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On Valentine's Day, the second day of the conference, young women wearing the hijab circulated around the steps of Wheeler Hall. Many wore long robes, too, although most wore jeans and blouses with the scarf. Clusters of young men, many in skullcaps and kaffiyehs, drifted in and out of Wheeler, but women and men entered and exited through separate doors marked "BROTHERS ENTRANCE" and "SISTERS ENTRANCE." Practically no intergender socializing was evident, nor bare female arms or legs.
That afternoon's program in Wheeler Auditorium was called "Liberation Struggles, Past and Present." The auditorium was packed. Women filled the right-hand tier of seats, men the left. The front half of the central tier was occupied entirely by men, the back by women. Roughly 95 percent appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin, with small scattered clusters of black attendees and only a tiny handful of white ones. Throughout the hall, the young faces glowed with contentment, the luminous radiance of devotion.
The emcee punctuated nearly every sentence with "Inshallah" -- if Allah is willing. He announced that one of the orators in this program, Imam Jamil, would address the group via phone hookup because he was in jail. "He's under lockdown," the young emcee said, "but he was a slave of Allah before he was incarcerated and when he is released he will continue."
From the men's side came a chorus: "Allahu akbar" -- God is great.
Abdel Malik Ali, an African-American imam affiliated with Oakland's Masjid Al Islam mosque, took the podium and sent a nervous ripple through the crowd by immediately denouncing "the white man, who is the enemy." Presently his monologue narrowed in on Daniel Pipes. Pipes, Ali declared, "can kiss our behind! Your days are numbered," Ali said sharply to an imaginary Pipes and whoever supports him. "Your days are numbered in the apartheid state of Israel and in America."
"Allahu akbar," some chanted.
"The Zionist Jews done really messed up," Ali said. "I'm talking about the Zionist Jews, not all Jews, not the Jews who are down with us -- because not all Jews are Zionists. I have to say that, otherwise I'll get called an anti-Semite."
Soft laughter shimmered through the auditorium.
Ali said the conflict between Muslims and Zionists "is an opportunity, dawg," because "we're allowed to fight against oppression. It's an act of worship. ... In America, you're mostly fighting with your tongue. But you should also learn how to fight with the sword."
Ali's remarks met with polite silence, punctuated by occasional choruses of "Allahu akbar." No protesters were visible either inside or outside the hall.
"The enemies of Islam know that when we come back to power we're gonna check 'em," Ali said before leaving. "They're gonna be checked."
A few minutes later, from a jail in Georgia, Imam Jamil's voice emerged through the speakers less than clearly. He was obviously a practiced speaker but the connection was weak. "The circumstances that Allah has placed upon me at this time have been placed on Muslims around the world," he said. "Stay conscious and ask Allah to raise the Muslims and give us victory over the disbeliever." Jamil urged his listeners to be devout.
Just as the question-and-answer period was about to start, a recorded female voice broke in and blared: "You have sixty seconds left on this call."
After the imam hung up, notes passed to the stage revealed that many in the audience had no idea who Jamil was and wanted to know more. In response, the emcee invited another member up to the podium to explain. "Imam Jamil is the person who has the potential of uniting North America," the speaker said. "Ten years from now, they'll play the tape of this speech like they play tapes of Malcolm X now. You are privileged." When he left the stage, attendees were still puzzled. "Well," said one, "at least you could tell he was a very spiritual person."
In the 1960s, Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin was better known as the revolutionary leader H. Rap Brown. Long before most of the students in the auditorium were born, he was the justice minister of the Black Panther Party. Having converted to Islam in prison during the 1970s, he was convicted in 2002 of killing an Atlanta cop two years earlier. He maintains that he is the target of a government conspiracy.
On the next day, a Sunday, workshops and lectures focused on activism, modesty, and prayer. UC San Diego student Muslema Purmul started off that morning's program. "Why do we feel so at peace here today?" she mused, beaming at the serene faces lining the hall. "Because the next life is the real life. The next life is home. ... We are all part of the eternal destination."
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