Islam assembly promotes peace

Group's 39th annual convention in D.C. puts focus on unity, justice and the Muslim faith.

By Maureen Groppe August 31, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Surrounded by thousands of Muslims gathered in Washington on Friday, Indianapolis doctor Shahid Athar said the Islamic convention is a chance for Muslims to boost their self-esteem after last year's terrorist attacks.

"We don't have to defend what they did," Athar said. "We were not part of it."

But just as important, he said, the convention can help reinforce that Muslims are part of America.

"We don't want to be seen as an alien society," he said. "We are part of this society."

Unity and peace are the messages being promoted at the Islamic Society of North America's 39th annual convention, which runs through Monday at the Washington Convention Center.

"Dear fellow Americans," society Secretary General Sayyid Syeed said as he opened the convention and spoke into television cameras. "Greetings and peace to you all."

The group, which is based in Plainfield, Ind., had not timed its convention to fall close to the Sept. 11 anniversary. But the terrorist attacks are dominating the weekend -- from the theme "A Call for Peace and Justice" to the questions being put to Islamic leaders and other convention-goers by the media.

About 17,000 Muslims registered in advance, but twice as many might attend the event. The group represents 300 community and professional organizations in the United States and Canada.

The gathering opened with a prayer for victims of the attacks. Today, the mother of a Muslim who was killed trying to help victims will be honored.

Workshops throughout the weekend address such issues as how Muslims can be prone to extremism, how Islam should respond to the terrorist attacks and how to change public attitudes toward Islam.

But while the impact of Sept. 11 is stamped all over the conference, attendees also can attend workshops with topics that would be relevant any year: retirement planning, how to start a business and "achieving spousal peace."

At a reservation-only session, families can find spouses for their children at the "Families get together for matrimonial networking" event.

In the aisles of merchandise in the convention center's bazaar, fresh dates can be purchased alongside digital copies of the Quran and even marshmallows that meet Muslim dietary rules.

Athar, an endocrinologist at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, arrived at the convention after attending the Islamic Medical Association of North America's annual gathering, which also happens to be in the nation's capital. He is president of the organization.

Athar released results of a survey of the group's members, asking whether they had experienced discrimination after the attacks. Not only was there no evidence of non-Muslims dumping their Muslim doctors, but physicians also reported that some of their patients wanted to know how they were doing.

"There was a lot of sympathy both ways," Athar said. "The good that has happened because of this is people have started to talk to each other."

Reprint Requests:

Shahid Athar, MD
Clinical Associate Professor
Indiana University School of Medicine
8424 Naab Road
Suite 2D
Indianapolis, IN 46260