Home > Israel > Where Are All of the Moderate Muslims? This Past Weekend They Were In Chicago

Where Are All of the Moderate Muslims? This Past Weekend They Were In Chicago

July 5, 2011

This Saturday, I was lucky enough to be guided around the Bazaar at the Convention of ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America. The convention was held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center near O’Hare. This is the largest convention center in Illinois after Chicago’s gargantuan McCormick Place.

My guide was a new friend, Eiman, who was kind enough to offer to act as my tour guide (along with two of his children) to the Exhibition Floor:  the Bazaar. As we entered the exhibition hall, “Bazaar” was the perfect descriptor.  We were bombarded with a cacophony of energy with hundreds of people wending their way through the narrow aisles between rows of convention booths.  The variation of wares, clothing and people represented the diversity of the growing Muslim population here in the US.  There were goods of all sizes and shapes being sold including saffron and cerulean saris, books and tapes of the Quran and related Islamic topics, and even a singer personally autographing her CD’s.  Other booths represented the collision of ancient religious practices with the realities of 21st Century life:  halal meat providers, Islamic bankers/financiers who have figured out how to lend money within the restrictions of Islamic law which prohibits payment of interest, and the producers of a new feature-length documentary about some Muslim high school football players in Dearborn, MI dealing with the realities of being Arab-American teenagers and including maintaining their faith during Ramadan while facing opponents on the field (check out info on “Fordson”, here http://www.fordsonthemovie.com/).  Finally, there were booths related to charities and the related concept of Zakat (very similar to the Jewish principle of Tzedukah).  While there have been examples of the use of Islamic charities as a cover for funneling money to terrorist groups – and that is obviously a concern – that should not tar all Islamic charities with the same brush.  Few can argue with at least one project represented:  one of the most prominent signs in the entry way requested attendees to sign up for the National Bone Marrow Registry in memory of Bilal, a seventeen year old boy whose life was lost because of the lack of a matching donor.

Some people on the internet have described this convention as a meeting of radical extremists, terrorists and other trying to bring Sharia law to the United States.  While one can never know what thoughts and motives lie behind anyone’s outer appearance, it sure didn’t look that way to me.  What I saw was hundreds of middle class Americans trying to see what items were available that related to their religion and cultures.  And when I say “cultures” with an “s”, there were people there that represented a rainbow of cultures from Arabian to Pakistani-Indian to African dressed in a similar array of outfits that spanned the globe from women hidden under black burkas to many women wearing modern, colorful headscarves to young men with t-shirts and jeans.  If you want to learn more about the Convention and get a flavor of it, you can check out the convention program here to understand what the conference sessions were all about and actually see highlights from the Convention at the ISNA website here.

Eiman explained to me that as the son of Egyptian PhD professors, he is now a leader in the Chicago community trying to handle one of the primary, universal issues that has confronted all second generation immigrants to America:  How to embrace the best of American economic and cultural opportunities, while somehow making sure that the third generation still retains ties to the old religion, culture and values.

Location:Chicago, IL

Categories: Israel
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