During the Islamic Organization of North America’s annual convention last year, experts identified what they consider the most pressing challenges for the Muslim community in Metro Detroit and elsewhere.
Among those ranking highest were drugs, mental health and atheism. But since then, another issue — Islamophobia — has become more problematic in the wake of an acrimonious presidential election and increasing alleged hate crimes against Muslims nationwide.
The environment is now so tense, some attendees to IONA’s 12th gathering this weekend in downtown Detroit wonder whether their children should wear traditional garb for fear of attracting unwanted attention.
“The rhetoric is bordering on hate-mongering. It is breeding hate in a subtle way,” said Azer Colakovic, secretary general for the group. “People feel it. People are worried.”
Addressing those concerns, and finding possible solutions, mark the nonprofit religious group’s “Living the Faith: The Struggle Continues — Confronting Challenges, Identifying Solutions,” which runs Friday through Sunday at Cobo Center.
The convention, open to the public, features lectures and workshops headed by imams and educators as well as interfaith leaders tackling topics including Islamic family law, empowerment and youth advancement.
“We envision IONACON to be a living convention,” Imam and IONA President Steve Elturk said in a message to attendees. “Through the collective efforts of imams, experts, parents, educators, counselors, mentors among other professionals, we will, by the Grace of Allah (SWT), be able to help heal our community from its social ills.”
As many as 1,000 guests are expected to attend the gathering for IONA, which is based in Warren and has chapters across the country and in Canada, Colakovic said.
The event is designed to serve as a springboard for action in the community, Colakovic said. “Throughout the year we will be working on issues, identifying individuals who can work on specific challenges.”
Among the timely highlights: “Post Election Session: In Solidarity for Safeguarding Our Constitutional Rights for All” led Saturday by attorney Shereef Akeel, Judge Adam Shakoor, activist Marifer Calleja and professor Paul Hammer. And on Sunday, a workshop called “Combating Islamophobia” is scheduled to include speakers such as Robert Bruttell, board chairman for the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and Steve Spreitzer, president/CEO at the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion.
Discrimination and targeting of Muslims has been highlighted in recent weeks following Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the presidential election. His positions on issues such as Muslim immigration prompted protests in Metro Detroit as well as nationwide.
Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has noted a spike in incidents targeting American Muslims and other minority groups since Nov. 8, and Southern Poverty Law Center also found rising reports of harassment.
Gathering with other Muslims at the convention can boost learning ways to combat hate, said Amanda Jaczkowski, 24, a nonprofit worker from Ferndale. “It really just helps ground you in basic knowledge that will make you more comfortable when people are trying to explain to you that your religion is wrong — just to be able to respond to that respectfully and based fundamentally in Islam instead of based on emotions,” she said.
For information about tickets and programs: www.ionaconvention.org