Report on the 1980 MSA convention in Oxford, Ohio
Author: Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan (He is identified at the bottom of the article as “a Citizen editorial writer, specializing in international affairs.)
Source: The Citizen (Ottawa), June 2, 1980, Page 7
ORIGINAL TITLE: North American Muslims united at convention
OXFORD, Ohio – “What’s going on here,” asked someone, stopping his car and looking at the different costumes, and faces, he saw at the Miami University campus here.
His surprise was justified. Government ministers from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, scholars and emissaries from Asia and Africa and people of all ages from all over North America had gathered here for three days.
It was the 18th annual co-vention [sic] of the Muslim Students’ Association of the United States and Canada (MSA), but the organization’s title is a misnomer. Now 65 to 70 per cent of its members are immigrants, and naturalized Americans and Canadians.
God is Great
For three days, the lifestyle at the campus changed to that of Islam. People called each other “brother” or “sister.” Women dressed themselves with modesty. Early in the morning, before the sun rose, there were cries of Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great), a signal to the worshippers to get up for their dawn prayers.
In between sessions, various merchants sold their wares – religious books, prayer rugs, compass instruments that could show, in each city of North America, which way to face towards Mecca for prayers.
Charter buses came from Ottawa and Montreal – and from many parts of the United-States and Canada. From Canada came some 500 Muslims. From the U.S., 3,500. Among those present, the most enthusiastic were new converts to Islam.
People from areas where the Muslims are repressed appealed for moral support – the Afghans, the Somalis, Thai Muslims, the Eritreans, the Palestinians. Funds were collected for helping the refugees of Afghanistan, Eritrea and other places. Some Muslim leaders sent messages.
But the gathering’s loyalty was to Islam. Muslim governments came in for slashing criticism, for flouting Islamic principles.
Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr sent a message, proclaiming that “the tide of history is with Muslim youth.”
That may or may not be. But the conference organizers want to ensure that the roughly three million Muslims of North America retain their religious heritage.
MSA now has chapters in 253 campuses in the U.S. and Canada. Unlike the Council of Muslim Communities of Canada, the MSA leaders don’t seek limelight for themselves, curry favor with Muslim dignitaries or depend overwhelmingly on funds from abroad. MSA seeks self-reliance and is a grassroots movement.
Through its publications, speakers, exhibits and other services, it serves the far-flung Muslim communities throughout North America. The annual convention is the MSA’s biggest gathering. But its eastern, central and western zones have their own get-togethers.
Its Canadian zone, for example, will have a summer conference at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., June 27-30.
The Oxford convention focused on Opportunities and challenges of the 15th century hijrah. The term hijrah refers to the migration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, where he established a Muslim administration. The Islamic calendar dates itself from that migration.
The significance of that migration to Muslims in North America was discussed by several speakers. Perhaps the most articulate expression came from Abdul Alim Sultan Abdullah, an American Muslim, who said that American Muslims can’t physically leave their homeland but they should have a spiritual migration.
“We must break away from the practices of the past,” he said. “How a Muslim carries himself should manifest his belief in God. His conduct should be exemplary.”
What’s the future of Muslims in North America? Different persons offered diverse views.
“I do not think that the chances of survival of Islam in North America are very good,” said Naim Munir, a young Muslim. “Very few parents here practice Islam or set a worthy example for their children.”
Naziruddin Ali, president of the MSA, said he was confident “Islam will be a permanent reality in North America.” He admitted that “not enough is being done” by Muslims to guide their children, but said this called for renewed determination to do more.
Sense of values
Mahmood Rashdan, secretary-general of MSA, said that the Muslims were a minority in North America. The problem, rather, was to imbue Muslims with a sense of Islamic values.
Most participants at the convention were young people. The MSA’s income in 1979 came to more than $2 million, compared to $100,000 eight years ago, with over 60 percent coming from North America itself. In addition, former members of the MSA sent substantial donations from abroad.
The MSA is now working to build a North American Islamic Center near Indianapolis, Indiana. The ground-breaking ceremony is likely to start in a month for the first stage of the project, which will have a prayer hall and a 100,000-volume library. The entire project is likely to be completed in three years or so at a cost of $15 million. It will include offices of MSA and its affiliated organizations, a training camp for youth, and other facilities. Money for the first stage, to cost more than $2 million, has already been pledged. Carleton University’s Prof. Gulzar Haider designed the complex.
The participant’s response to the convention was summed up by an Ottawa visitor who said: “After attending the convention, one feels that if God wills, Islam can be a tremendous force in the world for peace and prosperity.”
Message of Cross
But the Muslims had some competition in disseminating their message on campus. I saw several people distributing their own leaflets. The one thrust on my hand by a smiling young girl said The message of the Cross on the cover and, inside, it admonished me: “Confess to God that you are a sinner, and need Jesus to save you. Confess specific sins (sexual immortality, drunkenness, hatred, envy, jealousy, lust, etc.).” And then: “Tell God you repent – turn from running your own life and surrender your life, your will, and all that you have to the lordship of Jesus Christ… Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Reading the literature, I thought of John E. Sullivan, a white American convert to Islam, who had said in his speech: “Allah says: ‘Verily we have directed the people of the book before you and you O Muslims to fear Allah. But if ye deny Him, lo! unto Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth, and Allah is free of all wants, worthy of all praise’.”