presented itself to ! threaten that tolerance was dealt with masterfully.
Mustafa Kashief - Canada – This is something special and important that is happening here. It is an opportunity to get to know each other and analyze our resources and capabilities. At this Pow Wow I see a demonstration of how important it is for us to reach out to others with the message of Islamic tolerance and brotherhood. Islam is comprehensive and inclusive and those who preach segregation or separation are not preaching Islam. Go home and take this message back to your communities. There are psychological barriers between white people and black people, but they are artificial barriers and block both of us from achieving our goals. This gathering is proof that there are those on both sides who can see that we have common human issues and are ready to break down these false barriers and not allow anyone ever again to build them up and block us from sharing our i common humanity. We see here a demonstration of what is possible to those who know that all of us - black, white, hispanic, Indian, Arab, whatever - are family.
Ismael Mujahid - Missouri – I came here just to visit with other American Muslims and because of the stated goals of this gathering to promote unity and networking. Even before I ever heard of Islam, I came to understand that the only way to erase racism or any other bad trait is to recognize it in yourself, admit it and then work to eradicate it in your personality . It does no good to deny that you are a racist or overeater or whatever or to ” feel guilty about it without doing something about it. A function of Islam is to help you to step back from any slave mentality, e.g. nationalism is a slave mentality, racism is a slave mentality because they lead to and encourage division. As Malcolm X learned and shared -‘We should unite with those who want to unite with us.” -This is what we are attempting to accomplish here.
Shaikh Hisham Kabbani - California – Instead of pointing out the mistakes of others - accept them and give them a good example and teach without telling them you are teaching them and they will learn from you. Don’t look at the mistakes of others - look at your own mistakes
Thomas B. Irving - Iowa – We need an educational system based on Islamic ideology and materials produced in plain English by Muslims. We cannot allow Orientalists to speak for us.
Sheila Musaji - Missouri – If we can have dialogue with non-Muslims. If Muslims may make alliances even with non-Muslims and in fact may make treaties allowing for peaceful coexistence even with enemies - then why is it not possible, even in the worst case scenario where one group of Muslims believes another group to be kaffar or mushrik to at least make a treaty and in most cases where the differences are perceived to be less profound to actually establish alliances and coalitions. Why do we think that unity is sameness. We don’t have to be the same in order to be united - we just need to discover whatever common ground there is and build on that.
Karima Altomare - Washington, DC – American society is already a very divided society - by race, sex, and class - add to this the divisions between indigenous and immigrant, between various cultures, madhabs and tariqas, between the wealthy and poor and also the divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims and throw in a consider- able amount of denial and the naive assumption that if we take Shahada it will all go away and somehow be all right and we have a real problem. We have to make a committment to a process and work hard towards changing this situation. We must come together and provide support fur each other so that we do not succumb to the tendency to give up and simply go back to the seeming safety of our own groups rath- er than face this overwhelming challenge. Perhaps our next gathering should actually encourage more groups to come and each present their own views for consideration.
Anonymous note left in evaluation box – Perhaps the theme of the nexl gathering should go beyond this yean theme of “tolerance” and go one step forward to “love”.
Kaukab Siddique - Maryland – We must ask ourselves when we limit the participation of women in Islamic activities - do we have among us an Ayesha or a Rabiya, a scholar, teacher or leader whose talents are being wasted?
Shaikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah - Missouri – Talk to each other and we cannot help but see that we have more in common than we have differences. As Muslims there are hundreds of things we agree on and very few things we disagree on. We should concentrate on the Qur’an and sunnah and not what we find in Egypt or Pakistan or Sudan. We have to be shoulder to shoulder. We have to solve our problems with love because we are facing enough challenges from outside without tearing each other apart.
Knowledge alone isn’t enough. Remember, even Iblis has knowledge. He knows what is right and wrong but he does not act on it;
We must work hard to overcome our differences and to try to bring the Ummah together. We need humbleness and gentleness and a willingness to admit the possibility that we may be mistaken on some point or that we might not understand the actions of another fully.
Gerard Bilal - Illinois – Some of the stories we have heard here of how individuals came to Islam bring to my mind the story of Abraham when he was young and looked around at his family and society and came to the understanding that there was something wrong with the basis for his society in the worshipping of idols.
Shaikh el-Hossein Chauwat -Washington. DC – The prophet warned the Ummah against disunity, fIghting and disputing in a negative manner. He stressed the brotherhood of Muslims.
Abdullah Hamza - Navajo Nation – Islam is very simple. Hear and obey and you will prosper. Don’t obey and you will suffer. So simple. But, if we look at the state of the world today it is obvious that most do not hear or obey. Muslims today are like a big snake sitting on a treasure chest (Islam) and frightening other people away. Whoever wants to make Dawah right away - come back with me to the Navajo nation to make Dawah to my people and to help me to build a masjid on the Navajo nation for my people. The way to do Dawah is by action - come judgment day I want to say yes, they not only smiled when I asked them to help, but they did some thing about it - and remember that we have to be very careful about how we spread Islam - those who have ears to hear will know what I am saying. With a minimum of effort Allah will Insh’Allah assist us with helping us to fulfill our responsibility - we have to do better than what we are doing because the Ummah is fast asleep and we had better wake up. We are living in the time of the attempt to establish a new world order without religion and we had better do something about it.
