POW WOW: My Experience of the 1993 North American Muslim Pow Wow



by Mumina Kowalski

With the theme of “Tolerance”, the first American Muslim Pow Wow sounded exactly like what I had been waiting for. Dar al Islam, the place, had always intrigued me. I had heard of it years ago and yearned to visit or even move there one day. It was like a dream fulfilled when everything started falling into place and we were actually going! Nevermind that all of the travel arrangements were still changing and nebulous. My husband’s parents had actually given the “go ahead” to have time off from his job which was without a doubt a miracle from Allah!

The long car trip with brothers and sisters previously unknown to us was perhaps the greatest adventure of all. We spent five days travelling and what unfolded between the 21 of us from Washington D.C. to Abiquiu was a microcosm of the many problems the whole Ummah faces.

The trip was hard. There were many setbacks and frustrations along the way. We were a fairly diverse group of people traveling together. We were age 2-1/2 to 60-something. We were of differing national origins. races, levels of education. We spoke different languages. Our varying degrees of understanding and patience clashed on too many occasions. We differed in our expectations of what the trip would be like and in our styles of driving. There was a lack of planning and gen- eral consensus on how to travel, on top of unexpected car trouble, delays and confusion. Leadership was assumed and then challenged. There were deep, underlying problems that became exposed. Complaining and rudeness grew like evil weeds overrunning a potentially beautiful garden.  Lack of tolerance, prejudice, anger, hypocrisy, over-confidence, abuse of power, passivity - all were there. Children’s lack of discipline and disrespectful behavior came out first. We could expect that. Marital problems, fear of others and clinging to one’s prejudices:  those which we can usually hide were forced to surface as well.

The problems exposed made us feel insecure and tense. This is a vacation?!?  Yet somehow we pressed on, Allahu Akbar.

The bad elements were really bad, but what of the good?  Lest you think I only complain ...the good moments of our caravan were so good I would probably do it all over again. Despite having to face the whole range of the Ummah’s problems there was enough love and true feelings of brotherhood to see us through to our final destination, al hamdulillah!

We had some great discussions and sharing of knowledge over those long hours of driving. It was heartening to see how our many different lives confirmed that Islam can indeed encompass our diversity, Masha’- Allah!  In the face of intolerance and oppression there were wise compromises to be noted, quiet help came from all sides and despair gave way to hope and success! I will cherish many moments in my heart with these believers whom I now hold dear. It was like living in a Muslim country (I’ve heard).  The problems are immense, but you still prefer it to living amongst non- believers.

I feel that I have gained tremendously from this trip. First, the experience of traveling with brothers and sisters I had not known before gave me insight into my own problems and weaknesses as well as thoughts about those of the Ummah. Second, the actual networking and exchanges that took place at the Pow Wow were for me very substantial. I met fine individuals with whom I wish to stay in touch. It helped boost my spirit to see others like myself, starved for Muslim contact and companionship. I found educational materials and information that will be useful in my particular situation.

The New Mexico landscape and the stark setting of Dar al Islam were conducive to the spiritual purpose of our meeting. 1 loved the place, its sights, its smells and remote quality.  There is truly something about the desert that brings one closer to ones spiritual self.  I didn’t meet or talk to everyone I wanted to at Dar al Islam as our time together was too short. I look forward to the promise of another year.

Who are the Muslim Americans?
I met them at Dar al Islam. 

I met brothers and sisters, Americans
and foreigners.  Native sons and Afro-
American daughters. 

They spoke Spanish and Malay,
English and Arabic.
They wore turbans and kufis,
jeans, thobes and robes. 

We ate hotdogs and watermelons, 
heard speeches and fights,
saw shooting stars and rental cars
all atop the mountain at night.

We tried hard to be patient,
we struggled with pride.
We found glimpses of happiness,
but often we cried. 

It was the best; it was the worst.
It was a Pow Wow, only our first.

There were scholars and writers,
fighters and youth.
Rich men and homeless,
I tell you the truth.

So, if Allah wills, we shall meet again.
I love you, dear Muslims,
I found you again.