SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- Thousands of Muslims from across the U.S. are headed to Detroit this weekend for one of the biggest Islamic conventions in North America, a four-day event at which they will discuss the future of their community and faith in America.
Kicking off Friday, the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) has already stoked controversy, drawing attacks from some conservatives who say the event is organized by an extremist group with ties to terror organizations — a claim strongly rejected by ISNA.
Former President Jimmy Carter and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder are among the speakers, both of whom have drawn criticism for agreeing to appear at the convention, being held at Cobo Center.
ISNA officials have said their group is not tied to any extremist organizations and are focused on creating a welcoming place for Muslims from across the U.S.
At the convention, Muslim leaders are to talk on a wide range of topics, including Islamic law, politics, family life, business and foreign policy. One special guest this year is Nigeria’s top Muslim leader.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to show not only American Muslims around the nation, but also our fellow Michiganians, that we’re a very diverse community,” said Imam Aly Lela, religious leader at theIslamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills and one of the convention speakers. “We are contributing to the economy and to the well-being of our cities and our states.”
Founded in 1982, ISNA came out of the Muslim Students Association, which will be holding its convention at the same time in conjunction with ISNA.
This is the first time ISNA is holding its annual gathering in Detroit, which is known nationally as a center for Muslim life in the U.S.
It will include a 5K run along the Detroit River, a tour of metro Detroit’s mosques and several speakers from metro Detroit’s Muslim communities, including local imams, Wayne County Circuit Judge Charlene Elder and Haaris Ahmad, Counsel for Economic Development and Real Estate for Wayne County who is president of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Snyder will be “highlighting the city’s resurgence and state’s comeback and recognizing Muslim-American contributions to the city, state and country and the opportunities that exist for everyone to work together to achieve prosperity and understanding” when he speaks Friday, said spokeswoman Sara Wurfel.
Some military veterans and tea party leaders are criticizing the governor for speaking at an ISNA convention.
Gerald Bloomfield of Ypsilanti — whose son, 38-year-old Maj. Gerald Bloomfield II was a Marine helicopter pilot killed in Iraq in 2005 — said he called the governor’s office Wednesday to object to Snyder appearing at the event.
“I don’t think the governor should disrespect my family and thousands of other people who have had family die,” Bloomfield said.
“I am very surprised that he accepted” the invitation to speak, he said. “I don’t know why he would.”
In 2009, a federal judge in Texas, Jorge Antonio Solis, ruled in a case involving a Muslim charity, Holy Land for Relief and Development, that “the government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of” ISNA and other groups with Hamas. The Justice Department had labeled ISNA as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against the charity, which was linked to Hamas. The judge’s ruling also cited a 1991 memo that listed ISNA as a Muslim Brotherhood organization.
ISNA officials did not respond this week to Free Press inquiries for comment, but have previously denied any links to terrorist groups. “ISNA is not now nor has it ever been subject to the control of any other domestic or international organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood,” according to a statement on ISNA’s website. It said it was disturbed when it was placed on the list and that “ISNA is not a target in this prosecution or any pending investigation.”
“ISNA rejects all acts of terrorism, including those perpetrated by Hamas, Hizbullah and any other group that claims Islam as their inspiration.”
Carter, who earlier this month called for the U.S. to recognize Hamas as a legitimate political group, came under fire on Thursday from the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian legal center in Ann Arbor, for agreeing to speak at the convention. The center said the former president is giving “the cover of respectability” to ISNA.
A panel discussion on Turkey set for Saturday features three speakers who favor Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, aligned with Islamist movements. Some Turkish journalists have slammed ISNA for the panel. In response, ISNA released a statement on Tuesday saying “this will not be a partisan panel, and various perspectives will be offered.”
The convention also features a panel discussion on Kashmir with Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Virginia man who was arrested by the FBI in 2011 and then pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and violating tax laws. He was sentenced in March 2012 to two years in federal prison after admitting he got millions of dollars from Pakistan’s intelligence services.
The ISNA and students’ conventions are to include seven talks by Yasir Qadhi, a Muslim leader from Tennessee who has said that Muslim women generally should not work outside the home, and has expressed anti-gay and anti-Shia views. Over the past year, Qadhi has said he has changed his views toward Shias and no longer identifies with Salafis, a group some criticize as being extreme.
ISNA, which has been seen as being anti-Shia in the past, has worked over the past year to include Shias at the convention in Detroit, which has a sizable Shia community in the area.
“There has been a tremendous effort in ISNA to welcome … diversity and the path of pluralism in recent years,” said Imam Mohammed Elahi, a Shia leader who heads the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights and is one of the convention speakers. Two leaders with ISNA visited his mosque over the past year.
“I may disagree with some of ISNA positions,” Elahi said, but added the convention is a “blessing … spiritually and educationally.”
“ISNA convention is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate our similarities and appreciate our differences.”