Louis Palme / Jan 24, 2015

The 2015 MSA West convention at UCLA (Jan. 16-18) was in stark contrast to the 2011 event, and it remains to be seen if the Muslim Student Association, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, has truly softened its militancy or is it just “lying low” due to the world-wide outrage over Islamic fanaticism. 

Highlight 1

The backdrop for this year’s convention included the following events:

  • In September, 2011, eleven members of the Irvine Muslim Student Union (MSA affiliate) were found guilty of misdemeanors for disrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in February, 2010, on the UC Irvine Campus. The perpetrators were sentenced to community service and three years’ probation.  The MSU was also suspended from activities on the campus.
  • Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization in Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the UAE, and Kuwait. Also, the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom are considering identifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
  • A coalition led by the United States has been bombing daily militant Muslims belong to the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and Korisan.
  • The world is in shock over the blatant assassinations of civilians in England, Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, etc., by “lone-wolf” militants steeped in militant Islamic ideology.

Highlights of 2011 Convention

 Highlight 2

Convention theme:  militant

Speakers: Of the nine principal speakers, four were African-American and only one was female. Four were Imams or mosque directors. The roster included two who were former militants of the Nation of Islam, including Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Attendees: There were seven hundred registered attendees.  The female to male ratio was about 2 to 1.

Advice to MSA students: 

  • Be careful about choice of friends and how you spend free time
  • Be offended if non-Muslims criticize your behavior
  • Do not copy Western manners or clothing
  • Marry early to avoid pornography
  • Women need to respect and obey their husbands
  • A man becomes a man by growing a beard
  • Keep physically fit – get lots of exercise
  • Read the biography of Malcolm X
  • Do not cooperate with law enforcement
  • Develop a lifestyle of activism

Outrage of the convention:  In one of the final sessions of the convention, the entire audience stood up and recited the Muslim Brotherhood pledge:

Allah is our objective

The Prophet is our leader

Qur’an is our law

Jihad is our way

Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope  

Highlights of 2015 Convention: 

Convention Theme: Introspective

Speakers:  Of the twenty-four speakers listed in the program, nine were women.  No speaker in the group appeared to have a militant background.  Many had backgrounds in health, science, media, and educational fields.  Only three of the speakers were serving as Imams.

Attendees:  Conference leaders claimed there were 1,100 at the conference, a significant increase from 2011. There were twice as many “sisters” at the conference as “brothers.”

Advice to MSA students:

  • Study the lives of Muhammad and his companions
  • God created you as you are
  • Be yourself, don’t get trapped in stereotyped roles
  • In Muslim couples, men and women should be allies of one another, watching each other’s backs
  • Gender equity needs to be redefined
  • Help integrate new converts to Islam by extending friendship and support
  • Muslims need to discuss social issues that stigmatize them and hold back their full potential
  • Muslims need to be involved in advancing minority rights, public health, and environmental stewardship

Overcoming Misconceptions:  Many of the conference speakers emphasized the need to overcome misconceptions and misinterpretations about Islamic religious teachings – e.g., the roles of men and women -- and the “cultural” forms of violence against women.  Others lamented the false information disseminated by non-Muslims.  One way the conference deflected the mounting adverse publicity about Islamic terrorism and violence around the world was to feature a speaker, Terry Holdbrooks, who was a former guard at Guantanamo who embraced Islam out of sympathy over the oppression the inmates experienced there.  (Fact-Check: Of the 780 Guantanamo prisoners of war, none died from his ordeal. Eight people died, one from a heart attack while exercising and seven others from suicide.   Meanwhile, Islamic terror attacks on U.S. soil since the previous MSA conference killed eleven and injured 271. There were no terror attacks by any other religion.) 

