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Muslims Call for Unity at International L.A. Summit

Islam: Leaders acknowledge internal differences and growing concern about the influence of Western materialism, crime and secular views on sexual morality, especially among those entering the mainstream in U.S.

August 03, 1996|LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES RELIGION WRITER

Acknowledging that Islamic believers have been splintered by sometimes daunting differences over the tenets of their faith, thousands of Muslims convened Friday in Los Angeles for an unprecedented international unity conference.

The conference, which closes Sunday, comes at a time when second- and third-generation Muslims in the United States are increasingly entering the American mainstream. At the same time, Muslim leaders have long been concerned about the influence of Western materialism, crime, and the West's comparatively liberal secular views on sexual morality.

But leading Muslim clerics and other prominent Islamic figures repeatedly urged those who gathered at the Bonaventure Hotel to first examine themselves spiritually.

Unity among Muslims, tolerance of divergent views within Islam and respect for cultural differences among them, they were told, will not occur unless they rededicate themselves to observing daily prayer and other spiritual disciplines, and remember that the purpose of Islam is to worship one God, who is perfect unity.

"The goal of Islam is God. It is nothing else, including talking all the time about Islam," Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, told the audience.

Nasr said Muslims in the United States face a problem that many Muslims born in other countries do not face--diversity within Islam.

About 40% of the nation's 3 million to 6 million Muslims are African Americans. Most of the rest are relatively recent immigrants and their descendants. One-quarter of those are of South Asian descent--mostly Indian and Pakistani--and about 12% trace their roots to Arab nations. The remainder are Iranians, black Africans, Afghans, Indonesians, Malaysians, Turks, Albanians and others.

"We all brought cultural exclusiveness with us to the American scene," Nasr said. "To realize unity we must let something of ourselves go." What will eventually emerge, he predicted, is the creation within the Islamic community of "an American cultural ambience of its own."

Indeed, foreign delegates at the conference reflected the cultural and ethnic diversity among Muslims in the United States. They came from Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Cypress, England, Germany, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, the United States, and other countries.

As they gathered, the hotel was filled with Islamic music as women, some wearing the traditional veil, and men in traditional jubas [coats] and turbans, wandered through the building. At noon, a lobby in front of the banquet room became a makeshift prayer room, as men bowed toward Mecca.

Earlier, Sheik Hisham Muhammad Kabbani of Los Altos Hills, one of the conference organizers, told an audience: "I have had great pains seeing ever-increasing disunity among Muslims in the United States."

He called upon Sunni, Shiite, African American, Bosnian, and other Muslims to view each other as brothers. "We will start a spark which will light the hearts," he said.

The day's keynote speaker was the grand mufti of Cypress and leader of the worldwide Islamic Nagshbandi Order, Sheik Muhammad Nazim Adir Al-Qubrusi.

An estimated 2,000 people preregistered for the conference, according to Mohammed Khan, president of an Anaheim media company. But he said he expected total attendance to reach 6,000 to 8,000.

Today's conference agenda includes a speech by Bosnia-Herzegovina Grand Ambassador to the United Nations Nedzib Sacirbey and a session led by Attallah Shabazz, daughter of the late Malcolm X.

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