WASHINGTON (AP) - A leading American Muslim group is gathering in Washington for its most important meeting of the year, two weeks before the anniversary of Sept. 11 and in the midst of difficult times for their community.

Organizers expect up to 30,000 people to attend the 39th conference of the Islamic Society of North America, which runs from Friday through Monday. Much of the convention will be dedicated to examining the impact of the terrorist attacks on Islam, civil liberties and political life in the United States.

``As American Muslims, our destiny is linked to the rest of the American citizens. We want this country to have peace,'' said Sayyid M. Syeed, the society's secretary general. ``Our job here is to discuss how we can achieve that kind of positive role in mainstream America.''

It is the first time the event is being held in the nation's capital and comes as Muslims seek a greater public voice in what for many is their adopted country.

American Muslims have been shaken by government raids on their charities and mosques, as federal agents work to uncover any links to terrorists. But Muslims also have been encouraged by the many Americans who have visited mosques and made other gestures of support.

The event was set to open Friday afternoon at the Washington Convention Center with a prayer for the victims of Sept. 11. Christian and Jewish religious leaders have been invited to participate.

Along with panel discussions on the attacks, the talks will touch on many facets of Muslim life, including health care, parenting, charter schools and investing. Muslim law bars the accumulation of interest.

Marriage will also be on the agenda. Families seeking spouses for their children will have the chance to meet face-to-face through a marriage service connected to the Islamic Society.

The National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, a coalition of groups including the National Lawyers Guild and the American Muslim Council, have scheduled a rally starting at noon Sunday at Freedom Plaza.

The event will end with a discussion of political strategy for Muslims in upcoming elections. Muslim organizations made their first collective endorsement of a presidential candidate in the 2000 race, when they backed George W. Bush.

There are no exact statistics for the number of Muslims in the United States. Estimates vary from 2 million to 6 million.

The Islamic Society of North America, based in Plainfield, Ind., is an association of Muslim organizations working in education, social service and other areas.

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