Friday, February 25, 2005

Report on Conference on “Islamic Perspectives on Worker Justice” at George Washington University

Justice, solidarity, activism—these are some of the words which were in vogue at this unique conference at George Washington University (GW) on February 20th. Sponsored and organized primarily by the Islamic Alliance for Justice of GW, the National Interfaith Council on Worker Justice, and DC Jobs with Justice, the “Islamic Perspectives on Worker Justice” conference responded to the call of a faith that is understood to place enormous emphasis on the ideals of justice, equality, and universal sister/brotherhood.

The specific topics addressed at the conference included: Labor, Workers’ Rights and Muslims, Muslims and Activism, Immigrants and Organizing, Religious Leaders and Labor, and Islam and Social Justice. The convergence of activists and religious and community leaders around these themes was really an historic event. The passion and devotion of the invited speakers and panelists to the cause of solidarity with those who are the “least amongst us,” those who suffer the most oppression, exploitation, and humiliation, was immense. The Islamic and humanist notion of siding with sections of our society, such as labor, in their struggle for more dignified lives prevailed throughout the speeches and discussions.

Religious leaders from the Muslim community who were present included Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, Imam Mahdi Bray, Imam Ali Siddiqui, and Dr. Ingrid Mattson. Each one of them, in their distinct and spirited ways, implored Muslims to apply the transcendental ethics of Islam in the context of injustice today, especially in relation to workers’ rights. Some of the Muslim activists included Samia Khan, Rami el-Amine, and Junaid Ahmad. They emphasized the need for an engaged relationship between Muslims and labor and other groups striving for social justice and peace.

There was vibrant discussion at the conference, spurred on by the many insights and comments coming from the audience. Persons from media, labor, activist and advocacy groups, and the larger D.C. Muslim and non-Muslim community attended the opening plenary session and the two major workshops, and contributed to a lively discourse on the present situation and the way forward.

The conference affirmed the important idea that a full appreciation of one’s faith commitment can be realized to its full extent only in a struggle for justice in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed sections of society, those the Qu’ran (the holy book for Muslims) calls the mustad’afun. The view coming from the panelists was that the indignity and injustices produced by our world, with its undemocratic and pernicious institutions, require nothing less from Muslims and others than a concrete battle for justice and peace.

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