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Reflections on Muslim Congress 2008

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Muslim Congress 2008 was held in Dallas, TexasThroughout the conference, I also got to meet a number of other converts to Shia Islam, including a computer science major at a university in Texas, an insurance salesman, an economics student, and a former drug dealer who gave up his lifestyle of earning $1,000 a day to embrace Islam. Hearing their stories of conversion and their sincerity in their faith was humbling and inspiring for me as a person who takes much of my faith for granted.Muslim Congress 2008 was held in Dallas, TexasLast weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the 4th annual Muslim Congress conference in Dallas. It was my first time at the conference, so I wanted to share my experience of the conference with you all.  

Throughout the conference, there were various speeches and workshops, all given by scholars. For myself, the most memorable speech came on Saturday morning by Maulana Muhammad Baig, who brought down the house with a lecture on “Youth in Islam”. Maulana Baig discussed how youth are referred to as Quwwat, or power, in the Qur’an. Power is a type of energy, a force, but like any force, it needs to be channeled in the right direction to be effective. Unfortunately in too many of our communities, the elders refuse to give up the reins of power and have thus stifled the energy of the youth, and thereby, of the community as a whole. He also made a wonderful analogy to illustrate his point: if Islam as an ideology is a handgun, the scholars are the gun itself, whereas the youth are the bullets that follow and obey the direction of the gun. Neither part is effective without the other, and each group needs the other to be successful. Only then can the gun be considered a powerful weapon.

The speech was memorable not only for its content, but more so for the passion and energy with which Maulana Baig spoke. He riled up the entire audience, and throughout his speech, people responded to his points by emphatically yelling out Labbayk, Takbeer, and  Subhan’Allah, and others yet encouraging him to “Teach us!” Masha’Allah, I have never heard such loud takbirs or salawats in my life. In a nutshell, it was a speech that had the intellectual caliber of an English majlis but with the emotional response (from the audience) of an Urdu majlis.

Another excellent speech was given by Imam Muhammad al-Asi on Imam Khomeini’s role in reviving pure Islam, as well as one by Sayyid Abbas Ayleya on Ijtihad and Taqleed. Workshops lead by the scholars covered topics such as “Islamic Syllabus”, “Racism vs. Islam”, “Mental and Physical Well-Being”, and “Youth and Activism”. Throughout the conference, all the attendees prayed together, and various scholars gave short sermons after Fajr, between Dhuhr and Asr, as well as between Maghrib and Isha prayers. Despite their efforts during the daytime, the scholars also stayed up late at nights with the youth throughout the conference and held informal discussion sessions on problems within our communities and other issues.

The crowd at the conference was incredibly diverse. There were South Asian, Iranian, Arab, black, and white Shias. However, despite the diversity, everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming, and there was a true sense of brotherhood in the air. So many people came up and greeted me, introduced themselves, and asked how I was liking the conference. People always referred to each other with a respectful “brother,” and strangers greeted each other not with handshakes but with hugs. On Sunday night, I got a chance to go out to dinner (to TGI Fridays) with youth from across the country, and again, the warmth and brotherhood was in the air. At our dinner, we had Indians, Pakistans, Khojas, Iranians, some African-Americans, and a white brother, and despite such diversity, we still had wonderful discussion as well as some great laughs.

Another instance of the brotherhood in action came on Sunday. A day prior to the conference, I had a bad outbreak of poison ivy but decided to tolerate it and come to Dallas anyways. I had been putting up with the symptoms, but by Sunday, it was getting worse and slowly unbearable. I approached a brother who was standing at one of the bookstalls in the bazaar and explained the situation to him, asking if he knew of any doctors at the conference who I could see immediately. He right away brought over his friend who was a pharmacist, who took a look at my symptoms and called his friend, a doctor. The doctor advised him to tell me what to do and which medicine to take, and Alhamdullilah, since that time my symptoms have been improving.

Sunday night many of the youth still at the conference had a chance to have an informal discussion session lead by Brother Hashim, who is the leader of the group called “Bilal al-Dawah,” based out of Tampa, Florida. Br. Hashim spoke about racism and prejudice within our own communities, as well as the need for Shias in North America to be more active in da’wah (propagation) efforts like our Sunni brothers and sisters. He spoke passionately and articulately and compared the false supporters of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) to those of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance) today, who call themselves his Shia but are not working for his cause.

“The Yazeedi forces today are very active, very united, very dedicated to their cause,” he said. “Where are the Hussaini soldiers?” As far as I know, his organization is one of the only Shia organizations doing da’wah work in the inner cities in America, and they have already brought many people into Shia Islam. I had a chance to meet many of these humble and sincere convert brothers at the conference. Bilal al-Dawah has put together a video on YouTube which illustrates some of the amazing work they’re doing.

Throughout the conference, I also got to meet a number of other converts to Shia Islam, including a computer science major at a university in Texas, an insurance salesman, an economics student, and a former drug dealer who gave up his lifestyle of earning $1,000 a day to embrace Islam. Hearing their stories of conversion and their sincerity in their faith was humbling and inspiring for me as a person who takes much of my faith for granted.

The conference was incredibly well-organized. All of the speeches and workshops started more or less on time, with at most a 15-minute delay, which is not common with Muslim organizations and conferences. The volunteer team based out of the various Texas Shia communities was also well-staffed and prepared, and throughout the conference, there were volunteers guiding people to the right rooms and standing around to answer any questions that people had.

The cost and venue of the conference were also excellent. It was held at the Hyatt Regency, which is a top-notch hotel, and the cost for the conference was $40, which included the conference as well as meals for two days.

In short, brothers and sisters, I came away from this conference feeling rejuvenated spiritually, socially, politically, and ready to implement some of the ideals of the conference back in my own community. I can honestly say that in my opinion, Muslim Congress is the best thing the Shia community in North America has going for it, and it is my sincere hope that Allah gives each of you the opportunity to attend next year’s conference, which will be in Detroit, Michigan. 

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