Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, several thousand Muslims gathered in Hartford for the annual convention of the Islamic Circle of North America. ICNA was founded almost 40 years ago by Indian and Pakistani university students intending to return home. Most of them never did, but their organization still has ties to Pakistan's Jama'at-I Islami, the Islamist party founded by Sayyid Mawdudi, one of the twentieth century's most notorious Muslim intellectuals.
So this event featured much that would alarm or offend many Americans. Yet it also revealed how even Islamists here are adapting in ways that many of us would find encouraging, even gratifying. Nevertheless, these Islamists have yet to address the political realities of life in America.
ICNA's Islamist lineage explains why its convention has been cosponsored by the Muslim American Society, or MAS, an affiliate of the Arab-oriented Muslim Brotherhood, the world's more visible Islamist movement. But visibility was hardly the problem on Hartford's deserted weekend streets. Among the many bearded men in conventional American garb were others in ankle-length thobes and kufi caps. Still more visible were the women, virtually all of whom were "covered" — most with head-scarfs (hijabs) and not a few in niqab, a veil covering the face, leaving only the eyes exposed.