An alien in the ISNA…

The ISNA is one of the most renowned non-profit Muslim organizations in the USA.

An alien in the ISNA…

Mehmet Saadeddin Ozturk

As a Turkish citizen, for the first time in my life in the USA, I attended an annual convention organized by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The reason I am writing this article is to share my excitement and observation of this ceremony, which was held for the 51st time in its history. I will also share my reflections on the personal as well as societal benefits of this gathering.

For those of you who are hearing of the ISNA for the first time, it is one of the most renowned non-profit Muslim organizations in the USA. President Obama’s opening speech and former president Jimmy Carter’s contribution, by itself, is a sign of recognition, regardless of baseless accusations in some media outlets.

Before getting into my limited, personal observations, I have to say, there is a lot to cover and a lot to critique but I will save my criticism for some other time and for a constructive environment. In my personal opinion, just listening to distinguished scholars such as Suhaib Webb, Imam Zaid Shakir, Siraj Wahhaj, Sherman Jackson is a benefit for a seeker of knowledge like myself. Sadly, I had to miss many others because of the parallel nature of the sessions.

The most striking observation I had was realizing how active and concerned the Muslim American community is. The number of Muslim charity organizations in the “bazaar” and the topics of the sessions were clear signs for me: NGOs, from medical assistance for the areas in crisis to orphan sponsorship programs, from Islamic education institutions to financial consultations according to Islamic Law were there. Similarly, sessions also covered a large spectrum spanning from high school education to child adoption; from political issues to the unity of the Muslim community in the USA. One of these sessions was related to Turkey. ISNA hosted three Turkish speakers to present their opinion on the recent progress of Turkey. More than speakers, the audience amazed me in that packed conference room. I witnessed very detailed questions about Turkish politics and sometimes they voiced their concerns, sometimes they offered practical and reasonable solutions. I was honored to see (multi-national origin) brothers and sisters from Pakistan, Somalia, Bosnia Herzegovina etc. genuinely and sincerely interested in and seeding high expectation for Turkey. The Q&A session had to be extended beyond the limited time with many unanswered questions, which lead to offline one-on-one discussions.

One of the ironic moments that happened a few minutes before the beginning of a session was when I went to the room ten minutes ahead of time to save my seat because of the well-known, highly respected scholar’s talk. Two of the teen volunteers approached me kindly and asked me to leave the room. I didn’t get the idea at the beginning when I asked the reason, they apologetically and politely said “This session is exclusively for teenagers between 12-18 years olds”. Despite the sadness of missing one of my favorite scholar’s talks, I felt respect towards the organization committee for having a session only for teenagers and explicitly letting them know that “we care about you and dedicate sessions for you”. This dedication was not limited to lectures but also leisure activities, playgrounds, basketball tournaments etc.

Shia and Sunni unity/division, however you may call it, is a serious controversial issue within the Muslims around the world. I call it a bold step towards the unity of two sects in the USA. Of course, the human crisis in Syria and stance of Iran towards the crisis is a big obstacle on that issue. Although as invited speakers, religious/community leaders had strongly emphasized unity is a matter of religion not a politics, it is really difficult for people, with biological and/or emotional bounds for the Syrian tragedy, to accept such unity. This manifested itself at the end of session.

I conclude with a few words for the Turkish community in the USA. In my several years of experience in the USA, I can easily say that a community will only be visible in the society as much as its presence in these kind of organizations. And a community has a say as much as its contribution to collaborative works in the larger society. Some of the traditions tend to be isolated as a defense mechanism or as a principle, while showing respect towards those communities, in my humble opinion, we as Turkish origin residence/citizens in the USA have to be more involved in our local communities as well as national organizations such as ISNA. I strongly believe that this is a duty on us as Muslim in a multi-national origin environment and at the same time as a courtesy towards fellow brothers/sisters who are genuinely interested in and have respect for Turkey.

 

Last Mod: 03 Ekim 2014, 12:13
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