By EL-HAJJ MAURI’ SAALAKHAN
THE Islamic Society of North America is holding its annual convention in Greater Chicago this July 4th weekend. ISNA's national convention is said to be the largest gathering of Muslims in America each year. It is for this reason, and this reason solely, that I decided to drive through the night and attend the last full day of activities.
I arrived in Chicago about 10:30 am Sunday this morning. Despite my near exhaustion, after checking into the hotel, I decided that I needed to prepare for the unveiling (of this one day campaign) at the prayer area for the upcoming salatul dhur. Following the prayer I held up a large two-sided sign that read:
DON’T FORGET OUR SISTER, DR. AAFIA SIDDIQUI, AND OTHER MUSLIM POLITICAL PRISONERS IN AMERICA
And on side two:
OUR SISTER, DR. AAFIA SIDDIQUI, NEEDS OUR SUPPORT!
Alhamdullilah, the unveiling (which lasted for about 30 minutes after the afternoon prayer) went well. A significant number of brothers, and a few sisters, asked for information on Aafia's case. Others, who already knew something about Aafia's plight, thanked me effusively for doing what I was doing.
Later in the evening, while standing inside the main ballroom (near the door) of the final main Muslim Students Association (MSA) session of the day - holding the same large sign that I held earlier - a brother approached me after about 20 minutes to ask if I had permission to do what I was doing. This began an interesting dialogue (of about five minutes in duration).
During our discussion, he declared his awareness and support for Aafia Siddiqui. When I asked, “How have you supported her?” His response was by contributing to her legal defense via MLFA (the Texas-based Muslim Legal Fund of America). I informed him that, while this was indeed (in the past) one way of showing support, it was NOT (nor ever) the most effective way of providing much needed support to this long suffering sister-in-Islam.
We ended up taking the issue to the upstairs convention office, where I would formally seek the permission that I instinctively knew would be denied. At the meeting I was informed of ISNA’s "long standing regulations" on such matters, and that I simply could not do what I was doing.
After a few minutes of back and forth, my initial reaction was to inform the brothers that they should be “ashamed” of themselves (for being so callous), but “Ok, I’ll take it out to the sidewalk.” But as I was going back down the stairs I felt troubled by that response. I then returned to inform the brothers that, “My conscience will not allow me to comply with ISNA’s regulation.” And so the police were called.
Am I not Muslim too?
I was told by one of the two plainclothes officers who initially approached me, that the organization that rented the convention center facility (ISNA) no longer wanted me in it; and that I had "two options" - "Either leave or be arrested," because I was now considered to be "trespassing."
My initial response was to choose arrest, as a matter of principle. But as I stated this, there was an African American brother standing close by shaking his head no, and that caused me to pause for a moment of deeper reflection.
Where would the greater benefit be for drawing more immediate attention to Aafia’s plight? – I asked myself. I could be arrested and spend a few hours (if not the entire night) in lock up, and not reach anyone else; or I could take Aafia's plight outside the convention center and reach more people with the message. I decided on the latter.
As the two plainclothes officers and I were slowly walking toward the exit door, we were joined by three or four other uniformed officers. One of the uniformed officers asked if I was with another organization (competing with, or protesting against the host organization). I said no. I am simply a Muslim who traveled to this convention to insure – by simply holding this sign - that this important issue, involving a Muslim sister of ours, would come to the attention of as many of my fellow Muslims as possible.
He then asked if I was doing anything else (to create some disturbance)? And I responded, not really; just holding this sign and passing out a one page summary of the case involving this Muslim woman. At this point, this uniformed police officer (a middle-aged Caucasian male), just shook his head in disbelief - as if to say, 'they called me for this?'