Gathering of Muslims Fuses Faith, Freedom

Attendees Decry Attacks by Conservatives, Call for Increased Involvement in Politics
Washington Post, Sep. 1, 2002
By Avram Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer

More than 30,000 Muslims converged on Washington yesterday to celebrate their wealth and freedom, renew social ties, hear investment advice and hunt for spouses, but they also complained that U.S. conservatives have dehumanized them since the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

The estimated 7 million Muslim Americans enjoy status, affluence and civil liberties unknown elsewhere in the Islamic world — and by all accounts, those attending the Islamic Society of North America convention this weekend aim for more.

The challenge, many said, is to assimilate into U.S. society without compromising Islamic religious strictures, such as those against investing in businesses that sell tobacco or alcohol, using conventional mortgages to buy homes and collecting or paying interest.

But leaders addressing the convention said efforts to carve out a comfortable U.S. existence are at risk because Muslim Americans’ message condemning terrorist attacks as an affront to Islamic thought has consistently been drowned out by “vicious” U.S. radio and television commentators.

The media attacks, they say, have come even as polls show sympathy and support for individual Muslims in the United States.

“Why are special interest groups exploiting the pain of 9/11 to dehumanize and isolate Muslim Americans?” asked Salam Al-Marayati, an official of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He urged the audience to join the public dialogue and help the world realize that Muslim Americans are moderates who hold the same ethical values as Christians and Jews.

Osama “bin Laden will not define Islam for us, and hatemongers in America will not define Islam for us,” Al-Marayati said.

He reminded people not to shy away from criticizing U.S. policy in the Middle East or East Asia and to improve Muslim American voter turnout, which stands at about 10 percent. “The hatemongers want our inaction,” he said. “Our involvement is mandatory for our survival as Muslim Americans in the U.S.”

Whatever their political position may be, it was clear yesterday at the Washington Convention Center that Muslim Americans want to enjoy the good life without giving up traditions they or their parents brought from their homelands.

Thousands of women turned out in fashionable styles, but the vast majority wore conservative head scarves.

In a massive bazaar, some retailers drew flocks of younger customers with hip wares that recalled slick corporate images while simultaneously promoting Islamic faith. One vendor sold T-shirts with a takeoff on the Gatorade logo that said, “Islam — Is It In You?” and others that played on the Krispy Kreme logo emblazoned with the words, “Koran Al Kareem — Taste the Sweetness of Faith.”

The FBI and the Army posted officers to recruit translators, vendors sold books and Muslim-oriented computer software, and numerous groups promoted charitable donations to relieve suffering in Muslim nations around the world.

Financial advisers also discussed how investors can remain true to sharia, the canonical laws of Islam, by choosing stocks and mutual funds that avoid businesses that are considered unpure.

“We need an Islamic Fidelity and an Islamic Vanguard,” lamented one Muslim adviser, Rushdie Siddiqui.

Another financial consultant, Omar Haydar, named publicly traded companies that meet sharia standards — Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and SBC — and those that don’t — Citibank, Philip Morris, Aon, AOL/Time Warner and Wal-Mart.

Perhaps the most unusual marketer at the convention was the Islamic matrimonial matching service, a voluntary committee of the Islamic society that introduces Muslim bachelors to Muslim women.

With Muslim Americans working long hours in elite professions and scattered across the country — sometimes far from Islamic brethren — there is no other way to find a mate without running afoul of tradition, said Ahmed A. Qadeer, who co-chairs the matrimonial committee with his wife. Conventional dating is not part of the courtship process.

“Islam tries to keep lust under control,” he said.

Mates can only be found by referrals from relatives, friends or services like his.

When Islam was new, women traditionally chose their husbands, but that changed when the Muslims assimilated into societies around the world where women had few rights, Qadeer said.

Today, Muslim American men registering with the Qadeers are looking for highly educated women who were born in the United States or who have lived in this country long enough to understand the U.S. way of life. Most of the women and men are yuppies, he said.

Qadeer, a computer software consultant outside Chicago, said he knows of at least 15 couples that married after they were introduced by the service. “We think that’s pretty good,” he said.

Next, he said, the service will be made available on the Internet — with photos.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday September 3, 2002.
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