Key to Understanding the Conference:  The expression heard most frequently during the conference was, “Not all Islamic scholars agree . . . . “   This statement was used to introduce “loopholes” in Sharia Law, which considers it an act of apostasy punishable by death “to deny the obligatory character of something which by consensus of Muslims is part of Islam.” (See Reliance of the Traveller, para. o8.7(14))  Sharia Law argues that Allah would not misguide the scholars, so if even one scholar disagrees, the ruling has no force. (See ROT, para. b7.1(d) and b7.4)   Consequently, Muslims today are straining to find documented disagreements over rulings of Sharia Law whereby they can escape from some of the straight-jacket restrictions.  

  For example, the women at the conference were encouraged to read a book, written only in Arabic, by the title, “Freedom for the Woman in the Age of the Message.”  Another recommended book was “The Women Scholars in Islam” (Al-Muhadithaat) by Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi. According to the latter book, there were some 9,000 female hadith scholars in Islamic history who didn’t always agree with their male counterparts. By citing precedents in the age of Muhammad when women enjoyed greater freedom and autonomy, women today can argue against many of the provisions of Sharia Law. This loophole tactic may be used increasingly in the future as issues of equal rights and women’s liberties run up against restrictive provisions of Sharia Law. 

Rock Star of the Conference:  The most sought-after speaker at the conference was Maryam Amirebrahimi, who spoke in three of the sessions.  Maryam was her high school Student Body President and she was awarded the California Student of the Year award in the early 2000’s. She also served as President of the MSA at San Jose State College. She has a master’s degree in Education from UCLA.  Not only has she memorized the entire Quran, but she has a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.  She still manages to balance being a mother with being active in social justice and educational endeavors.  She is the role model for young Muslim women who do not want to end up confined to the home and perils of Islamic marriage.

 Highlight 3

But not even a rock star could explain some of the inequitable mandates in the Quran.  Why do men inherit twice as much as women?  “The whole subject is very tricky.”  Why must only women cover up to honor Allah?  In her writings, Maryam says this is a fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) issue which she is not trying to address. 

Some of the changes in this year’s conference were subtle:  Not all of the sessions were segregated by gender.  Signers for the deaf were provided in many of the sessions.  There was less vandalism by the attendees of Christian signs and posters around the campus.  Somewhat fewer Muslim women wore headscarves. More of the attendees chose to go shopping instead of participating in the eight public prayers on Wilson Plaza in the middle of the campus. 

What remains to be seen is whether the MSA will revert to the militancy that was displayed in 2011, or will Muslims work harder to become good citizens of the United States and produce the kind of “good fruit” that will earn them respect and esteem in our society? 

First-Person Account of His Conference Experience by Kevin Sand:

I got to Ackerman Union early. A guy & girl snagged me, “Are you Muslim?” 

“I’m a UCLA alumnus. Graduated in 1970!” 

They stepped back, huddled, approached, “We don’t have room. There’s 1260 seats. Last night was chaos. The fire marshal won’t let us.” 

“I can pay.” 

“No more room.” 

I looked at 1250 empty seats. “I’m a respectful skeptic!” 

Another huddle. The guy sends the girl off. Approaches, “I’ll see what I can do,” and walks out. 

I wait as hordes file in. The girl I spoke with returned, said, “I’ll try and find him.” 

Some time later, the room is half full. The guy returns, “Have a seat. You can register later.” 

And that’s the last I heard of it. 

I sat through all sessions and two workshops. A grueling day for an atheist -- 10 hours of peeps shrieking belief at me! 

Facing the stage, girls took up both the left and middle aisles, guys filled the right. Around 1000 peeps, 2/3 of them girls. From campuses north & south. 

Self-segregated. But not rigidly. Saw four guys sitting in one of the rear, middle aisle rows, surrounded by girls in front, back & to the sides. No one yanked ‘em. 

Most girls wore head scarves, but a few had free hair. Though there were no burqas, most wore long sleeves and were covered to their ankles. 

