Young Chicago Muslim Leadership Symposium 2005 Review

It is no secret that your civil rights are facing certain unsavory erosions in a post 9/11 Islamophobic climate, but how you react to that is the only challenge you need worry about. Don’t give in to bigotry and scapegoating, don’t cower silently into a dark corner, and don’t let hatred breed hatred. Understand the system and utilize it to effectuate change. Though our civil liberties may be undermined, our democratic system still ensures a built-in mechanism whereby you can effectively challenge any breaches of your rights. You are not a second class citizen; you are not guilty of committing or condoning any crimes. You are an American with constitutionally guaranteed rights and with patriotic obligations. Be the first to condemn terrorism and all forms of injustices because that is the Muslim thing to do, fight to protect civil liberties and work tirelessly towards religious and racial harmony because that is the American thing to do.

Volunteerism is the backbone of charity, your skills and talents are in demand for your community. Give of yourself generously. Ignorance is your enemy; sure it may manifest itself in the usual suspects who hate you for who you are, but be fully astute to the fact that it can manifest itself in your very self no less. Tune yourself to detect ignorance wherever it may be, whether it works for or against you, challenge this common enemy of all humanity regardless of where it decided to rear its ugly head.

These are some of the messages that were shared with students at the first annual Chicago Muslim Leadership Symposium administered by CAIR’s Chicago chapter at their downtown office in the loop this past weekend.

The series of lectures presented by the organization’s directors and coordinators drew in student leaders and representatives from the Muslim Student Associations of Benedictine University, DePaul University, Moraine Valley University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Universal School, Young Muslims Inc., and the Muslim Youth Center of Bridgeview.

“Our youth are our future,” said Dina Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator and the event’s organizer. “We must outreach to them, we must hear from them and we must speak to them – there is no better time invested than that spent educating and training our students to be more compassionate Muslims and more conscientious citizens.”

“Over the past year we have been solidifying relationships with the Muslim youth leadership in the Chicagoland area through various means of outreach. This is culminating in well-attended events such as this first annual Muslim leadership symposium,” said Yaser Tabbara, Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago.

“We feel that in order for us to accurately represent the issues of our local Muslim community, we need to empower our youth by training and educating them on the importance of seeking careers in fields of public interest and building and maintaining community service organizations that have lasting effects and mechanisms beyond them as individuals. By focusing on building their local community and serving their fellow humans they are becoming better Muslims.”

The full-day event saw the students through an introductory meet and greet session followed by 5 training sessions. Lunch was served midday and students had a chance to interact with each other and exchange stories.

“The [Symposium] was an excellent opportunity for members of different MSAs to come together and share ideas,” said Aamair Tajuddin, Vice-President of Northwestern University’s Muslim Student Association, and Chair of MSA-Illinois. “Many of us learned the outlet CAIR provides to becoming more active in our respective communities.”

The sessions spanned various themes from capacity building techniques to tips on how to deal with media bias, and from ‘know your rights’ workshops to ways in which to outreach to Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Focus was put on the “how”, not just on the “what”.

“We are asking the Muslim leaders of tomorrow to warm up to the scientific method in pursuing social justice and empowerment. We are telling them that this is the Muslim thing to do,” said Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s Director of Communications. “We are sharing with them our organizational model which has worked well for us. Do you wish to realize your stated goals? Then minimize your scope. Maximize your focus. Standardize your procedures. Systemize your production. Optimize your resources. Organize your constituents. Mobilize your numbers. And institutionalize your work. We are asking them to avoid wishful thinking and to pursue knowledge-based action, to forsake anger and to embrace calm calculation.”

The event was designed to be an active entry point to organizing Chicago’s student base which is one of the Muslim community’s most resourceful volunteer domains. Throughout the past year, interns and volunteers from various Chicago universities have helped CAIR-Chicago do much of its work. The goal now is to expand the process to reach the general body of students and to tap into their skills and passions. A representative from each university was given a CAIR-Chicago bulletin board which is to be permanently hung at their MSA office. CAIR-Chicago will pass on action alerts and other announcements to an appointed student liaison within each MSA who will then post them on the bulletin board in a timely manner. This is not an alternative but an addition to the electronic mailing list outreach that CAIR-Chicago traditionally uses with students.

Though long and intense, the event was viewed favorably by students and staff. Evaluation forms collected by CAIR-Chicago suggest that such training sessions will take off to greater heights in the near future as the outreach efforts are expanded.

“I think this was a strong first step in getting to know the youth of this city, and future endeavors like this would only strengthen and empower the youth in developing programs, which would train us to be more proactive and strategic in terms of developing American Islamic relations,” one student wrote.

Students wrote that the material presented at the symposium would be beneficial to their own organization: “I thought this was an excellent conference/event. I took a lot of important points from the speeches and hope to use it to improve our MSA’s structure and organization.”

“I really enjoyed this program because it was straightforward, frank, and very pratical,” another student wrote, “It provided a very good basis upon which I feel I could personally propogate CAIR to others.”

“The symposium was a great opportunity to get to know the future leaders of our community and educate them about our organization and what we have to offer to Muslim students.” stated Christina Abraham, CAIR-Chicago’s Civil Rights Coordinator. “It is important for Muslim students to know that our organization will continue to fight for their rights as Muslims, and for MSA’s to use our organization’s resources to stratify their projects.”

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