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by Q. Daawud Grey, THE INTERNET REPORTER
Conveners of Imams in IWDM’s School of Thought (l. – r.): Bashir Ali; Fahmee Sabree; Taalib Mahdee; Mubaashir Uqdah; Yahya Islam
“How does the Community respond to national concerns,” is the way one imam in the audience put it.
“Right now, there are issues we should be . . . speaking with one voice about,” urged another imam in the audience.
With such controversial issues as Palestine, terrorism and homosexuality, ” . . . people want to know: Where is the voice of the Community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed?” said Dr. Mubaashir Uqdah, one of the organizers of the weekend event.
The first Annual Imams’ Conference for IWDM’s community was held on the weekend of Oct. 2 through Oct. 4. It was sponsored by the Conveners of Imams, an off-spring of the National Council of Imams, a body formed in 1978 two years after the Community transitioned from the Nation of Islam into the World Community of Islam in the West.
Following the Council’s template, the Community was divided into seven regions or sections with a convener for each section. The conveners are elected by the imams of their respective region. The seven conveners are: (1) Imam Bashir Alim for the Midwest section; (2) Imam Taalib Mahdee for the New England section; (3) Imam Dr. Abdel Nuriddin for the Mid-Atlantic section; (4) Imam Yahya Islam for the Southern section; (5) Imam Fahmee Sabree for the Southwest section: (6) Imam Wali Fardan for the Western section and (7) Dr. Uqdah for the Northeast section.
All the conveners were present at the Imams’ Conference except Imam Fardan who was out of the country and Dr. Nuriddin who was prevented by Hurricane Joaquin. The Conference was hosted by Masjidullah of Philadelphia PA.
As contained in the event’s journal, the purpose of the Conference was to provide a forum for bonding and “interactive learning,” and for improving the administrative, leadership and community-life skills of the imams.
The half-day Fri. session began with Jumu’ah, led by Imam Sulaiman Salaam of Al-Haqq Islamic Center in Kansas City MO, and included addresses by Sheikh Qasim Ahmed and Dr. Uqdah. The all-day Sat. session offered six, 45-minute lectures by knowledgeable students of IWDM, prefaced by a brief panel discussion. The three-hour Sun program included two 45-minute presentations and a “wrap-up” session.
This report covers the Sat. and Sun. sessions.
At the Sat. session which attracted the largest audience, “community representation” on a national level was the overriding issue for the 70 imams in attendance.
On Sept. 20 of this year, Presidential candidate Ben Carson set-off a national storm when he said in a TV interview, he was “absolutely” against a Muslim becoming President.
One imam at the conference used the Carson statement as proof of the Community’s need for a voice on the national level. But, he asked, “How do we determine who (that will be)?”
While several imams expressed support for some type of national representation, only one imam was opposed.
“We should not want to have one voice in our community because that constrains us,” said the opposing imam, suggesting that any imam in IWDM’s association, can speak, as long as they “express the limitation of their authority to speak.” In other words, a Muslim “in our Community” should only speak from the “platform” or entity which he or she is entitled to, i.e. an IWDM masjid, the American Coalition for Good Government, Muslim American Logic Institute, Conveners of Imams,etc.
Still, as Dr. Uqdah pointed out, should “everybody or anybody” from the Community go “on national TV and speak?” As a body of people, “we need a process for deciding that,” advised Dr. Uqdah
Imam Ali proposed to the Sat. audience a method for “authorizing representatives of the Community.” It is the Qur’anic principle called “shuraa baynahum” or mutual consultation. In a well-researched, power point presentation entitled “Developing Community with Shuraa Baynahum: Principles, Practices and Challenges,” its Qur’anic source was cited:
“And those who have responded to their Guardian-Evolver and established prayer and order their affairs (upon the principle of) mutual consultation and from what we provided them, they spend.” (Q 42:38)
The fact that the principle is sandwiched between two obligations in al-Islam – prayer and charity – is a sign for Imam Ali that it is “obligatory, and not optional, in every situation involving more than one person.” Of course, he noted, “shuraa baynahum” doesn’t supercede the injunctions of the Qur’an nor the established practices of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Imam Ali , who doubles as the national convener, also referred to a Hadith for support. Abu Huraira related: “The Holy Prophet was most solicitous in consulting others in all matters of importance.” Imam Ali cited the call to prayer, the battles of Badr, Uhud and the Trench and the conference at Hudaybiyyah as examples.
Nor did the national convener overlook IWDM’s tafseer or commentary about shuraa. “G-d says to us: Order upon the principle of Shuraa, of mutual consultation . . . This is a meeting of the minds; the mutual meeting of the best minds, discussing the matter and coming up with a consensus, a judgment they all support.” (from “Support Religion for Social Dignity and Community Empowerment,” a 3-14-08 address in Boston, MA).
However, the issues of “community representation, position statements” for the public and the use of shuraa as an overall policy for the Community were not to be decided at the 2015 Annual Imams’ Conference. “These are big issues,” Imam Ali said in response to the question on whether a decision would be made over the weekend. “People of knowledge don’t make snap decisions. It may take months to address some of these issues.”