Ali Muir – “Think Outside the Mosque” 

For many years, Ali Mir has been on the Executive Board of the Greater Los Angeles Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Seventeen years ago, as USC’s delegate, he helped found MSA West. Ali spoke of the many identities Muslims have: 

  • Practicing / Non-practicing
  • Sunni / Shia
  • Immigrant / Indigenous / Convert
  • Ethnicity / Culture
  • Gender
  • Liberal / Conservative
  • Progressive / Radical
  • Leftist / Moderate

He called moderates Muslims who keep their mouths shut. And he scoffed at Respectability Politics, the idea that Muslims don’t police their own to stop radicalization. Finding someone who commits violence prior to him doing it is like finding needles in haystacks. 

Ali called the 2/3 of attendees who were women the most motivated. He said 25-35% of U.S. Muslims are African-Americans, but that’s not reflected in Muslim leadership. He said the majority of the population is working class and poor, and Muslims need to reach them.

Ali mentioned LaunchGood, a Muslim crowd funding site like Kickstarter, but said that getting endowments was better than constant fund raising. 

He lamented that Muslims were more tolerant of Jews and Christians than they were of Muslims who practice differently. 

Ali said the ummah needs to be a broad tent. Not all Muslims follow all parts of the faith. Some may be “bad Muslims,” drinking, eating pork, keeping dogs. As long as they’re open to grow, they shouldn’t be shunned. At times, Ali sounded like Rodney King. (“Can’t we all get along?”) He said disagreements don’t mean disrespect.


He said focus on your constituency, have a long-term vision, be consistent and invite all with “beautiful preaching.” 

Jihad Saafir – “Revive L.A. and Ban the Box” 

Despite his fierce name, Imam Jihad Saafir was endearing. Just west of USC, he’s been Masjid Ibaadillah’s Imam since 2007. He dreams of an Islamic community center -- Islah L.A. (“revive, renew, restore”) -- that gives inner city people an alternative to the drugs and prostitution that surrounds them. At MSA West, Imam Jihad led attendees in cheers. He yelled, “Islah!” and the crowd yelled, “L.A.!” Not satisfied (“You can do better than that!”), he whipped ‘em up again. And again! Until the crowd was his. 

Imam Jihad is also Muslim Chaplin at the California Institute for Women (CIW). He says Islam is the fastest growing inmate religion. 

At MSA West, he brought three male members of his “crew.” (“The real deal. I love my crew!”) Three ex-cons saved by Islam, each with tragic tales. One was arrested in ‘93, did 20 years in prison and was just released. Another was jailed for hassling a cop who caught a female train rider who hadn’t paid. A third had a son when he was seventeen, then got 22 years for selling dope. While in prison, his 2-year-old son was beaten to death by a jealous friend of his wife. (“One hour of neglect can undo a year of pious living.”) 

Imam Jihad yells to the crowd, “How many schools we got here?” 

Attendees from half a dozen campuses yell back. 

“You’re a voice,” yells Imam Jihad. “Organize! Campaign to remove the “prison box” from employment applications.” (That you “check” if you’ve done time.) 

Petitions circulate for signatures. 

Imam Jihad looks at his crew, “The best of us were in prison.” And back at his audience, “Advocate for the oppressed. Ban the Box!” 

Ali al Najjar – “Manhood in Islam” 

You know you’re not in church when MSA West sends already segregated males and females in two different directions: females to learn Womanhood, males to learn Manhood. 

From Dearborn, Michigan (America’s largest Arab American enclave), Ali Al-Najjar says Islam redefines manhood. Control the sword when it’s not needed. Every man is a male, but not every male is a man. Is manhood given... or attained? A man has firmness, gives advice, unites mental/ spiritual/ physical ideals. Yes, men are stronger. But males and females are like the two wings of a bird: sometimes one or the other is lower, but both are needed for flight. (As with marriage.) 

Imam Jihad asks, does drinking, womanizing, ignoring your kids and driving flashy cars with big rims make you a man? No! That’s arrogance. A man has humility. Respects women and his mother. Has kindness, confidence, forbearance. He doesn’t need to prove himself. Or seek revenge. 

UC San Diego grad Jamaal Diwan spent six years studying Arabic and Islam in Egypt. He got a Sharia law degree from Cairo’s al-Azhar University. Jamaal says a man’s income must be halal (approved by Islamic law). He must take care of his family emotionally and financially, use his time well and have integrity (live what he preaches). 

