Muslims gather for youth leadership conference
WILLINGBORO — Nearly 300 people gathered here this weekend for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Youth Association’s 16th annual national youth leadership conference, held at the Al-Nasr Mosque, the headquarters of the organization's Willingboro chapter.
The purpose of the conference, attended by leaders of about 60 American chapters, was to make a year's worth of plans for the youth association's various activities in the areas of community outreach, health and wellness, education and sports.
“Everyone has a pretty good takeaway,” said Usman Shaikh, the qaid, or president, of the Willingboro chapter. “And they enjoyed the company.”
Shaikh, of Willingboro, said the fringe benefits included good food and accommodations at the mosque, the floors of which were draped with sleeping bags and other evidence of overnight festivities.
In addition to planning activities, which are set at a national level and carried out by leaders in individual chapters, the event included recognition for standout youth leaders and an awards presentation from the Community Blood Council of New Jersey (CBCNJ) a Ewing Township-based non profit blood bank. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community collected 2,000 bags of blood for the organization during drives held throughout the past year.
“(Millions of) people a year receive blood,” Mary Moore, associate recruiter for CBCNJ, said to the conference attendees during the closing exercises Sunday. “You are part of that.”
Along with brotherhood and peace, community service is a core concept of the organization. Founded in 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is an international Islamic reformist movement that spans over 190 countries “with membership exceeding tens of millions,” according to the organization's literature. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, established in 1920, is touted as the first American-Muslim organization.
The movement’s leaders are quick to emphasize the difference between the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a peaceful group, and the aggressive, militant version of Islam that Americans have come to fear in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and more recent acts of terrorism, such as the attempted bombing in New York City’s Time Square last spring.
The organization has responded to fears and suspicion with Muslims for Peace, a grassroots campaign that aims to convey the group’s purpose, which is based the peaceful teachings of messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835 to 1908).
Ahmad, it is believed, was sent to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace.
“We saw more an more people asking, ‘Where are these so-called modern Muslims?’,” said Harris Zafar, the group’s national spokesman, said of the campaign. “It came to a head, and our national leaders said ‘Enough is enough. It’s about time somebody stands up to speak for Islam.’ ”
The campaign started on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and involves distributing fliers door-to-door in residential neighborhoods and in high-traffic areas like shopping centers, said Zafar.
The intent is not to convert but to inform, Zafar said.
The Willingboro chapter members distribute fliers on Saturdays and have reached 600 homes so far, said Bilal Malk, the chapter’s faith outreach coordinator.
Though some people have refused to take fliers, others have responded with hugs and encouragement.
“It’s been excellent,” said Malk.