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Religious Service: Challenges, Opportunities & Cooperation


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Speech of ICNA President Naeem Baig at the first Summit of Latin American Muslim Religious Leaders in Istanbul, Turkey on November 14, 2014.

In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

All praise is to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, and may His peace and blessings be upon Muhammad, the last and final Messenger of Allah.

Dear Esteemed Prof. Dr. Mehmet Gordez,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Islam,

Assalamu ‘Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh

I would like to thank the Department of Religious Affairs, Diyanet, for hosting this important conference and inviting me, and for this opportunity to talk about American Muslims.

Islam in America is not new. According to some scholars, Muslim explorers came to the Americas even before Columbus. Many of the slaves who were brought to America were from Muslim parts of Africa. It is estimated that around 20 percent or more were Muslim.

Today, American Muslims number roughly 8 million and represent over 80 ethnicities. The African American Muslim community is the largest and constitutes about 30 percent of American Muslims. Some famous Black Muslims include Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Malcolm X.

In the US there are currently over 2200 Islamic Centers and masajid, where in addition to daily and Friday prayers, many activities take place. These Islamic Centers serve as community centers, youth centers, day cares, schools and more. Weekend Islamic schools offer education to children and many masajid have daily Quran schools as well.

There are American Muslim organizations, such as ICNA, MAS and CAIR, which are active in many areas like da’wah, relief, social services, education, and the civil rights struggle.

Challenges and Opportunities
As we know, challenges and opportunities go together. Every challenge is an opportunity.

The American Muslim community faces internal and external challenges:

INTERNAL CHALLENGES

Sectarianism
Alhamdulillah, although we do not have levels of sectarianism seen in some Muslim countries, we still have to deal with the Shia Sunni divide. Because of the Syrian civil war, the division has unfortunately widened. The American Muslim community has to overcome this issue. I believe it is possible for the two communities to come to a mutual understanding.

Good Governance
Our Islamic Centers require proper training on how to function professionally. Most are run by volunteers who can only give a limited time to the center’is management. A training program is needed for these volunteers.

Da’wah
Americans are very open when it comes to religion. They don’t mind reading and learning about different faiths. This is a huge opportunity for American Muslims to talk about Islam. Our responsibility is to convey the message of our deen. ICNA’s da’wah project, Why Islam, is actively engaged in da’wah and outreach work throughout the country. The more we open up and talk about our faith, the higher the likelihood that Americans’ opinions will change, inshaAllah. They hear about Islam and Muslims almost daily, often it in a positive light. This offers us an opportunity to tell our fellow Americans what true Islam is.

EXTERNAL CHALLENGES

Media
Most popular, main stream American media is not Muslim friendly, especially the radio talk-shows popular in the south. We lack the resources to support balanced media.

Islamophobia
Islamophobia is an industry. Some people have become experts on Islam overnight and spread hate with the help of media and social media. Many among them are in the police and other security agencies, thus causing more problems for the Muslim community.

Global Muslim World
Events happening in the global world have a huge impact on the American Muslim community. As part of the Muslim ummah, we feel the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters.

Dawah Projects
Through WhyIslam, ICNA offers workshops on the ‘Techniques of Da’wah’. These workshops can be done online as well. We have many brochures on different aspects of Islam in several languages.

Youth Conference
There is a need to organize a conference of youth leadership. It will help strengthen their ties with the rest of the youth, and offer an opportunity to share each others experiences and stories.

Youth Summer Programs
ICNA’s relief organization, Helping Hand accepts youth in annual summer internship programs for relief and educational projects.

ICNA-MAS Conventions
We would encourage our brothers and sisters to join us at our two main conferences every year.

Domestic relief and counseling programs
ICNA Relief is a domestic relief body of ICNA. We do youth and family counseling and also offer domestic relief and social service projects. ICNA Relief has 14 Women Shelters where Muslim women suffering from domestic abuse can come and stay.

In conclusion, it is my hope that at the end of this conference we formulate an action plan and set ourselves goals for mutual cooperation.

JazakAllah khayr

Assalamu ‘Alaykum