Suhaib Webb left a music career for Islam. Trained by a Senegalese Muslim scholar, he was Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. From 2004-2010 he studied Sharia law at al-Azhar University, then memorized the Quran in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Brass Crescent awards voted Suhaib’s website “Best Blog of the Year” (2009). In 2010, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center called Webb one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World. 

But at MSA West, late-arriving Suhaib was loose as a goose! Repeating what others had earlier said, he blushed and fished for something to add. Like a ‘60s hippie, Suhaib said Muslims need to “hang out” more, as opposed to “acting pious.” Yes, a man’s duty is service, to Allah, to wife and family. He must mentor the needy. But Suhaib’s passion is video games. He broke up the audience remembering how he’d creamed a chum, “I’ll never forget obliterating him!” 

During audience Q&A, a young Muslim confessed that, raised in a household of women, he didn’t have the aggressive spirit Islam required. Ali rushed to his defense, saying a man’s tears are no cause for shame. At the peak of realizing God, tears flow. That’s when meaningful relationships grow among men. One who can’t shed tears has a hardened, dead heart. When Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were closest to God, they were killed. By fanatics with cold, dead hearts who saw them as threats. 

Amal Ali – “No Rest ‘Til We Divest” 

Palestinian spokesperson Amal Ali warned that video or audio recording is a federal crime. Her theme was stolen land, like that under UCLA. (Taken from Native Americans.) Her goal: liberate Palestine. Through BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction). Having seen it, Amal grimly described the West Bank wall: 400 miles long, 20 feet high, cement. She said 80 groups were behind BDS. Eight out of nine UC campuses considered and six joined it. Amal didn’t ask for a complete boycott. Just goods “complicit in the occupation.” Like SodaStream, whose factory is in the West Bank, behind the wall. 

When should it stop? When the occupation ends, Palestinian rights in Israel are recognized and when those who fled can return. 

Has it worked? According to Amal, Israeli goods have sat unloaded at U.S. docks for two to three weeks. 

Amal says mosques important to Muslims – like the Dome of the Rock – shouldn’t be on occupied land. But she says BDS is not anti-Semitic. 

Reem Suleiman and Yalda Satar -- “From Campus to Airport: Know Your Rights” 

MSA West acknowledged that terrorism and two wars have caused widespread suspicion of Muslims, from both government and employers. How should Muslims deal with it? In a surprisingly light mood, Reem Suleiman, from the Asian Law Caucus, and Yalda Satar, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said we’re now going to have fun! 

Message from both? When questioned, stay silent, call a lawyer. Silence doesn’t mean suspicious. If the FBI knocks, step outside. Don’t let them in. Don’t lie or act sassy. Ask for their business card and say you’ll call back. 

Reem asked for volunteers to show what to do or not do. One girl loved playing Miss Don’t-Do-This. When Officer Reem asked if she knew of any mosques where radical things were said, she said, “Yes, several!” 

Reem: “Have you been to any?” 

Girl: “All of them!” 

Reem and Yalda discussed how they won the right to wear religious clothes at work, and to take time off for religious reasons if the boss is told in advance. 

Yalta said CAIR has 32 offices nationwide. And April 27 is Muslim Day at the Capitol. Conferees were urged to register online. 

Off Come the Masks 

In closing speeches, some masks came off. The Kaaba in Mecca is the spiritual core of Muslims, who are the best of peoples. How can we deal with enemies attacking the ummah (Muslims worldwide) if we in-fight? Muslims are centered. Balanced. A nation to rule all others. Liberals help Syrian refugees. We should use them to free Palestinians. 

Don’t pick and choose from the Hadiths. Islam is a whole way of life. It’s not just charity. Liberal values are not Islamic values. Islam is your life. 

We must build its roots: the Quran and Sunna (Muhammad’s words and deeds). 

If Israel slaughters people, do we protest over the slaughter of lab rats? Allah... liberate us from ignorance!

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