Although most of the scholars and academic luminaries on the program for the Third International Sirah Conference, which begins today in Anaheim, are scheduled to speak on the contemporary challenges to Muslim life, what interests Bibi Haq most is hearing directly from the Koran, Islam’s holy book.
The biennial gathering, originated and sponsored by the Islamic Society of Orange County, is expected to draw more than 2,000 participants from around the nation to the two-day gathering at the Anaheim Hilton.
Clergymen and government officials, including a Saudi prince, are scheduled to address a variety of subjects associated with Islam in the modern world, such as banking, legal studies and education. But Haq, a Santa Ana housewife and domestic worker, said she was especially eager to listen to Qari Abdul Basit Abdul Samad, an Egyptian who is world famous for his classical recitation of the ancient verses.
Which is as it should be, according to Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, director of the Garden Grove-based society, since the term, Sir ah, refers to the life and example of the Prophet Mohammed. The conference’s motto, taken from the Koran, 33:21, states: “You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern of conduct.”
Mohammed’s life provides a pattern, Siddiqi said, “in every sense of the word--teacher, leader, family man and statesman. He led a very rich life, where one can find inspiration for oneself.”
Lay People to Attend
While Muslim scholars and clergy form the largest group of speakers at the conference, Siddiqi said, most of those in attendence will probably be lay people like Haq, with as many as a third coming to Anaheim from outside Southern California.
Siddiqi said there is no other comparable conference in the United States.
“It is a conference for all Muslims, he said, “highly educated professionals and housewives.”
Siddiqi predicted that women will make up about half the Sirah participants. According to Muslim practice, the men and women will be separated during all sessions, usually with an aisle between them. Two of the scheduled speakers are women. Dr. Raja Hathout of Los Angeles will speak on family problems. Dr. Noor Jehan Muhammadi of the San Gabriel Valley will discuss the education of Muslim children.
Azam S. Qureshi, a member of the conference planning committee and a former president of the Orange County society, said lay people “feel there is a need to refresh our knowledge of Islam, particularly this year, when the theme is contemporary issues. We feel this will be beneficial not only to Muslims but to non-Muslims, to find out there are some alternative solutions to the problems we face.”
The highest ranking government official invited to the conference is Muhammad Ali Mahjoub, president of Egypt’s Supreme Islamic Council, who holds ministerial rank. Prince Muhammad al-Faisal Al Saud, son of a former king of Saudi Arabia and nephew of the present monarch, and now chairman of the International Assn. of Islamic Banks, is also scheduled to address the conference. Although the basic format of the conference is English, translations will be provided for speakers not fluent in English.
Two Leaders Due
This year, for the first time, two leaders of the predominantly black American Islamic Community have agreed to deliver major addresses to the Sirah. Wallace D. Muhammad, head of the American Islamic Community, and Siraj Wahaj, head of the group’s New York mosque, are scheduled to speak. Wallace Muhammad is the son of the late Elijah Muhammad, founder of the militantly anti-white Nation of Islam, which is now headed by Louis Farrakhan. No representatives of the Farrakhan group have been invited to the Sirah, Siddiqi said.
The presence on the program of Muhammad and Wahaj, said Qureshi, a Fullerton engineer, is “an indication of enhanced participation of all segments of the American Muslim community.”
About 20% of those attending the Sirah are black, Siddiqi said, and many of them are not members of Wallace Muhammad’s American Islamic Community.
Topics on the agenda range from scholarly matters to a discussion of “Issues of Peace and Justice: Terrorism vs. Jihad.” A panel on media and information will concentrate on how to “correct misinformation about Islam in America,” Siddiqi said, and print and broadcast journalists from throughout the Islamic world have indicated they will be covering the Sirah extensively, as they did in 1984.
One panel includes a discussion of nutrition and Muslim dietary concerns, called halal, which are similar to kashruth, the Jewish dietary code. As with gatherings of Orthodox Jewish groups, the hotel has made special arrangements to conform with the Muslim regulations, including purchasing meat for the conference meals from a Muslim butcher.
“The Hilton Hotel has become very familiar with Muslim food,” Siddiqi said. “They’ve been very cooperative.”
The hotel is making other accommodations as well. A meeting room designated for regular prayer during the conference will be set up facing northeast, toward Mecca. There will be no chairs in the room, but the carpets will be freshly shampooed. In another section of the hotel, a bazaar for the display of Islamic books, crafts and learning materials from 40 companies will be set up. According to a list of rules included in the Sirah program, “no material unlawful to Islam will be displayed.”
The Islamic Society of Orange County is taking an active role in this conference as it has in the previous two gatherings. Those attending the Sirah who do not wish to stay at the hotel are being taken into the homes of local families, and there will be tours on Sunday from the hotel to the society’s center and religious school.