Some 15,000 Muslims are expected at this weekend’s 37th annual convention of the Islamic Circle of North America in Hartford, where the theme of “Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shariah” reflects the worry that anti-Muslim activists are fanning fear of Islamic law to marginalize U.S. Muslims.
The May 26-28 gathering, which is also sponsored by the Muslim American Society, is the second-largest Muslim convention in the U.S., behind only the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, which draws between 30,000 and 40,000 people.
Earlier this month, the Kansas House and Senate joined Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, South Dakota, and Tennessee in approving legislation to prohibit state judges from considering foreign laws, including Shariah, in their decisions. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, has not yet signed the bill.
“It’s a deep-down hatred of Muslims that motivates” the anti-Shariah movement, said Naeem Baig, ICNA’s vice president of public affairs. “They don’t want to see Muslims in America.”
Many of the convention programs focus on educating Muslims about Shariah, such as myths about Shariah used to demonize Muslims, as well as its role in their day-to-day lives.
“Muslims need to be educated about Shariah. There’s a need for the community to better understand what Shariah means to us, and how to apply Shariah in a society where most people are not of the same faith,” Baig said.
The convention is open to non-Muslims. About 100 or 150 non-Muslims have come in recent years.
Some of the best-known Muslims in America will be speaking, including Rep. Andre Carson, a Democratic Muslim from Indiana; Islamic Society of North America President Imam Mohamed Magid; and Imam Siraj Wahaj of Brooklyn, who in 1991 became the first Muslim to give an Islamic invocation to the U.S. House of Representatives.