by Zarinah Shakir
If you are tired like I am of hearing about Muslims and politics from everyone but Muslims you would have enjoyed the Faith, Economics and Politics conference held this past April 23 at the Diyanet Center of America (DCA) in Lanham, Maryland. This all-day conference, “Faith, Economics and Politics: The Keys to Empowering Our Community,” was launched by the Prince Georges County Muslim Council (PGCMC) to change the conversation about Muslims and Politics.
For most of the political season Muslims have been the topic of discussion. Pundits and Politicians wonder: ‘can Muslims enter the US?’, ‘should Muslim neighborhoods be patrolled?’ In contrast, at this w
ell attended conference the agenda focused on our needs and concerns covering topics such as: ‘Empowerment Through Unity,’ ‘Federal, State and County Resources for Business Development.’ The conference also featured a forum with local candidates.
He addressed “the need to concentrate on the legal issues and incarceration many are challenged with in our communities.” While he came as a politician, I was impressed that he did not just speak, shake a few hands and leave. He actually stayed as someone who wanted to get to know the Muslims. Mr. Ivey spent time during lunch and after his panel to hear about the issues relevant to his constituents.
The DCA is a story all its own. This beautiful center, funded by $100 million from the Turkish government, chose to break ground literally and figuratively in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Prince George’s County, which is known for being home to high income Black families. This is important to note since many masjids with predominantly immigrant congregations seem to build far away from Black communities even though we are often some of their main supporters. Not this one; it is right in the Black community.
This move initially raised eyebrows. Yet the DCA, which includes a masjid, cultural center, fellowship hall, guest house, turkish bath, gym, swimming pool and more, has established alliances and respect from their neighbors politically, professionally, public and private. This has allowed many to achieve a better understanding and awareness of Islam, Muslims and specifically, Turkey.
The DCA officially opened earlier this month by the President of Turkey Recep Erdogan who criticized the US presidential candidates for their anti Muslim rhetoric. “There are still people walking around calling Muslims terrorists.”
However, at the Faith, Economics and Politics conference, terrorism was not on the agenda. Neither did the conference spend time on how Muslims have become the object of discussion and ridicule in the media and the broader public. I was glad those issues were ignored, so we could deal with the real issues facing our community. For many, the beauty of this event was the meeting, greeting and sharing of Muslims and people of other faith traditions and multi-cultural participation focused on local politics and economics in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Shareef Abdul Malik, 24, an entrepreneur and CEO of We Buy Black, (webuyblack.com), the largest online marketplace for Black (African American and those of African descent) businesses and individual sellers spoke on the Cooperative Economics Panel.
“I was inspired by a common motif heard among all great Black leaders, we need to do for self and allow the world the opportunity to buy directly from the Black community.” His courage and commitment to go into business is reflective of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s edict to “Do for Self”.
There was a Sisterpreneurs workshop which brought together speakers including Tiye Mulazim of Shura, Inc, Nurgul Yavuzer of Nurtech Technology and Jamila Garner from the Women’s Committee of Masjid As-Saffat.
By the end of their workshop, they had pooled their minds and resources with plans to open a factory to create jobs for Muslim women and to also dress themselves with the latest modest Islamic fashions.
“This was really a wonderful conference. We have great plans to change the clothing industry by offering designers the opportunity to get their clothes made in the US instead of sending them abroad. We will offer better quality at better prices,” said Baqiyah Adam of Abayat Raqiah Designs.
The other workshops included a Youth Speak Out, The Rules for Investing, Educating Successful Muslim Children, and a special address by PG County Executive Rushern Baker. Imam Shadeed Muhammad was the luncheon speaker. He encouraged participants to get involved in their neighborhoods and make them a better place to live.
Nabila Aalim-Johnson, wife of PGCMC President Jameel Aalim-Johnson demonstrated the amazing energy and love members of PGCMC have for serving their community. She explained feeling the need to have a “step up to the plate” attitude about an opening (fatihah) for the collaboration of Muslims and politics.
The conference was the brainchild of Mr. Aalim-Johnson, former chief of Staff to the New York Congressman Gregory Meeks and now Associate Vice President in the Government Affairs office of NASDAQ, and Attorney Anu Kemt, Conference Chair.
“I really enjoyed this conference,” said Abdul Jalil Muhammad, President of Lifetime Lighting Solutions, a local business. “I was amazed at the diversity of the Muslims that registered and the quality of the speakers. I’ve already talked to several people about how we can do business together. This was a great event.”
Zarinah Shakir is a producer/host of one the longest running, interfaith television shows
(Perspectives of Interfaith taped and aired at Arlington Independent Media in America).