by Maryam Abdul-Qawiyy

This summer the Ahmadi Muslim youth of America came together in the spirit of brotherhood to celebrate their faith and identity. The theme of this year’s event was “Building America’s Leading Muslim Youth Organization.”

“We discussed how Muslims can show the true teachings of Islam to the American public, which is to always maintain peace,” said Usama Awan, 19, who as a participant has been coming to this event for most of his life.

TOGETHERNESS—African-American-Muslim participants at the Annual Ahmadiyya Muslim Camp at Cheswick Sports Arena. The theme was “Muslims 4 Peace.” (Photo by Erin Perry)

More than 1,000 men gathered for the 33rd annual national Ijtema at the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena in Cheswick, Pa. The purpose of the gathering was to not only build strength in the American-Muslim future, but also encourage current youth that their identity as an American-Muslim is to promote awareness and be proud of their religion and citizenship.

In Islam an “Ijtema” or “gathering” is where Muslim men, ages 15-40 celebrate the perseveration of their faith. Since Sept. 11, the words Muslim and Islam have been linked with terrorist attacks and fear. However, a peaceful gathering was held to correct the current reputation of Muslims in the media, while preserving identity as a start towards change. Its purpose was to exhibit that all people, no matter their religious practices, can discover a constructive solution for misrepresentation based on the acts of a few.

“We believe in the sanctity of life,” Saad Karamat, 22, said, “and being able to trust your brother. We believe in a great sense of brotherhood.”

Both participants Usama and Saad are adherents of the Ahmadi Muslim youth of America; the Ahmadiyya is a sect of Islam.

The worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, in India, 1889. He came to condemn all forms of religious violence, exploitation and establish brotherhood between religions and peoples of all backgrounds. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is the first and longest running Islamic-American organization in history and has close to 15,000 adherents.

Thus those who gathered were a part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, but they gathered in the name of Islam and standing side by side, on their prayer rugs, they were symbols of modesty and humility. In prayer they sought guidance on how to handle the prejudice crisis that American-Muslims face in life and the media.

Not only were regular prayers held throughout the entire event but also an importance on spirituality was incorporated in other activities as well. Writing workshops were given on essay writing and how to create an Islamic voice within the national American media. Also, sports competitions included: basketball, soccer, volleyball, and flag football. Educational competitions included: speech, poetry, and the recitation of the Holy Quran.

In addition, some discussions included the “Muslims for Life” initiative where blood drives are to be held in mosques and community centers around the country on the week of Sept.11, in honor of those who lost their lives 10 years ago.

Muslims have Islamic fanatics and critics working against their endeavors for peace; however, participants Usama and Saad said that they not only showed the true meaning of the word Islam, but they also found peace, within themselves, during the event.

When asked about the impact of the conference, Usama responded, “Yes, the conference was a success. I came back with an increased sense of spirituality. That is one of the main personal, as well as collective goals of the conference.”

“Not only did I feel a great sense of trust in Muslim brotherhood, but also a greater strength in my spirituality. When we all prayed together, and the room was completely silent, I felt a stronger connection to God.” Saad said.

Even though this event occurs in a different city every year, it is a possibility that it will resume in Pittsburgh in 2012.

It is admirable that with the rising skepticism regarding Islam, Muslim men organized an event to demonstrate that even though one may be an American Muslim, one does not have to be in conflict with his pledge of allegiance to Islam or to America.

Ramadan Mubarak.

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