Saturday, July 28, 2007

Notes From All Over

A sister comes up to me, says "SALAMS!" and gives me a big hug. I smile and hug her back. As we pull away I look at her face.

"We've met before, haven't we?"
"Yes, at the Gainseville Conference, and East Zone! You're the very enthusiastic MSA sister! And now you're President!"
I laugh and say, "So, tell me about your MSA."


Walking with my friend at a banquet, a sister walks past me with a plate of food. She stops suddenly, turns around and says, "ALIM!!"
I turn slowly, grab her outstretched hand and say "ALIM!"
"Alim?" my friend says, "Your name is Asma."

But we are already deep in conversation, reminiscing about our summer at the American Learning Institute for Muslims in Michigan.


The automatic doors slide open to reveal a seven year old hijabi standing in the lobby with her backpack. As I walk towards the leasing office she says Salams and tells me her name.

"Do you live here?" I ask.
"Yes" she says quietly.
"Do you like it?"
"No, it costs too much money. We're moving."

As the realtor quoted me the price, she couldn't quite understand why I laughed. All I could picture was a father telling his seven year old they were moving because the apartment was too much money.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Fifth Extremity

Today I finally understood why despite the fading numbers and scratched cover I refuse to upgrade my 2 and a half year old cell phone: my Nokia is my 5th extremity.

Four years ago I didn't have a cell phone. Students simply contacted me via e-mail or called my home phone. Then, I became Georgetown MSA President and I got my first Nokia. No texting, no graphics, and only 100 minutes and I felt "wired", very connected to my fellow students.

Within a year I had upgraded to 600 minutes, 200 text messages and my brand new 1,000 contacts phone. As East Zone Rep USA, there was scarcely a moment I didn't have my cell phone. My phone was on 24/7, just in case there would be some catastrophic MSA emergency at 1am.

Last year my sister took a picture of the family and used it as her desktop picture. When I complained I wasn't in the picture she said, "Your phone is, that's good enough".

Last night I truly felt like my phone had become part of me. With countless conference calls and ad hoc conversations I finally put down my phone at midnight, realizing that since I left work my phone had been glued to my ear.

To be blunt, its sad that my phone has become my fifth extremity. But perhaps its representative of my need and desire to connect to my family, friends, and fellow MSAers. As a Zonal Rep, my job was to talk to students, hear what they have to say, and help them develop their MSA. That mandate only intensified the longer I've volunteered with the organization.

Today, with even more minutes and text messages, I struggle with the same question as every consultant: should I get a Blackberry? But whether its my attachment to my fifth extremity or my desire to have a few precious, uninterrupted moments away from my e-mail, I have not scummed to that norm. At least, for now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Silent Islam

Last night I had a conference call with a Muslim student who is deaf to discuss ways to accomodate and help our deaf brothers and sisters. While it took me a minute to get used to the fact that the interpreter was speaking on the phone, it was perhaps one of the most beneficial and personally gratifying conference calls I've ever had.

MSA National's history of helping students who are deaf goes back a few years to when Br. Ahmed from Gallaudet University was murdered. Through the network of MSA National his parents had the opportunity to speak about his life and death, and what it meant to him to be a part of the Muslim community. I remember Br. Ahmed's father expressing in an e-mail how therapeutic the opportunities were for him and his wife.

But the MSA National East Zone Conference 2007 was the first time deaf students could truly participate as conference attendees. This was due to masha'Allah the hard work of several local volunteers.

It was an odd sensation, coming face to face with a segment of our community that has been marginalized. While I've been aware of the situation of the deaf community in North America, trying to improve the situation of a group requires a completely different level of understanding. More so, it requires the humbleness to admit ignorance.

Perhaps the hardest part of ignorance is that while you're ignorant, you don't know that you're ignorant. When individuals are oblivious to the situation of the poor, the needy, the disabled, the persecuted and the marginalized the sad reality is those individuals simply don't know. They don't think about the deaf Muslim that desperately wants to learn about their religion, to feel a part of the larger Ummah, but simply doesn't have access.

The sister's passion for the cause and other members of the deaf community was infectious. I truly hope we can expand upon the services that MSA National offers as well as give the students a platform to meet and feel empowered make their wonderful ideas a reality.

That is, after all, the history of MSA National, providing the platform for people to network, raise awareness, and act.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Jummah Attendance

My older brother recently asked why in my last post I included the number of Jummah Attendees as a commonly used metric for measuring an MSA's success.

From my experience MSAs commonly use three metrics when conveying the size of their MSA: Jummah attendance, event attendance, and active members. The conversation typically goes something like:

Jummah Attendance: 100
Events Attendance: 25
Active Members: 10

But what many MSAers may not know is that Jummah was/is the lifeblood of so many MSAs.

Before there were MSAs there was Jummah on campus. In the early 1940's, many immigrant Muslims came to the US and Canada to study and for the first time they were living without a masjid. There was no mosque let alone Muslims nearby. While not ideal, it only presented a real problem for Jummah prayer. The mere word indicates a group, a gathering of Muslims who come together to pray. And as most Muslims know, this congregation is manditory.

With no masjid to go to, Muslims began seeking out each other to create their ad hoc Jummah on campus. My dad used to tell me that there were only three brothers on his campus, and they'd take turns leading the prayer.

From this mandatory gathering grew relationships, a sense of community, MSAs and eventually the MSA of the US and Canada.

