Muslims in America deal with many of the same issues that affect other American families, but also contend with racial and ethnic profiling in an atmosphere of fear.
Finding ways to cope with the challenges of being Muslim in the United States brought hundreds of Muslim families to the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford on Friday. The weekend conference, a national event sponsored by two of largest Islamic organizations in the country, is intended to help Muslims meet challenges and celebrate their faith.
The recent news of terror suspects arrested in Florida is an example of media and government scrutiny of Muslims, said Naeem Baig, secretary general of Islamic Circle of North America, one of two groups hosting the conference. The other sponsor is the Muslim American Society.
"Take this Miami terror plot – when our government investigates, the first thing that comes out is that they are a Muslim group," Baig said, referring to the seven men in Florida accused of having links with Al-Qaida and planning an attack on the Sears Tower in Chicago.
"The next thing that happens is windows being broken at mosques and harassment," he said. "Muslims feel as if they are constantly being watched, as if our Islamic centers are somehow secretive places when in fact most are very open places that anyone can come into. The media promotes Muslims as if they are to be feared."
"Living Islam, Loving Humanity" – the theme of the convention – is important for the larger society to know about Islam, said Imam Qasim Khan, director of outreach for Islamic Circle.
"The emphasis is that you cannot live Islam unless you are showing love for humanity," Khan said. "All of the turmoil you see … – the Patriot Act, the hurricane, the tsunami – ICNA has been in the forefront of responding to the needs of humanity. And that is part of Islam – it's a complete way of life. We show our love for humanity, because we are all connected."
Among the guests this weekend is James Yee, a former U.S. Army Muslim chaplain, who will speak about civil rights. Yee was chaplain to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until he was arrested on espionage charges. He was jailed for three months and then released; the charges were dismissed.
In his book, "For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire," Yee says that prisoners were being subject to cruel and inhumane treatment. While recent suicides of three detainees made headlines several weeks ago, Yee said he believed there had been as many as 100 suicides there, and many more attempts.
"What that means is that some people, many of whom had been held there years without charges, felt it was better to die than to wait on American justice," Yee said.
Yee called Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that challenged the Bush administration's policies on Guantanamo a landmark decision.
"It means that human rights extend even to those being held in captivity and that, no matter where they are being held, international law still applies," Yee said.
In addition to sessions on civil rights, the conference features workshops on women's issues, parenting and youth issues.
On Friday, the conference held an interfaith session that included Bishop Peter Rosazza of the Hartford Archdiocese, the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak of the Christian Conference of Connecticut, Bishop Andrew Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and Heidi Hadsell, president of Hartford Seminary. Hadsell suggested the group work together to develop an interfaith response to the violence among youth in Hartford.
Zahid Bukhari, who directs the Center for Muslim and Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said that while there has been significant progress in interfaith connections between Muslims and Jews, Catholics and mainline Protestants, there has been little contact between Muslims and evangelical Christians.
"That is definitely a connection that has been missing. I think it is unfortunate that there has been so little dialogue," Bukhari said. "This is a group [evangelicals] that has a done important work in the inner city and has significant influence on foreign policy at the national level. I think it would be important for Muslims and evangelicals to begin talking to one another, because we share many of the same kinds of family and social values."
The conference continues today and Sunday at the Connecticut Convention Center. For more information, visit icna.org.
Contact Frances Grandy Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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