Mary Romero -Illinois – What I enjoyed most was the experience of working together to do what needed to be done. I wish that this kind of a gathering could be part of our lives all the time rather than just an isolated incident.
Shabbir Mansuri - California – It was quite interesting to hear from American-bom Muslims about their particular needs, views, and aspirations. Certainly, the challenges faced by those who have entered the fold of Islam through conviction are important. I also found it enlightening to view Mus- lims at Oar all slam as living examples of the dynamics of Islam, showing how Islam is something that should permeate one’s self and one’s mindset, rather than being simply a set of codes and rules, as some Muslims portray it to be. When I saw some brothers using their talents to quickly construct a shade for the bazaar, it brought to mind the pioneering spirit which played a role in building America, and I see this act as a pioneering effort to build a strong foundation of Islam in the U.S. Thus, I hope and pray that such a Pow Wow becomes an annual event, since it brings out the best Muslim spirit.
Malik Mujahid -Illinois – For me the most wonderful thing was to hear the adhan for Fajr and to get up and pray Fajr in this incredible setting.
Imam Taha Tawil - Iowa – American Muslims can play a special role in bridging the gulf between cultures within the Muslim community and between Muslims and non-Muslims here. The only way to build bridges of love and understanding is through communication and by participating more within the society.
Hoda Boyer -Illinois – Many people of different cultural, ethnic and intellectual backgrounds participated in the open discussions; and, consequently, many varied, sometimes seemingly divergent views were represented. It is my hope that these differing views are like the five fingers, each of which has its own characteristics and functions, yet all of which are united in the overall working of the hand. May we as Muslims be one hand and one heart for the love of the One God.
Tehmina Khan -California – We started a course on Islam at Berkeley and brought in Muslim guest speakers and opened discussions on issues. We need Muslim speakers because at Berkeley most classes on Islam are taught by non- Muslims and some even by Zionists.
We need a time to gather and talk because there are a lot of Muslims in the University who are fed up with the Muslim community and don’t want to deal with the Muslim community at all anymore and generally don’t come to Muslim gatherings. We need to bring these people out of the closet and encourage their participation. Those of us who were raised here are perhaps more tolerant with personal interpretations or with women’s active involvement. I hate the stereotype of immigrants and Americans because it is not always valid, but most of our problems with Muslims came from immigrants or foreign students who don’t have much experience with interaction in the U.S.
God is just and merciful and compassionate and these are qualities that we need to emulate as human beings. It isn’t our place to be intolerant and to judge other people. At the same time even those Muslims who decide to reject Islam share a common experience as Muslims and we need to interact with each other based on that experience.
Robert Crane -Washington, DC – American Muslims (by conversion or commitment as well as second generation Muslims) have found an identity in Islam and have used it as a framework to protest injustices and see in Islam the solution to problems facing all Americans. They want to reform the society that many immigrants too often view as a lost cause. The big issue for American Muslims is how to be responsible citizens committed to eradicating the evils they see around them and to promoting a functionally Islamic America by infusing Islamic thought into all of our public institutions, especially the government, the judiciary, the media, and education.
Mahboob Khan -California – I have been to conferences for twelve years, but this is the first gathering in which I have seen real sincerity, openness and genuine Islamic spirit.
Ali John Comegys -Wisconsin – Our differences should neither be dismissed as trivial, nor exaggerated so as to seem unsolvable or requiring generations to overcome. Logical and sustained programmatic educational efforts drawing on the most diverse members of the Ummah and all institutions could be encouraged to take up this cause. Much misunderstanding seems to arise from differences between working from broad principles to conduct and vice versa.
Americans often work from more universal principles, such as religious toleration and the universality of Islam. Foreign born Muslims often work from specific practices to general principles. Even in the absence of differing interpretations of scripture, the conclusions drawn and judgments made may often be extremely different.
The average American Muslim is the recipient of a history in which religious toleration as the solution to problems (e.g. incredibly destructive European religious wars and the flight of so many to America to escape persecution) of a multi-religious society is a highly valued principle. They are also aware that this toleration is fragile and difficult to maintain, and that each new minority has historically had to go through a period of political and eco- I nomic development on their way to i acceptance as a group by the body of ! other Americans. Such acceptance has always been the result of struggle.
Foreign born Muslims tend to see American Muslims as not quite “real” Muslims, more as children to be tutored than as equal members of the Ummah. This may manifest towards African-American Muslims due to lingering racism promoted by Western colonizers and learned by Western educated Muslims. This may manifest towards Euro-American Muslims because of lingering resentment of Western colonization, or because the bulk of white American Muslims are women. The trials to be overcome by American Muslims are so great that the simple fact of taking the Shahada and attempting to follow the Sharia, which is often very difficult and alien, should b respected as evidence of commitment.
