#MAS-ICNA 2011: A reflection on challenges facing the Muslim community today

Photo credit: Zaid Shakir addresses convention attendees

This past weekend I had the blessing to be able to travel to Chicago for the annual MAS-ICNA convention.  It was my third conference ever and my first exclusively Muslim conference.  What I expected out of this conference was a weekend filled with ‘ilm as well as spaces to tackle some of the major issues facing our community today – and there are a lot of them!  A lot has happened in the past year – Arab uprisings in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and the list goes on…; the drought in the Horn of Africa; and for US Muslims there’s the National Defense Authorization which is about to be signed, the Irvine 11, Occupy Wall Street movement, growing fears of “creeping Sharia” along with Peter King’s “radicalization” town hall and the list goes on…  There are also our own community issues such as lack of support for women in leadership, for youth who often become disconnected with Islam and also the lack of ability of our mosques to outreach and build with local media outlets and other faith communities.

Now these are a lot of issues that Muslims need to and should be concerned with, right?  Being quite attune to what’s going on in the larger world (via my somewhat concerning obsession with Twitter :P) and aware of community issues being involved in AMCC (shameless plug) I came ready to tackle these issues and of course meet many others who are also interested in tackling theses issues.  Well, here’s how it went – I’ll rate the conference in several areas.

Opportunity for Networking – 2

I love networking.  And not in its conventional sense, I just love meeting new people who do beneficial things and are passionate about similar things to what I am and can inspire me and give me new ideas.  Unfortunately, the amount of new people I met and actually had conversations with can be counted on both hands 😦  It was apparent that most of the people who came to this conference were there to socialize (people chatting during lectures, talking on the phone, other general signs…) and it was a bit disappointing not gonna lie…  All the lectures I went to had little opportunity for engagement (sometimes they tried to do Q&A but most of the time we just sat there and were expected to listen…)

Presence of Women in Leadership – 2

Yes, they had some women speakers (who I unfortunately didn’t get to hear), but they were usually at the smaller lectures and not at the main events.  Also, it was disappointing to see that all of the National Muslim leaders were men.  An interesting side note – pretty much all of the visible volunteers were women – yea they did all the planning – typical!

Conference Environment – 8

The Sheraton was nice, Chicago is a lovely city, weather was great, and it was right on the river! Alhumdulilah 🙂  We also had plentiful sources of free water – due to the courtesy of two gentlemen who worked nonstop to keep refilling the water tanks for all 6,000 of us!  I wish they would have had food at the conference though – it would have been nice to share a meal with everyone (besides the private lunch I snuck into – courtesy of my connections to AbdulMawgoud Dardery – thanks Taqwa and Abrara!) though it’s easy to understand the difficulty in feeding 6,000 people!!  Oh and the elevator sitch was mad – we were packed in like sardines most of the time!  Gratitude to the men who patiently let women go first and dirty looks for the men who sometimes pushed women out of the way to get in!!

Diversity – 3

Uh yea so the conference was at least 95% Arab 😦  Yea, Arabs are cool, but not THAT cool!! Most of the speakers were not just Arab, but Egyptian as are the majority of National Muslim leaders!  Does anyone else realize how problematic this is??  That the majority of Muslim leaders are Arab and Male?  Oh and there were several awkward moments where ladies came up to me and spoke Arabic – sometimes I pretended to understand – and others I probably just looked confused.  Yea I wish I spoke Arabic, at least more than the little I know now.

Spaces for Tacking Big Issues – 4

I LOVED the lecture on “Islamic Media in Face of Islamophobia” (Yusuf Estes and Nihad Awad) as well as the presentation “Roadmap and Priorities of the Muslim Community in America” (Naeem Baig, Safaa Zarzour & Nihad Awad, Oussama Jammal) which was sadly very empty due to the critical nature of the issues you’d think more people would be concerned.  I really think that the mentality of having one foot in this country and one foot back home is still prominent in the minds of many Arabs considering how hard you have to pull and drag people to get them to care about issues important for the future of the Muslim-American community.  But that’s simply not the reality – you live here, your kids live and will grow up here and you most likely will not return back home permanentlySo please, it’s not only me begging of you, but it is mustahhab to be engaged in the community, invest in the future and care about civil rights!

Now that’s a lot of writing so I’ll stop there!  Thoughts?  Comments?  What do you think our community needs?  Your reflections on the conference (If you attended)?


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