Islamic Society of North America
Islamic Society of North America logo
|Formation||1963-1982 (as Muslim Students' Association)|
|Purpose||To unify Islamic organization and to contribute to the betterment of the Muslim community|
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), based in Plainfield, Indiana, USA, is a Platform for Social Good. It has been described in the media as the largest Muslim organization in North America. ISNA holds an annual national convention which is generally regarded as the largest annual gathering of American Muslims.
ISNA traces its origins to a meeting of several Muslim student organizations in 1963, at which the Muslim Student Association of the U.S. & Canada ("The MSA") was formed in January 1963. ISNA regards the MSA's 1963 convention as its first one, held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Present-day ISNA was founded in 1982 through a joint effort of four organizations: The Muslim Students Association of the US and Canada (The MSA), Islamic Medical Association (IMA), the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), and the Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE) - to create a community-oriented organization due to the changing nature of the growing Muslim community. Many of the leaders of these four founding organizations took leadership roles in the newly formed ISNA. In 1983, ISNA completed a $21 million ($52,826,261 today) headquarters complex in suburban Indianapolis using funds raised in part from international sources. On August 30, 2013, Tahera Ahmad became the first woman to recite the Quran to open the ISNA convention, which she did at the 50th annual ISNA convention in front of a mixed-gender audience.
ISNA's goal is "to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America that contributes to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large." ISNA is an association of Muslim organizations and individuals that provides a common platform for presenting Islam, supporting Muslim communities, developing educational, social and outreach programs and fostering good relations with other religious communities, and civic and service organizations.
Since 1982, ISNA's structure has changed, with several organizations either becoming defunct, or simply leaving ISNA's umbrella. Currently, ISNA includes under its umbrella: Muslim Student Association (MSA), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), Canadian Islamic Trust Foundation (CITF; NAIT's counterpart in Canada), Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE), Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), and the Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA). Other organizations that either left ISNA or were disbanded include: Muslim Communities Association (MCA), Islamic Teaching Center (ITC), the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), Islamic Media Foundation (IMF), and Foundation for International Development (FID), among others. Although each of the umbrella groups under ISNA has a seat in the ISNA Board of Directors, ISNA itself has no reciprocal seat or say in the leadership of the lower umbrella groups.
ISNA provides various services for Muslim immigrants and Muslim communities in North America. It used to publish information about Islam to be distributed with the intention of informing Muslims and non-Muslims about various issues in the religion, however this role was filled by a separate, unaffiliated organization, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). They provide a forum for discussing aging and mortality as well as domestic violence. ISNA-Canada, a separately-run but loosely affiliated Canadian non-profit entity, also certifies food service and consumer products companies as Halal, and issues Islamic marriage certificates to couples with a marriage license who have performed the religious ceremony.
Although only a small percentage of mosques are official members, mosque membership in ISNA is an important step for many small communities trying to grow. ISNA also offers individual membership on an annual basis and lifetime basis for sustaining donors.
ISNA holds an annual national convention, typically on the Labor Day weekend in early September, which is generally regarded as the largest annual gathering of American Muslims in the United States. In the last few years, it has been held most frequently in Chicago, Illinois. The convention features Islamic lectures, discussions, debates, nasheeds, and Muslim comedy. A notable comedian who has repeatedly performed at ISNA is Azhar Usman. In 2012, the ISNA Convention was held in Washington, D.C. Deputy U.S. Attorney General, Thomas Perez, addressed the 2012 Convention, and other prominent representatives of the White House have attended in the past, including Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's Senior Advisor for Engagement and International Affairs in 2009  and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in 2016.
Islamic Horizons is ISNA's bi-monthly publication of ISNA, featuring news from within the Muslim community around the nation, as well as articles addressing topics relevant to Muslim Americans.
ISNA-Canada, an independent, Canadian-incorporated organization, is the operator and owner of the Islamic Society of North America Elementary School in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
The ISNA is led by the ISNA Executive Council with decisions ratified by a Board of Directors (Majlis Ash-Shura). A prominent former president of the ISNA Executive Council was Mohamed Magid, whose term ended in 2014. The ISNA Secretary General is Hazem Bata. Azhar Azeez is the current president. Former ISNA Secretary General Dr. Sayyid Syeed is the National Director for the Office of Interfaith & Community Alliances for ISNA.
ISNA invited Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, to speak before its 44th annual meeting (2007). Reform Judaism is the largest Jewish denomination in the US. Yoffie denounced "opportunists" who demonise Islam, and called for an end to racial profiling and legal discrimination against Muslim Americans. Yoffie drew frequent applause, and a standing ovation. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, criticized Yoffie.
ISNA has participated in interfaith dialogue with the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Alleged extremist ties
Former US Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said that the Islamic Society of North America is "accused of ties to Islamic extremists", and investigative journalist Steven Emerson accused ISNA of ties to terrorism, and argued that ISNA is not as moderate as some "would like to believe". Others such as Rabbi Marc Schneier, president and founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, argue ISNA and other Islamic groups are too often condemned because of "extreme outliers".
Alleged terrorist financing
ISNA was one of a number of Muslim groups investigated by US law enforcement for possible terrorist connections. Its tax records were requested in December 2003 by the Senate Finance Committee. However, the committee's investigation concluded in November 2005 having found no evidence of ties to terrorists. Committee chairman Charles Grassley said, "We did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law enforcement is already doing."
In the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, the United States Department of Justice named ISNA, along with Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), as an unindicted co-conspirator and one of a number of "entities who are and/or were members of the US Muslim Brotherhood." ISNA, along with NAIT and CAIR, filed motions seeking to be removed from the UCC listing, and the District Judge found that the government had violated the organizations' rights by listing them as Unindicted Co-Conspirators. Judge Solis, as affirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, held that the government should not have listed CAIR and ISNA, but that "the government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, ISNA, NAIT, with the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas".
An audit of the separately run but loosely affiliated ISNA-Canada found only a quarter of the funds donated to the organisation went to help the poor. Charity donations were misdirected to private businesses. On September 21, 2013, the Canada Revenue Service revoked the registration of the ISNA-Canada due to an alleged link to a terror organization. Funds intended to charity went to the Hizbul Mujahideen wing of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Allegations of Wahhabism
In his testimony before the US Senate in October 2003, Dr. Michael Waller told Senators, that "The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) refers Muslim clerics to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The Islamic Society of North America is an influential front for the promotion of the Wahhabi political, ideological and theological infrastructure in the United States and Canada." Claiming that ISNA has connections to 50 to 79 percent of mosques on the North American continent, he accused the organization of "dominating Islam in North America."
A speaker at the 2009 national convention, Warith Deen Umar, a New York imam, asserted that the Holocaust happened to the Jews "because they were serially disobedient to Allah." He went on to allege that a group of Jews close to President Barack Obama "control the world". ISNA condemned the comments.
At the July 2017 annual convention of ISNA, representatives from "Muslims for Progressive Values" and Human Rights Campaign (LGBT rights groups) were asked to shut down their booth and leave, given "that the convention was a religious, private, and family-oriented event."
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