How beautiful, this mandatory congregation grew into the first sense of Muslim community many immigrant Muslims would know. For so many it truly became their home away from home.

How sad then that our active membership is so disparate from our Jummah numbers. The Muslims still come to pray; but do our MSAs do a good job encouraging their participation the other six days of the week? Perhaps its not a matter of passing our fliers or making announcements, but going back to basics, the individual relationships that created our MSAs in the first place.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Definition of Success

Last night I visited the MPSN house which provides housing for Muslim interns coupled with a interactive ciriculum featuring local and national speakers. For me it was the first time I was presenting as President of MSA National.

The students asked impressive questions to all the panelists. One question in particular stuck in my mind. A sister from Michigan asked me what is definition of a successful MSA.

To be frank this is a difficult question to answer. From an organizational perspective you can look at common metrics such as:

- Number of jummah attendees
- Number of events
- Number of activities by type (ie religious studies, interfaith, community service, etc.)
- Accomodations such as Muslim Housing, prayer space, chaplin, and alumni association

and others. But is this really the definition of a successful MSA?

To me an MSA has been about the intangible experience. At the end of the day most MSA chapters exist to provide support for Muslim Students during their college and university years. Since deen and religiousity manifests itself primarily internally, how do you measure the success of that mission? And how does one measure that sense of community?

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Original?

Salams from London!

My short visit here started out with a sleepless flight, getting lost on the streets of London then finally sleeping for a few hours. While its been an adventure I'm really starting to enjoy the trip.

Seeing London for the first time in so many years is...odd. The tube (or subway) reminds me so much of New York, the small streets are like those of modern Istanbul and the buildings are eerily similar to those of my Georgetown campus. But much of London came before these places. So the question then is everything else a macrocosm of one characteristic of London? Or is London simply one knot on the string of history, part of a long line of historic cities?

What, if anything, is the "original"?

In consulting we're taught to examine other models and adjust it according to the current situation. Artists often speak of the building, painting or being that inspired their work. Does the same speak true of human civilization? Are we inspired to duplicate that which we see around us as its the only paradigm we know?

But the streets of London don't remind me of the streets of Washington, DC; the building I'm in doesn't bear any resemblance to the small stores in my hometown. Perhaps each generation uses the past as its clay, molds it, and passes it on to the future generations to add their own creative twists.

So what does that say of the past? Is it simply mailable material we use to shape the future? Or is there much to be learned before daring to alter that which so many before you have worked to create?

From my own studies, Muslims swing back and forth between the two extremes: reverence for the past, full faith in the future. But no reverence for the past is dangerous; scholars before us did not write their opinions out of thin air. Their reasoning, thought process and knowledge base is well worth examining. Without a connection to the past we simply run into the future without a map to understand how we got there. But complete attachment to the past leaves no room for adopting as circumstances and preconditions change.

Sorry for the existential, "Catcher in the Rye" style writing; that's what little sleep will do :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Thick Skin

Alhamduillah, praise be to God, its been an interesting couple of weeks. Between work, getting ready for school and MSA National things have been hectic. I always worry that the whirlwind of activity will hurt rather than help my faith. After all, as one Imam once said Islamic work should be selfish, you should be doing it only to get into jannah (heaven).

Usually I do feel the beauty of being active. Even today as I spoke to a brother in the West Zone USA he said, "Man, MSA National is great for networking. Through the conference I met so many amazing people."

I recently visited Imam Mohamed Magid, a very knowledgeable Imam and well-known speaker to get his advice.

He told me how an Imam once told a man who spread rumors that it wasn't worth his time to talk to him and that he'd see him on the Day of Judgement. He quoted the Qur'an about how there are people who want to create fitnah and those who listen to the people who want to create fitnah. The second group, he said, have good intentions but their actions have a negative affect. Thick skin, he said, you need to have thick skin.

But I want to reach them all, I said. I want to work with all groups. He humbled me by saying if the Prophet (s) couldn't get all of his naysayers then how could I. I can try but I must know I may not succeed.

Things take time. Islam didn't spread throughout Arabia and the world overnight. It took many years of work and struggle by some of the most dedicated and amazing humans that ever walked the earth. Knowing I probably only have a fraction of the dedication and Iman of those individuals humbles me, reminding me that I have to move forward with realistic but hopeful expectations.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Day 4

A little over 96 hours ago my transition into MSA National President began. With so much to do these last four days have been focused on one thing: how to reach our potential so we may best serve Allah swt.

With such diverse backgrounds (MSA Presidents, IAW coordinators, Fast-A-Thon Coordinators, Zonal Committee Members, State Council Rep, Regional and Zonal Conference Chairs, Task Force Chairs, Zonal Reps, etc) the new officers brought their vast experiences and the feedback of their fellow MSAers into the discussion.

We all knew Allah swt made us humans with limited abilities and we focused on the key things we could accomplish with Ihsan (perfection) during our terms. I'm eagarly awaiting the finalized action plans as I write my welcome letter and the outline of our ideas for the coming year.

Masha'Allah I'm excited to work with these amazing individuals. Their dedication to serving the students and this religion is inspiring.

I pray Allah swt makes us worthy of this Amana (trust) and that we are successful in our efforts to help our brothers and our sisters.

And now its time to go to bed and get more than 4 hours of sleep as I have to go to work tomorrow :)