ICNA Sacramento Reaches out to the Mainstream
Report and photos by Ras H. Siddiqui

The Sacramento Chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and its 1-877-WHY-ISLAM project are hosting a booth at the California State Fair from July 14th through July 31 st 2011. For more information on the fair please see: http://www.bigfun.org/. Volunteers at the booth will be handing out free Qur'ans, DVDs and brochures about Islam and answering questions.

The aim of the project is to encourage people to search for unbiased information on the religion of Islam (beyond the headlines) and to promote understanding and dialogue between people of all faiths. Such Dawah efforts are not new to this energetic group and in preparation for this and other ongoing projects, the area community came out in support recently at a fundraiser held in nearby Elk Grove on June 18 th at the Holiday Inn.

The fundraiser started off with registration and a fine dinner after which local ICNA President Shane Yoder introduced the local WhyIslam? effort. “ICNA was established in America in 1968 and Dawah has always been its top priority. This focus has kept ICNA at the forefront of Dawah activities in North America for the past four decades and now there are over 30 chapters nationwide,” said Shane. “By focusing on self-development, education, outreach and social services, ICNA has cemented its place as a leading grassroots organization in the American Muslim community. ICNA also works closely with many national interfaith organizations for the betterment of society,” he added.

Highlighting the work of the Sacramento WhyIslam effort which include paid infomercials, ads and the prominent billboards that many of us and countless non-Muslim others have seen in key places around Sacramento where they are noticed (there was a huge mega billboard off of Interstate 80, right before the Sacramento Causeway, from June 6th to July 6th). “Over 5,000 brochures and 1,500 Qur’ans were given out in years past. Additionally this year we’re excited to announce that we’ll be distributing 3,000 professionally produced Discover Islam Dawah DVDs on such topics as 'Women in Islam', 'slam: An American Faith', 'Christians & Islam', 'African Americans & Islam', 'Islam: a faith hijacked' and 'Islam: Faith & History' ", said Yoder. But more work is required for which additional resources are needed. “Despite our successful Dawah campaigns we still face an uphill battle in combating the negative stereotypes towards Islam. It's only through your support that we can continue to challenge Islamophobia and provide accurate information about Islam and Muslims.”

Adding to the appeal, guest speaker Imam Tahir Anwar who since the year 2000, has been serving as the Imam (religious leader) and Director of Religious Services at the South Bay Islamic Association from the San Jose area, delivered an inspiring speech. He said that Allah chooses certain individuals to stand up on behalf of the Ummah and that Islam continues due to the efforts of small groups and individuals who devote their lives to ensure that our Deen continues to be passed on to the next generation.  “You will be amongst those handfuls of individuals,” he said. “A Muslim who lives in the United States has been chosen,” he added. He said that Muslims are distinct in their personality and encouraged everyone to always look presentable and dress well (he threw some humor into this one). “We have been unable to reach out. We have been too busy making money,” he opined. “We need to go beyond divisions and borders,” he said. “If you are a Muslim, you should be a very visible one.” He added that Islam was about akhlaq (character) and that simple things go a long way. “Tell your neighbors about Islam,” he stressed. He added that at times it was even difficult to find more than two or three people at some funerals that he had performed; a tragic reality.   But he also gave the example of Tariq Khanzada whose tragic death earlier this year in an accident in the Bay Area brought over a thousand people from all walks of life at his funeral because of the contributions that he made right here in northern California. “This man served the community,” he said, and he was someone to emulate.

 The next speaker, Shaykh Abdulhakim Mohamed, conducted the fundraiser. Originally from Yemen, he shared his own stories about Islam in America starting with a trip that he took driving through Michigan in 1977 where his group decided to stop for prayers in the vicinity of a dumpster. Everyone took it in stride till the local police arrived to see what was going on and it was his job to explain what was happening.  He said that even if we don’t say it, we represent Islam. He added that nobody talked about Islamophobia 20 years ago but now it is common. “We are growing,” he said. Many people have embraced Islam since 9/11, even though questions like “Are you a terrorist?” have had to be answered. He said that even if we live in a highly educated society, the knowledge of and about the religion of Islam is very limited here. To get the message out requires resources and community support. He said that a true donor donates in times of need and the need for reaching out to America has never been greater, through billboards, etc than today. He said that he got his attire from former Pakistani pop singer Junaid Jamshed who is himself now busy in religious work. Over $40,000 was raised at this gathering for outreach work thanks in part to Shaykh Mohamed.

 To close the program comedian Baba Ali came to the podium and had everyone laughing soon after. Blazing a trail in comedy has not been easy for someone like him who once suffered from stage fright. He said that as a Muslim, he has tried to make his comedy as honest as possible. Muslims “recycling” water for bathroom use in places of work in America was material that was just too difficult for him to ignore. A co-worker asking “What is that water bottle for?” often generated quite a few answers. His portrayal of the differences between men and women in the bathroom was hilarious. He said that when a man goes to the bathroom, he tells no one and avoids contact with others while there. When women go, the whole table goes at once and they can discuss all kinds of things while there. “Sisters are much more social than brothers,” he said.

He also highlighted the differences between how men and women handle stress. How do men deal with stress? Men who are stressed start wars. How do women handle stress? They eat chocolate and go shopping. Baba Ali had more comedy material but he also took the opportunity to share his personal story about his conversion to Islam and congratulated everyone for their participation in and contribution to this event.

To conclude, one has to admit that the religion of Islam has quite a few challenges to overcome  in America. It is really a religion of ethical and moral beliefs and not just the political tool that a small minority has made it out to be. The problem is that this small minority has grabbed all the headlines and the imagination of the mainstream community . That is a very good reason why this ICNA effort which asks the very simple question “WhyIslam?” and invites others to discover the essence of the religion becomes so very important and needs our support.

(Interested readers are invited to visit: http://www.whyislam.org/ for more information)




Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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