While the war against terror has placed much emphasis on the status of Muslims internationally, a conference held in the Michigan Union Ballroom over Spring Break attempted to focus on the Muslim community domestically.
“We wanted to really bring emphasis on Muslims in America,” said Muslim Graduate Student Association representative and Dental School student Mohammad Khalil. “People think that Muslims only care about what’s going on internationally but they care about both international and local issues.”
The conference, titled “The 1st Annual Perspectives on the Muslim Community in America Conference,” featured University of Chicago Islamic studies Prof. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, Howard University African studies Prof. Sulayman Nyang, DePaul University Islamic studies and religious studies Prof. Aminah McCloud and Wayne State University Islamic studies Prof. Muneer Fareed.
“These are speakers that are well known among Muslims in America,” Khalil said.
Khalil said event organizers wanted to get as many different perspectives as possible to discuss issues highly debated within the Muslim community, such as dealing with different ideologies and understandings of Islam.
The speakers’ backgrounds were as diverse as the topics that they covered. Abd-Allah was born in a Protestant family and converted to Islam while in college. Nyang is a former Gambian diplomat who immigrated to the United States in 1978. McCloud is a black convert to Islam, while Fareed is originally from South Africa.
The diversity among American Muslims in terms of ethnicity, nationality, ideology and socioeconomic status was a topic that several speakers addressed.
“The community is so heterogeneous. It’s so diverse, to speak of it as a community is possibly a misnomer,” Abd-Allah said.
In his keynote speech titled “Muslims in America: Historically, Post 9-11 and in Relation to the International Community,” Nyang said there are over 80 nationalities represented in the American Muslim community.
“The American Muslim community is a mirror image of global Islam,” he said.
Nyang said there are three major communities among Muslims in the United States today: African American Muslims, Arab American Muslims, and South Asian Muslims.
McCloud spoke about issues affecting the black Muslim community, who make up the majority of converts to Islam. She also touched upon the tensions between the black community and immigrant Muslims, who have different ideas and practices associated with Islam. She also spoke about relationship between women and Islam.
Another topic that was addressed involved the problems that many Muslims have faced post-Sept. 11. “Since (September 11), the American Muslim community has come under siege,” Nyang said.
Nyang said it is important for Muslims to find a balance between domestic and international interest.”You do not sacrifice your American identity on the altar of solidarity to Islam internationally,” he said.
When it comes to the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, Khalil said “There’s a lot of tension that could be alleviated in a lot of ways.”
“Dr. Abd-Allah raised some good points about Muslims and what Muslims need to do in order to improve the manner by which they interact with non-Muslims,” he said.
“He proposed reasonable solutions for Muslims and non-Muslims to ease a lot of underlying tension without compromising their beliefs,” Khalil added.
LSA senior Sophia Hussain said she agreed with Abd-Allah that the priority of American Muslims should be to develop their own community.
“The future of our community here in America is very important,” she said.
Hussain said the American Muslim community needs to work on defining itself.
But because it encompasses so many different types of people she added, “There is not one single American Muslim identity.”