Sacramento Event Highlights the Need to Share Islam
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Pictures above: Glimpses of the community fundraiser organized by WhyIslam, Sacramento
When a reader here comes across a booth at a mall, a billboard, TV/Radio segments or even a local neighborhood advertisement that asks a very simple question “Why Islam?” it is bound to raise a certain level of curiosity. “Discover Islam” www.whyIslam.org says one such outlet while a car bumper sticker asks “got faith?” and gives you the same website or a phone number 1-877-WHY-ISLAM to reach if you are curious.
These are all related to an Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) outreach and educational messaging (Dawah) effort called WhyIslam which is helping the curious understand what the religion of Islam is here in America (as opposed to the activities of a handful of Muslims which the media often focuses on).
WhyIslam, Sacramento, based in California’s capital city, recently held a community fundraiser in support of local Dawah efforts at the La Sierra Community Center where it highlighted the work that it has been doing and asked for resource support for continuing to do the simple task that it has set out to do under often difficult circumstances. To aid the group’s fundraiser this time, Imam Tahir Anwar and Shaykh Alaeddin Elbakri for the Bay area offered their words of wisdom and inspiration to the approximately 200 people gathered at the venue.
The event started off with a fine Qur’anic recitation by Shaykh Refaat with an English translation by young Mayer Zahid. Master of ceremonies Arshad Khan next shared some of the work that the WhyIslam Sacramento group has been doing and then let a video presentation from ICNA elaborate further on the aims and objectives of this spiritual effort. ICNA by itself is an umbrella organization which is involved in many different aspects of Muslim life in America . Its relief efforts alone have already earned it the respect of many.
Arshad followed with a more detailed presentation of local WhyIslam activities, especially the booth that the group had set up at the last California State Fair. He explained that the group had one main mission: To educate and explain the truth about the religion of Islam to the mainstream community.
Imam Tahir Anwar presented the evening first keynote. He said that within the first revelation in the Qur’an to the Prophet was the word “Read” and that education was a fundamental part of the message. He said that immigrants often set unrealistic goals for themselves after coming to America and dream of going back. “Your children will not go back. This is their home. They have nowhere to go to,” he said. The basic premise of his “pep talk” was that we (Muslims) need to start investing much more time, energy and resources right here in our local communities. “This is the first step to Dawah,” he added.
“There continues to be a lot of ignorance about Islam,” he said. He added that if we are going to bring individuals into our community, we need to gain their respect first. And that requires work like this WhyIslam effort. He said that we had three choices: 1) Assimilate, 2) Isolate, and 3) Integrate and that we would benefit from the third option.
Arshad Khan returned with even more information on the Sacramento area WhyIslam group’s activities and one has to admit that its accomplishments even with resource constraints have been many. With more resources, they can be further enhanced, and that was the main reason for this gathering.
To aid the fundraising Shaykh Alaeddin Elbakri added his words of wisdom. He asked the immigrants present to look back at where they had come from and what they had achieved since coming to this land of opportunity. “You succeeded, now what?” he asked. He said that amongst the many things that one could spend their money on, why not this effort? “Let us humble ourselves. Let us be thankful to Allah,” he said. “This is where the rubber meets the road,” he added as the fundraising continued. This is the real work (Dawah) that needs to be done.
To conclude here, spiritual Islam certainly has many facets. It is a great product currently suffering from bad representation and poor salesmanship in the United States. The WhyIslam groups are trying to change and erase misunderstandings about the religion right here, by opening the lines of communication between the various aspects of the faith and ordinary people in this country. WhyIslam certainly needs to be recognized and by itself should invite more support from the community, both here in Sacramento and around the country.