A child kneels beside worshippers who are bowing for Asr, or afternoon prayer, at the 51st annual Islamic Society of North America Convention at the Cobo Center in Detroit on Friday.
DETROIT — At the Islamic Society of North America convention Sunday at Cobo Center, politics received more attention than religion for many attendees who themselves, their family members, or their ancestors have origins in areas of conflict.
A scheduled session on “Unity in Time of Crisis: Sunni and Shias Coming Together” fell into a disunified state at the end over the crisis in Syria, because there was no time for audience members with close Syrian connections who were concerned about bloodshed there to question the panel of spiritual leaders and scholars.
In several sessions on the first three days of the convention that ends today, Islamic leaders continued to denounce terrorism.
A “Towards Peace in Palestine” convention session from 4 to 5:15 p.m. was fairly sedate, with an interfaith panel focusing on how people having different religions might work together for both political and humanitarian resolutions.
But it had a heated moment, too, when a comment by an audience member offended a Zionist Jew who was on the panel, Brenda Rosenberg, who works for peace through interfaith efforts and founded the Tectonic Leadership Center for Conflict Transformation and Cross Cultural Communication with an Arab Muslim.
Also at the session, Anwar Khan, a panelist who is the CEO of Islamic Relief USA, said about the Gaza fighting, “As you all know, on the Palestinian side, 2,000 dead. On the Israeli side it’s under 100.” He said there is disagreement over civilian fatalities; “they say it’s up to 75 percent. But no one is arguing 500 children died.
“In fairness, the same number of people probably died in Syria in one or two weeks. The same number died in Africa of hunger, but we don’t hear about it. What I think upsets many people is this is completely unnecessary, and there was no need for anyone to die.”
In the Shiites/Sunni session Sherman Jackson, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, said, “It is clearly obvious that the Muslim ummah [Arabic word for community or nation] — and this has been the case for some time — is living almost in a pressure cooker. There are many pressures that exert themselves upon Muslims, and these pressures can oftentimes breed levels of frustration that just explode and spill over and and prompt us us to say and do things that we should not say and do.”
He gave more context to separation as human nature, saying, “Many of you might not know this, but Sunnis have their disagreements among each other, too. Shiites have difference among them. So this is not a matter of kumbaya, this is a matter of a community maturing and becoming self-respecting and looking to its own overall interests and to its future.”