By Sabrina Enayatulla
On Saturday, April 10, 2010, the WhyIslam project’s Southern California chapter gathered for its sixth annual WhyIslam fundraising banquet, raising a total of $75,000 through donations, and an auction made up of items donated from the community. This year’s total marks a record amount raised for the organization, according to the ICNA Chapter’s Dawah Committee Chairman, Amir Mertaban.
“We already have a plan for 2010 set in stone,” Mertaban said. “And we hope to use these funds for TV and ad campaigns, and to revamp our Web site. We want to put a professional face on Islam.”
The WhyIslam project, a brainchild of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), began nearly a decade ago, and is fueled by the dedication and hard work of its volunteers across the country. The project aims to provide educational materials on Islam with a non-invasive and balanced approach. The WhyIslam Web site, toll-free hotline, and community booths at malls are just a few ways the project hopes to reach out to those seeking to learn about the faith.
Saturday’s fundraising banquet brought together a number of religious scholars, and community leaders who talked about both the spiritual and social implications of spreading the truth about Islam. Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America attended the event via Web cam, and spoke to the group of about 400 at the Anaheim Convention Center about the importance of Muslims taking responsibility for the message of Islam.
“This is the duty and message of every Muslim – man and woman,” Siddiqui said. “We don’t want to force anyone to accept Islam, but it is our job to remove the doubt. We want our message to reach people, and [to do that] we have to understand our audience. If Muslims neglect our religion, we cannot expect CNN and ABC News to convey the correct message for us.”
Waqas Syed, Assistant Secretary General of ICNA, and a member of the National Shura said although the WhyIslam project has a few non-Muslim donors, the yearly fundraising event, and regular volunteers are mostly comprised of Muslims.
“I think a message like this could be interpreted the wrong way,” Syed said. “But our goal is not to push anyone. It’s just to provide the necessary information they need so they can have their questions answered.”
For Sheikh Mohammed Faqih, a professor at AlMaghrib Institute in Orange County, the WhyIslam project has taken the kind of approach toward Islam that he feels has been lacking since post 9-11.
“I remember saying, ‘Let this not be a reaction. Let this not be a product of fear,’” Faqih said referring to the sudden climb in community outreach following the Sept. 11 attacks. “The focus was on what we are not rather than what we are. We sounded weak, apologetic, defensive. What’s unique about [the WhyIslam project] is that it didn’t take that approach. Instead of saying what Islam is not, it is saying what it is and why.”
But the repercussions of post 9-11 are still being felt in many areas around the country posing challenges for community leaders involved in the WhyIslam project. Ahrar Ahmad, team leader for the Corona, Ca. chapter of WhyIslam, and a former law enforcement officer said that living in an area referred to as “the Bible Belt of California” can sometimes be a little complicated.
“We have more Evangelicals in our area,” he said. “So our challenge is more about getting ourselves out there. Sometimes it gets hostile because they’re not even aware that [Muslims] exist where they live. But an event like this, where we can all come together and talk about dawah, definitely builds confidence. It motivates us to know how to respond.”
For more information about WhyIslam, visit www.WhyIslam.org, or call 1-877-Why-Islam.