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updated: 6/13/2012 10:06 AM

Islamic conference won't be in Rolling Meadows

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  • Author and Middle Eastern TV personality Tareq Al Suwaidan is among those seen in a video promoting the Khilafah Conference that was to be held in Rolling Meadows this weekend.

      Author and Middle Eastern TV personality Tareq Al Suwaidan is among those seen in a video promoting the Khilafah Conference that was to be held in Rolling Meadows this weekend.
    Screen capture from YouTube

 
 

An Islamic conference scheduled for this weekend in Rolling Meadows is searching for a new venue, after The Meadows Club was flooded with calls and emails from conservatives demanding the event be canceled.

Organizers of the Khilafah Conference 2012, titled "Revolution: Liberation by Revelation -- Muslims Marching Toward Victory," have not yet found an alternate place to host it in the Chicago area, said a Hizb ut-Tahrir America spokesman.

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Organizers were expecting roughly 1,000 attendees to hear speakers discuss topics such as the causes, motivations and reasons for revolutions; the revolution in Syria; and forms of governance such as an Islamic state, secular state, and democracy.

It caught the attention of conservative commentators and political activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, co-founders of Stop Islamization of America, who launched a campaign against the conference through Spencer's website, Jihad Watch, and Geller's blog, Atlas Shrugs.

Minnesota congresswoman and former Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann, speaking at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference in Rosemont, called on President Barack Obama to "shut down" the conference because of possible terrorist ties.

Meadows Club owner Madan Kulkarni said the club was bombarded with calls and emails, many of which warned there would be protests.

"Phone lines were starting to get jammed," Kulkarni said, who added they are still getting "tons" of emails.

"With other events scheduled on that day and the possibility of protests, it was not the best position for us to be in. In this kind of economy, we can't afford any picketing."

Kulkarni consulted with the Rolling Meadows police chief but decided the cost of having police officers work overtime to provide additional security was too high. He said organizers agreed to his request to cancel the event, saying they did not want to inconvenience the club.

Hizb ut-Tahrir America is part of a worldwide political movement advocating Muslims to return to the Islamic way of life and for the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate governed by Shariah or Islamic law in predominantly Muslim countries.

"The call is not to bring that here to this country or anything of that sort," said Reza Iman, a Chicago area spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir America. "The message is for Muslim countries to return to Islamic values.

"Part of it is just having confidence in Islam as a way of life, and that's a majority of what our work is, whether we discuss problems that are economic, ideological or social. It's about how to address these problems from the Islamic viewpoint."

Hizb ut-Tahrir America held conferences in Oak Lawn in 2009 and Oak Brook in 2011, though not without controversy. Conservative groups have rallied to stop conferences in several states, and organizers have had trouble scheduling events in the Chicago area, Iman said.

The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for information about Hizb ut-Tahrir. The group is not on the Secretary of State's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

"I have not seen any evidence they have engaged in violent activity in the U.S.," said Thomas Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University and author of the book, "The 'New' Terrorism: Myths and Reality."

Mockaitis said while Hizb ut-Tahrir's rhetoric is anti-Zionist and committed to the creation of an Islamic caliphate, that doesn't make it a terrorist organization.

If the group is not flagged on a terrorist watchlist or engaged in activities that are illegal, provocative or inflammatory or advocating violence, they cannot legally be barred from holding a conference anywhere in the country, Mockaitis said.

"The label of terrorism is far too often pinned on anybody you don't like," he said. "If we start making that the criteria for free speech and assembly, we're going to have some real issues."

The Hizb ut-Tahrir movement is about 60 years old, and has been active in the U.S. since the mid-'80s, said Iman, 30, of Chicago, who has been involved for nearly a decade.

The Chicago area chapter has a few hundred members, many of whom live in the West, South and Northwest suburbs and come from all nationalities and walks of life, he said.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is more active in the United Kingdom and Central Asia, but mainstream Muslims in the U.S. have largely shunned the group for its radical ideology, said Zaher Sahloul, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and president of the Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview.

"They are on the fringes of the political Islamic groups," Sahloul said. "They are very vocal and they target young Muslims in college (who) are attracted to their ideologies. They tend to disrupt lectures, Friday prayers. Most of the time they are kicked out from mosques."

But aside from being loudmouthed in their convictions, Hizb ut-Tahrir is opposed to violence, Sahloul said.

He said the group tried to hold a conference at Aqsa School in Bridgeview last year, but when the Islamic school's leadership found out who was behind the conference, it was swiftly canceled.

"We cannot deny people of speaking freely, but we believe that these kind of radical ideologies are not helpful," Sahloul said.

Iman said the group tries to be accommodating and as upfront as possible with venue owners that would host its conferences.

"We understand that our ideas are not mainstream, and we created this conference purposefully to discuss our views with the public," Iman said. "It's purely intellectual work. And we do understand that there may be some who don't want that discourse to take place. We are still trying to resolve that issue."

The group still plans to conduct a conference on June 17 in the Chicago area. Details of the new location will be released closer to that date on the group's website and Facebook page, Iman said.

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