(l-r) Dr. Abd’Allah Adesanya, Convener of the National Education Consortium of Clara Muhammad Schools & Imam Benjamin Bilal of Masjidut-Taqwa in Trenton, NJ
In the area of leadership skills, Imam Benjamin Bilal of Masjidut-Taqwa in Trenton NJ, gave a presentation entitled “Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communication,” which was basically a sampling of his own insight into IWDM’s commentary.
One of IWDM’s popular sayings was “the two legs of moral and rational thinking.” The message, Imam Bilal derived from the saying, was that of cognitive balance. The baby generally requires one-to-two years, he pointed out, “to stand up, balance itself and walk,” unlike many other animals, such as the colt who can “within minutes sometimes” after birth, stand up and walk.
Likewise, Imam Bilal concluded that proper moral and rational thinking requires balance. “Balance where? In the intellect,” he answered. “Because . . . if you have extremism operating in the intellect, you will never achieve the proper moral perception and the proper rational application of that perception, Allah would intend for you to have,” Imam Bilal explained.
So, IWDM’s reference to morals and reasoning, Imam Bilal said, was not society’s definition but was based on the Fitrah. “The Fitrah is the natural pattern upon which G-d has created everything you see,” explained the etymological imam, adding that every object in the universe has its own “fitrah” or G’d-given pattern. Since homosexuality is not the “rule,” but the exception to the human being’s fitrah, then Muslims can not support homosexuality, Imam Bilal argued.
Instructor Bilal, as he prefers to be called, reflected on another popular IWDM saying: “Follow the logic.”
Referring to the New Testament in the Bible, Imam Bilal said, “If, in the beginning, was the Word and the Word is called logos in Greek, (which is the source of the term logic), then everything in the observable universe represents Allah’s logic.”
And that logic, which IWDM was referring to, “follows a certain pattern of development,” Imam Bilal said, “. . . that actually locks us in with the original purpose for Creation itself and . . . can be employed to advance human life toward the goal that Allah has set for us,” which is an ethical society.
While Imam Ali focused on community development and Imam Bilal was suppose to focus on communication, two other Sat. presenters focused on masjid administration.
Imam Muhammad Abdul-Aleem, resident imam emeritus of Masjidullah in Philadelphia, PA
Imam Muhammad Abdul-Aleem’s power point presentation entitled “Masjidullah: A Case Study” offered two keys to the relative success of Masjidullah.
The $1.2 million facility, formerly a Bilalian (African-American) church, was purchased in May 2013. The multi-purpose complex contains: a 20,000 sq. ft. musallah (prayer space) with a capacity for 1,000 worshipers; a banquet hall for serving 300 people; 14 classrooms with accommodations for 300 students; a commercial kitchen and cafeteria; a separate administrative building with 10 office-spaces and a parking lot with 126 spaces.
As the first key to Masjidullah’s success, Imam Aleem – resident imam emeritus and its imam from 1982 to 2001 – credited its “line of purity” in resisting the Muslims’ past “nucleus of corruption,” that was once prevalent in the city.
According to the former high school teacher of physics and biology, a small group of Muslims left Muhammad’s Mosque on Wylusing Ave back in 1977 and by 1979 had formed Masjid Mujahideen. After discovering that another Masjid Mujahideen existed in the area, IWDM himself suggested the name Masjidullah, Imam Aleem related. The name was assumed when the building at 7700 Ogontz Av was acquired in 1984.
The compiler of a concordance to the Qur’an pointed out that Masjidullah was “the first masjid named by Imam Mohammed (as leader); was never a satellite (of another Temple or mosque); and (its) founding members were pioneers who supported Imam Mohammed when he was minister” of Philadelphia’s Temple # 12 in 1959.
The second key to Masjidullah’s success was a 2012 fundraising feasibility study which Imam Aleem introduced with the remark: “Most masjids have no financial reality.” The purpose of the study was “to survey the Muslim community about plans to conduct a fundraising drive for . . . the expansion of the masjid,” since the membership had outgrown the Ogontz facility.
The two main findings of the study which surveyed 108 Muslims were: (1) “An overwhelming number . . . indicated . . . a desire to expand (but) with some cautious apprehension” and (2) “. . . there seemed to be an undertone for the lack of accountability of previously failed initiatives and unclear refund policies.”
Consequently, the main recommendations of the study were: set realistic fundraising goals; develop a time frame for the goals; create fundraising projects; make strong communication efforts to prospective donors for clarification and support of the projects; study outside sources for funding; and state clearly any refund policies.
Imam Mikal Shabazz of Masjidullah in Philadelphia, PA
Meanwhile, the current resident imam of Masjidullah, Mikal Shabazz presented some management tools to assist in administering a masjid. A diagram of “The Management Process in 3D” showed the inside of a cone flattened into pie-like wedges that are anchored by three basic elements: “people, things and ideas.” Above the elements are their “tasks, functions and activities,” in graduated concentric circles, each with a corresponding definition. For instance, if the element is “people,” the task is “leadership;” its continuous function is to “communicate;” its sequential function is to “staff, direct and control;” and some of its activities are to “train, delegate and reward.”
