A Safe Place, A Common Purpose
Reflections on MANA's Youth Retreat
by Jaasmeen Hamed
“To produce a student who is socially conscious and morally conscious, thinking and literate person, capable of functioning responsibly in a modern society as a leader.”1 This mission statement is a standard goal set by educators within the Clara Mohammed School system of Oakland, Ca, and a daily “self checking” point of my own. As an alumna of both Clara Mohammed School and Warith-Deen Mohammed High, I make every attempt to question whether I am living up to this standard on a daily basis. “Am I capable of functioning in a modern society as a leader?” “Am I either morally or socially conscious during this process?” Because I am a Muslim, the question of, “How much of my daily decision making is based on Qur’an or Sunnah?” is also a common question within this self-check. The results of this self-evaluation are not to be used so much for individual criticism as they are to be simply a tool within an awareness factor. This factor encourages me to constantly be aware of my decisions, behavior, and daily encounters with a goal to be productive and serve as an example, or leader, not only to others but also to myself.
On occasion, I've wondered how many individuals within my age group, or otherwise, go through this process. How many individuals are actually interested in not only being a leader, but also being an inspiration for others to realize their own leadership potential to produce positive change within modern society or elsewhere? This type of thinking is rather unique, and rarely surfaces without some form of random provocation to the masses. The question then becomes, “Who will be proactive in taking on the responsibility for the initiation of this process?”
I recently had the opportunity to come into contact with a group of individuals who, in my opinion, are in fact interested in this responsibility, and further have the goal to create not only a change in modern society, but to provoke an actual paradigm shift. My contact occurred with MANA2 youth, at a retreat in North Springfield Pennsylvania. (It should be noted, that although the individuals present at this retreat varied in age, with a large portion being younger than the majority of those present at MANA’s 2007 conference, the focus of MANA youth, currently known as SEVEN SHADES3, does not discriminate on any basis of age, race, or community affiliation.) The purpose for this retreat was a call to all Muslims nationwide who, for any variety of reasons, feel disconnected from the community, the religion of Al-Islam as a whole, etc. This retreat was to serve as a safe space for individuals of this sort to come together for the common purpose of change.
When I heard about the retreat, I had no idea what to expect. Although I attended the first annual MANA conference last year, I did not come into contact with many youth in attendance who were interested in collective change within the community. To hear of this retreat, which was to be under the same auspices as the parent group, seemed to be obligatory for me to attend.
A few weeks before the retreat, interested individuals began to partake in weekly conference calls that provided an overview of the occasion. The calls also served as a forum for the exchange of topics that were deemed important to those who participated, and laid a foundation for the potential atmosphere at the retreat. A variety of topics were discussed, and various opinions were expressed. I remembered that in Qur’an, Allah commands his servants concerning this matter saying, “And whenever you give your word [i.e., judge between men or give evidence], say the truth…”4. With these varying opinions, the final ability to agree to disagree is what allowed each of the weekly calls to eventually be productive, because the objective was an attempt towards being non-judgmental in every way possible.
Upon arrival to the retreat, I, along with other weary travelers, partook in our first collective workshop. It seemed that the initial interaction at this workshop provided grounds for the judging that automatically occurs when perfect strangers, specifically Muslims, come together. The common topics such as hijab5 vs. no hijab, foreigner vs. the indigenous, the woman vs. the man, etc., were some of the issues we were all up against. There was a vast range of individual types who not only fit the aforementioned categories, but also at times, fit a combination of many categories. Interestingly enough, these very topics, along with an unspoken commitment to be open and objective to each others views, and more importantly make every effort to approach each topic in a non-judgmental way, made this workshop and each one thereafter a success.
This type of interaction amongst youth was one of many phenomenal things that occurred at the retreat. The variation of an individual’s level of activity within a community, individuals claiming separate mathahib6, allegiance to national leaders, cultural differences, and even a challenge to one’s normal comfort zone, etc., did not inhibit productivity. Workshop topics were very diverse, covering things such as gender issues, family concerns, unemployment within the community, and more. The variation of workshops and activities made it easy for differences to serve as the catalyst and invitation for attendees to know each other better.
One item that deserves honorable mention was the fact that the forerunners (i.e. board members of this group & retreat) are Muslims within the age range of 15-30 years old, from indigenous racial groups, and belonging to a variety of communities. This factor is major, in that, as youth today, the majority of individuals we view as leaders do not fit within all these categories, if any. It should be noted however, that although our leaders may not all fit within these categories, their presence, commitment, and work thus far, has provided the very framework that allows the nurturing and actualization of our capacity as leaders.
Although there existed within this retreat a vast variation in what qualifies an individual as a leader, and whether there exist any leaders on the local, national, and global front, the reality is that there is a presence of leaders both amongst and within us all. Therefore, it is our obligation as youth to become aware of these leaders, their visions, thoughts, etc., and align with their works—or as the individuals of MANA did that phenomenal weekend, use the efforts of their leaders as a foundation to bring about change. We must finally make every effort to model our behavior, thoughts, and intentions on the most excellent example of what a leader is, which has been provided for us through our beloved prophet Mohammed ibn Abdullah (SAW). In this example, any aged individual can evaluate her or his intentions, thoughts, and behavior thus producing an inevitable mass of morally conscious leaders obligated to the changing needs of any society.
“Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example to follow for him who hopes for meeting Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much.”7
- Mohammed Schools, Oakland CA
- Muslim Alliance of North America
- Based on the Hadith of our prophet, that referred to the categories of people who will receive the shade or protection of Allah on the Day of Judgment. Copyright protected 2008
- Holy Qur’an 6:152
- Female head covering
- Ways or paths based on an attempt to follow the excellent pattern of Prophet Mohammed (SAW)
- Holy Qur’an 33:21
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.