Reflections on the 2010 Muslim Congress

I was told by several people that the Saturday night poetry slam would be the highlight of the 2010 Muslim Congress conference in Miami, Florida, but I assumed that the brothers were embellishing. While I was honored when asked to participate, and humbled to recite verses alongside such talented artists as Ebrahim Mohseni and Hamza Perez (of "New Muslim Cool" fame), I figured the enthusiasm I was told the slam would generate was an exaggeration. Turns out I was wrong. As featured poet Yahya Naqvi eloquently stated later on, "Poets are the voice of the deen. They are the articulation of the scholars and martyrs."
On July 3, 2010, they were also the articulation of the Shia Muslim community in North America, including the 1,000-plus in attendance at the conference. Indigenous and immigrant, young and old, male and female alike, all with unique experiences and outlooks, were on their feet at the end of the slam, in appreciation of not just the poets' skilled wordplay, but also for what the words stood for: Qur'an and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) – the Final Testament and the Final Testimony (the theme of this year's conference).
A first-timer at MC, I arrived at the Hyatt Regency with positive but unclear expectations. My main goal was simply to connect with fellow Muslims from around the nation, many of whom I knew only from social networking sites (as Malcolm Lateef Shabazz, grandson of Malcolm X and also a newcomer to MC, stated earlier in the weekend, "Facebook is a monster"). Thankfully this was a goal that I achieved. What I didn't expect to experience was almost a culmination of a brief but eventful journey that began with taking Shahadah in 2003. After roughly three years of practicing Islam according to the Hanafi madhab, my introduction to the school of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) came around the same time I took an interest in what some might term as "political Islam". This had as much to do with personal experiences, including my job as a youth counselor in Massachusetts group homes, as it did with current world events. Quite simply, I began to search for an Islam that addressed all matters of everyday life, the Islam taught by Imam Khomeini, whose book "Islam and Revolution" became a favorite of mine during that period. This search for the "Pure Islam" of the Ahlul Bayt was a common thread amongst all attendees.
From attorney John Floyd's advising Muslims on how to handle FBI harassment, to Council of American-Islam Relations (CAIR) spokesman Dawud Walid's assessment of the Obama administration's handling of Muslim issues, to MC mainstay Abdul Alim Musa's shared  remarkable life story, lectures and workshops provided practical solutions. Other sessions discussed solutions to social problems as well as issues of Islamic jurisprudence. I had the opportunity to briefly sit in on a late-night session conducted by Shaikh Ja'far Muhibullah. Shaikh Ja'far addressed a room full of twentysomethings on day-to-day interactions between the genders in the workplace and at universities. He fielded questions right into the wee hours from young brothers and sisters. In providing a solution for these youth, a "Heavenly Match" forum where singles searched for suitable marriage partners under the supervision of scholars was offered.
One forum which packed the room was the "Shia Manifesto", conducted by Shaikh Hamza Sodogar and Shaikh Mohammad Baig. Maulana Baig spoke of the 2006 bombing of the Askariyya Shrine in Samarra, Iraq, the burial place of our Tenth and Eleventh Imams (peace be upon them). The Maulana asked how Shias could possibly be ready for the arrival of Imam Zamana (may Allah hasten his reappearance), if we were not up to the task of protecting the sacred shrine? After discussing narrations concerning the last days of the Greater Occultation, the two scholars opened up the floor to the audience to offer opinions on what the American Shias' plan of action should be. The general consensus was on the importance of identifying legitimate leadership and establishing communication with the leadership. Maulana Baig spoke about the difference between real and untrustworthy scholars, and the need to set up an effective seminary system in the US. Others encouraged the believers to utilize programs that are already in place, from the MC website to the monthly conference calls. The spirited discussion highlighted not only individual issues, but also the importance of MC as an organization, and its potential moving forward.
Muslim Congress's stated vision includes not just conference-organizing, but tackling the issues of local communities, and helping people on the ground facing poverty, social, and ethical problems. Lack of true leadership is a problem all over the Muslim world, and North America is no exception. MC has shown both the promise and the willingness to fill this void, but it can only succeed with the help of committed Muslims on a daily basis. On a personal level, attending Muslim Congress and meeting the scholars and wonderful attendees made me confident that the message of Ahlul Bayt is not just history that we read about in books, but something that carries on to this day, as we actively await the Imam of the Ag