The SWOT (Stengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis Worksheet “is an effective method of identifying your strengths and weaknesses and examining the opportunities and threats you face,” Imam Shabazz explained, which can help in revealing the administrative changes, needed.
Imam Earl El-Amin of the Muslim Community Cultural Center in Baltimore, MD
The most interactive presentation was given by Imam Earl El-Amin of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore. Imam El-Amin’s topic was “Community and Government Relations.” Perhaps, the presentation was so engaging because Imam El-Amin approached the topic with a series of questions for the audience.
He had no power point technology; only eight questions for the Sunday audience of about 40. The questions ranged from: Does your masjid/center have a working relationship with the city, state and federal governments? . . . with local businesses, schools and universities? . . . with the local media?
How many members of your masjid/center serve on boards, commissions and advisory committees of various organizations and institutions in your area? . . . support community services in the community?
A lively discussion followed with a substantial amount of information-sharing from the audience.
But the final question drove home the point of his selected hadith (saying of the Prophet): The best of you are those who are most useful to the society. It asked: “If you (the masjid or center) were to leave the (area), would you be missed?”
Another presenter who didn’t use power point technology was Dr. Abd’Allah Adesanya, whose Sat. lecture on leadership development was entitled “The Missing Rungs in Jacob’s Ladder.” Dr. Adesanya did not attempt to interpret the “esoteric” meaning of Jacob’s Ladder but did refer to a ladder of sorts – The Ascension of the Prophet through the Seven Heavens.
“On the first heaven, the Prophet met Adam, and Imam Mohammed said Adam is our pure human nature connected to the environment,” explained Dr. Adesanya, Convener of the National Educational Consortium of Clara Muhammad Schools (NECCMS).
“On the second level was Prophet Jesus and John the Baptist. (They had) love for each other – compassion,” said the founder and principal of Timbuctu Educational Academy in South Carolina whose doors were recently shut because of the lack of funds.
“Third level (is) Prophet Joseph which is intuition – the sixth sense,” he shared. Then the fourth level is: “Idris, the scribe mentioned only twice in the Qur’an. Why? Because he stands for the institution of education,” revealed Dr. Adesanya. “This is very important because this is the rung that the Bilalian is missing – educational institutions,” the NECCMS convener emphasized.
While discussing the fifth level which stood for Prophet Harun (Aaron) who symbolizes “culture,” he advised the Sat. audience: “Your responsibility, as imams, is to help establish structures of education and culture . . . . if we are going to move forward as a community.” The Muslim educator emphasized their collective support is crucial, “because no matter how hard you work as an individual, you will not be able to move (the Community) . . . by yourself.”
Imam W. Deen Shareef of Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington, NJ
Another Sat. speaker on community development was Imam W. Deen Shareef of Masjid Waarith ud Deen of Irvington, NJ. His address entitled “Conceptual Wholeness: The Sacred Conflict of Dialectical Association – Intra & Interfaith Speech and Language as Tools for Social Development and Progress” was derived from IWDM’s 2002 Ramadhan Sessions.
Imam Shareef, immediately defined dialogue or dialetics as: “not just talk, but a mindful exchange with respect to meaningful language.” In the Qur’anic discussion with the idol-worshipers, Prophet Abraham, “who was known for his dialetics,” Imam Shareef said, “presented logical arguments to disclose any contradictions . . . (in order to) bring the dialogue to a resolution or synthesis of the facts . . .”
In the 2002 lectures, IWDM explained the purpose of dialetic association or conversation. “(It is) a devotion to a discipline of the rational mind, searching for the right thought, the right idea, the right direction for arriving at a specific logic that would govern man’s life . . . in a society.”
With the help of eight Qur’anic ayats (verses), the New Jersey imam offered a convincing argument in his power point presentation to support the underlying unity that exists in man’s diversity.
Imam Sulaiman Salaam of Al-Haqq Islamic Center in Kansas City, MO
The only other Sun. speaker was Imam Salaam who gave the Jumu’ah lecture and, like Imam El-Amin, did not utilize a power point projector. His topic was “Dawah and the Importance of Social Media.”
After questioning a few imams about their masjid/center’s membership, Imam Shabazz uncovered the fact that “in the last five years,” the number of new converts, “under the age of 40, is very small.”
Furthermore, based upon a report compiled by the national convener, Imam Ali, “the average age of the membership in our association is 60,” Imam Salaam revealed. “If we are not engaging and attracting younger people, then our community is dying,” Imam Salaam noted.
The Clara Muhammad graduate advised the older generation of imams to rethink their approach to propagating al-Islam. “Going door-to-door or standing on the street selling Muslim Journal might not be the best approach today,” Imam Salaam suggested. Especially when “statistics say, most people are not reading newspapers anymore,” he said.
Imam Salaam implored the imams to start using emails, You Tube, Facebook, and other social media platforms because, based on a Google training he participated in, “70% of all adults are now getting their news and information from social media,” Imam Salaam concluded.