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."
"Inshallah," someone said.
Later that morning, Abdel Malik Ali returned to the stage. Jewelry flashed on his long delicate fingers as he outlined "the recipe for how we come to power: From an Islamic movement we graduate to an Islamic revolution, then to an Islamic state."
"Allahu akbar," came a chorus.
"We must be in power," Ali continued coolly. He rounded up his lecture by promising that "when it's all over, the only one standing is gonna be us."
"We ain't gonna lose. We must implement Islam as a totality," in which "Allah controls every place -- the home, the classroom, the science lab, the halls of Congress."
The weekend concluded with an evening program called "Muslim Students in the Struggle." A few officers and alumni took turns at the podium; one young man speculated about the day "when we are called upon to rock the West like it's never been rocked before." This is inevitable, he said. "Allah has promised the people that they will inherit this land."
Another speaker urged self-control: "We need to struggle against calling people our enemies." On the sisters' side, attendees passed notes back and forth to new friends.
Hatem Bazian started his speech with a pragmatic gibe. Of all that had been taught throughout the weekend, he said, "you won't remember any more than the three or four main points -- unless you're part of the ADL, which is recording everything we say." Laughter erupted in the hall. The bespectacled polyglot with the brilliant smile went on to admonish his listeners to do well in school and in their professional lives, "to be the excellent person," and earn "the A and the A plus."
Muslema Purmul returned, invoking the rivalry between the Muslim Students Association and its Jewish counterparts: Hillel and the Union of Jewish Students.
"You're afraid of the organizations that are trying to shut you down," she said. "UJS and Hillel are trying to shut you down. But they're the ones that are experiencing trouble on campus right now."
"Allahu akbar," came a chorus.
Abdel Malik Ali also returned one final time, prodding the young crowd to "work on building Islamic infrastructures in the USA now." He allowed: "There will be some poop-butts who will not want to live under sharia law and will leave.
"We're already winning," he said. "Things are coming our way."
He cited a Washington Post article in which Jewish leaders expressed worries "about a backlash against Jews for the Iraq war" and about the general public "blaming Jewish officials in the Bush administration for American casualties." Again, the just-catch-me smile.
"Let the backlash begin.
"Neo-cons are all Zionist Jews," he continued. He scanned the hall, wondering aloud whether Jewish infiltrators were among his listeners. If so, he had a message for them: "You made all the mistakes we wanted you to make. You went after Cynthia McKinney" -- the outspoken African-American former Georgia congresswoman who was frequently cited as the most anti-Semitic member of Congress. "So now black folks don't like you. ... You're walking into all the traps we want you to walk into. You hijacked American foreign policy."
"They really blew it, y'all."
Sooner or later, he mused, today's Muslim college students will be the parents of Muslim children.
"And," he cried, "they should be militants."
Afterward, the auditorium cleared. Row upon row of attendees rose and brushed themselves off, cheek-kissing and back-slapping their goodbyes, exchanging e-mail addresses. They drifted in groups of two and three and four, tired but laughing and chattering, into a deserted plaza and back to their buses and hotel rooms and homes.
But despite all the enthusiastic cries of "Allahu akbar," not all the attendees enjoyed Abdel Malik Ali's speeches. In the aftermath, one member of the student group confessed to a non-Muslim attendee that it left him feeling shocked.
"As a Muslim," he said, and his heart was in his voice, "I just want to apologize."