MANA: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
By Hodari Abdul-Ali
Special to The Muslim Link
Alhamdulilah, the 1st national convention of the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) in Philadelphia during the first weekend of November, was by every standard of measure, an overwhelming success. The attendance of about 2000 people from all over the country exceeded the anticipation of the organizers. Northern Virginia, Washington, DC, suburban Maryland and Baltimore were well represented.
The workshops were informative, and recordings of most sessions are available via the MANA website. The banquet sold out and the bazaar overflowed with good products. Most importantly, "The City of Brotherly Love” lived up to its reputation as a good host. The conference exuded a feeling of hope and love among the attendees. For the record, Philly has the largest number of African-American Muslims in the country.
As a member of MANA’s Majlis ash-Shura, and as someone concerned with Muslim community affairs, I’ve attended dozens of Islamic conferences over the years in several cities, including this year the ICNA conference in New Haven, the Riyaadah (under Imam Jamil Al-Amin's community) in Atlanta, and the ISNA and The Mosque Cares meetings in Chicago. Most of the time, attendance at workshops is sparse on the last day as folks are often more interested in shopping at the bazaar or returning home. However, at the MANA convention on the last day Sunday, folks were there bright and early and in large numbers to work on conference resolutions and to commit themselves to helping with the follow up tasks.
This goes to the heart of what I wish to convey -- that MANA is an idea whose time has come! The conference reflected the overwhelming sentiment that the African-American community in general and the African-American Muslim community in particular, has been marginalized, disrespected and neglected in too many instances. There was a prevailing feeling that we must do more to help ourselves if we are to be helped at all. We must also become more involved with issues affecting the non-Muslim African-American community as well and show leadership!
I for one, am not ashamed to acknowledge the early influence of the Nation of Islam upon my accepting Islam. Al Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) and Muhammad Ali were my top two heroes. Elijah Muhammad was not I repeat, was not "all wrong" in what he conveyed and what he did to help the African-American community. His slogan “Do for Self and Kind”, is still quite relevant today. The prevailing “vibe” at the MANA conference was that it is past time that there be an organization designed to put the interests of the African-American Muslim community FIRST, as opposed to being an afterthought.
The fact that Imam W.D. Mohammed came and spoke and exchanged respectful comments with Imam Siraj Wahhaj, the Amir of MANA, was very significant and historic. MANA wisely presented him with its first "Lifetime Achievement Award". The fact is that historically, he led the largest "mass conversion" of Muslims in the United States, when he sheparded his followers from the Nation of Islam doctrine to following the Quran and Sunnah specifically.
In an interview last month on my radio show on WPFW 89.3 FM, I asked Imam Siraj whether the phrase “charity begins at home”, is a legitimate Islamic concept. He said, "absolutely yes", and related how our Prophet (saws) said "the best sadaqa money one could spend was on his family".
It is important for Muslims, whose recent origin is from other lands, to know that many of us feel shunted when we, whose descendents have been here for 400 years, are often overlooked when conferences, television programs and publications are put together and the contributions of African-American Muslims are underrepresented or ignored altogether.
I would highly recommend an excellent book, “Servants of Allah”, by Sylviane Diouf, because it documents the fact that a significant percentage of the Africans who were captured and enslaved in the Americas were Muslim, and many struggled valiantly to hold onto their faith. This is why folks like myself consider ourselves “reverts” and not “converts” to Islam. This is important, because we no longer want to be looked down upon as “babies” in the Deen. We want to be respected more as the “ansars”(i.e. the ones who were already in Medina) and who assisted the “muhajjaroon” (i.e. the Muslims who migrated there with Prophet Muhammad (saws).
am not “mad” at ICNA, ISNA, MAS, CAIR, the large suburban masajid, etc. I have many friends in all of these places and feel welcomed wherever I go, alhamdulilah.There are good people in all of these groups, and of course, African-Americans are involved with them. The reality, however, is that these organizations prioritize their work and resources to serve primarily the immigrant Muslim community.
Clearly, there is a need for the African-American part of the Ummah to “step up to the plate”, because we have our own set of priority issues. That is why MANA is an idea whose time has come! We have far more “family” issues, far more “prison” issues, far more “economic” issues, etc. InshaAllah, these are among the areas that MANA has begun to focus on. For the record as well, MANA began over six years ago and got off to a slow start. We did publish several issues of a newspaper called "Grassroots", and held a series of "Meet MANA" meetings around the country, including here in the DC area at Howard University, Masjid Al-Islam, Dar Al-Hijrah and ADAMS.
We've held several Shura meetings as well, often at UMM (United Muslim Masjid) in Philadelphia. A highlight of one meeting, for example, was when we had Imam Jamil Al-Amin on speaker phone talking to us from his Georgia prison. MANA and its members have raised and donated several thousands of dollars to his family and legal defense team. Imam Jamil has recently been transferred to a "supermax" prison in Colorado, and we ask that you make du'a for him.
It is not easy, "building unity" in the African-American community, in part because of issues still present from "slavery days", when we were inculcated to mistrust each other and actually rewarded for betraying one another. A significant book that I recommend on this topic is, "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome", by Dr. Joy Degruy Leary.
Another major challenge, to be quite candid, is the struggle for leadership. Too many folks take the attitude that it is "my way or the highway". Some state that if you aren't "down with us", you aren't really "down with the deen". This is a very counterproductive attitude. The excitement of this 1st MANA convention makes it crystal clear that we MUST find the common denominator if we are to make progress.
Intelligent people, such as those in successful partnerships and happy marriages, accept the fact that two or more people are not going to agree all the time on everything. The key is a willingness to enhance the areas of agreement, and not get "bent out of shape" about ununanimous issues. Also key, is sticking to the principle that if you do not have something good to say about someone else, especially another Imam or leader, it is better not to say anything at all. I recall a saying from Elijah Muhammad, if I may paraphrase him again, that one does not have to "bad mouth" the "dirty glass", just hold up a clean glass next to it!
In 2008, MANA plans to hold a series of mini-conferences around the country leading up to its 2nd national convention scheduled for next November in Philadelphia. Cities such as Richmond, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, and San Francisco are already on tap, and here in Washington, DC we plan to have one during the weekend of August 22-23. Now is the time to get involved to help solve some of these crisis issues we are facing. Visit www.mana-net.org to join or contact local members such as Dr. Altaf Husain (Howard University), Imam Johari Abdul-Malik (Dar Al-Hijrah), Jihad Abdul-Mumit (Richmond,Va), this writer (Dar Es Salaam Books/Health Center) or others if you’d like to do your part with MANA.
Hodari Abdul-Ali is the Executive Director of the Imam Jamil Action Network (IJAN). He can be reached at BrotherHodari@hotmail.com. He hosts "Freedom Sounds" each Wednesday from 5-8 am on WPFW 89.3 FM.