Yahya Monastra -Washington. DC – For me, one of the best aspects of the Pow Wow was getting to meet and befriend so many good people. I have never in my life seen such a wide diversity of different kinds of Muslims. It was truly extraordinary, when I reflect on it. What a warm feeling it gives to my soul, to think of the enrichment it will bring during what remains of my life being in contact with these people and looking forward to meeting them again. Let alone Dar al Islam, the land of New Mexico itself was love at first sight.
Mohamed Zakariya -Virginia To me. the big achievement of the Pow Wow was that it actually happened, and worked as well as it did. This proves that it is needed and that can be done again. It seems we are moving from talk to realization. By and large, it was a candy store, everyone was delighted and a bit overwhelmed. Now that we know it can be done, let’s try to fine-tune it next time around. Also, let’s not forget one of the lesson just learned - these kinds of meeting can be fun.
The other side of the coin was also pretty evident. Sowers of venomous discord and hatemongers should stay home next time. In my opinion, the divisive issues forum did not work well because the very important topics that were barely spoken were brushed aside and nothing got decided. Time needs to to be spent on this topic. We didn’t need born-again authoritarians herding us past our difficulties like sheep. We need to figure out right away whether we want to become a clone of some bankrupt old-world style dictatorship, or try to become something more grown up.
I believe that the most important discussion was that of Shaikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, in his talk about Waqfs. This is indeed what needs to be done and it can set our mosques free from dependence on government handouts.
Anas Cobum - New Mexico – For me, one of the most important aspects of the Pow Wow was the chance to meet with members of groups with widely divergent points of view. It is important that Muslims make the effort to come together with Muslims that hold differing points of view in order to celebrate all that we hold in commom, and compete with each other in courtesy and acts of kindness.
When individuals share their knowledge and their viewpoints, admit their limitations and speak their hearts with courtesy and sincerity ignorance and falsehood diminish and knowledge and mercy can spread among us, even among individuals with very different points of view. I saw such occasions at the PowWow.
The act of treating those with whom we disagree with sincere courtesy constitutes the practice of important Islamic principles. But, if we avoid “other” Muslims or speak ill of them (or , to them), we weaken whatever position we hold in the difference between us. My heart was lifted by seeing so many brothers and sisters engaged in the struggle to hear and appreciate differences. This, to me, was unity - not unity of point of view , not uniform attainment of an ideal of courtesy, but unity in the sincere struggle to hear and appreciate each other .
It is not the case that our differences do not matter, or that no important principles are at stake. But I submit that if there is unity in the sincere struggle to hear and appreciate each other then Mercy will spread among us, Truth will appear, and falsehood will disappear, Insh’Allah.
Khalid Mohsan Shah - Missouri – We take back with us many precious memories of meetings with wonderful Muslims and also many lessons learned from many beautiful words and acts of wisdom. The three days went without any serious disharmony, even though the circumstances were very difficult and most of us were not used to the spartan conditions. But the difficulties somehow, Alhumdullilah, brought the best out in people and made us come closer together.
There were also a number of individuals who were unable to attend. but sent emails and personal comments, and even materials to distribute to the group. Some quotes from these individuals - are relevant -and it is interesting that even though they were not physically present they were on the same “wave length” as the group.
Shaikh Daud Ahmed - Washington – Muslim America is made up of several almost mutually exclusive populations of Muslims, each with its ratio. nale for disregard of the others as well as its own internal schisms, failures to apprehend the nature of the political processes both of Islam and of America, and systems of excuses from the duty of participation in common struggle. either within their communities or in league with other communities. Historical nationalistic rivalries, class and racial prejudices, personal ambitions and elitist pretensions, as well as ignorance of Islam as a living religion, obstruct effective policy efforts throughout the entire spectrum.
Sulayrnan Nyang -Washington. DC The American reality makes it necessary to develop dialogue between Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims. The North American manifestation of Islam will necessarily be different from the Middle East paradigm. We have to accept the fact that we are diverse and come to terms with that diversity which cannot be wished away.
Regarding the location of the Pow Wow at Dar al’Islam, some words of one of the original founders convey the feeling of the place:
Nurudin Durkee – There is a destiny to this work (the process of building Dar al’Islam, this emerging form appearing in time and yet out of time as though it had always been there and is only now reemerging on the mesa above the valley with the river running through, greening the land from the shining fingers of lateral irrigation ditches. That this form, secreted out of the native earth, is built not to occupy or dominate space but to create spaces; spaces that resonate with ancient memories of the chambers of the heart where arch lifts dome, and dome merges into dome, curved spaces rising and falling, vaulted corridors lifting the earth in tunnels of time ...and space for a new generation to worship their Creator and learn anew the time- less Way to walk in harmony and peace and thus fulfil the purpose for which we human beings have been created and brought to light.