In a much anticipated official launch, the new MYLS initiative welcomes 100 select students from 5 Muslim schools scattered around the Chicagoland area for a two full-day program on the weekend of April 5 and 6 at the Mosque Foundation Community Center. The CAIR-Chicago special youth initiative will offer the students an opportunity to learn about leadership, citizenship, and value-based activism as a way to take ownership of defining themselves and their communities.
They will be challenged to think of exciting new projects that they can implement over the next few months with the help of the MYLS staff and volunteers. Read more about MYLS in this email, and stay tuned to learn about this spring’s exciting speakers in a follow-up email soon…
The core mission of the Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium (MYLS) is to provide American Muslim youth with a proactive agenda for positive activism; empower them to guide their communities from the margin to the mainstream; and foster a healthy American Muslim identity that fits comfortably within pluralistic American society while true to its faith values.
“Our youth are our future”.
That’s a phrase we hear often.
But are we making the right investments to ensure that our future is as bright as possible?
Traditionally, Muslim youth programs have focused on spiritual development and scriptural education, providing a much needed service. However, young Muslim-Americans are in equal need of leadership development programs that cultivate community activism and civic participation.
MYLS looks to fill the vacuum by launching a nationwide grassroots training program that does just that.
MYLS sessions offer young Muslims concrete ways through which they can leverage their very faith values towards constructive citizenship that benefits community and country.
Citizenship is a Full-Time Job
MYLS seeks to cultivate a positive and refreshing outlook on what it means to be a Muslim-American. It encourages our youth to explore how Muslims, true to their own values, can become model citizens that help make America a better place for all Americans, regardless of race or creed.
MYLS recognizes that good citizenship begins with the local community, and so the emphasis is placed on local service. Whether at the level of the street, the neighborhood, or the municipality, Muslim-Americans are encouraged to play an active role in making their community safer, smarter, and more prosperous.
Towards that end, MYLS participants will be challenged to think of specific ways in which their much-cherished faith values can be successfully translated into meaningful and tangible projects that benefit one and all.
Self-Definition & Value-Based Activism
The most important question facing Muslim-American youth today is the identity question.
Who gets to define Muslim-Americans?
One thing is for certain, Muslim-Americans should not allow themselves to be defined by the fear and suspicion of others. MYLS encourages Muslims to proactively define themselves.
MYLS promotes positive self-definition: definition through the affirmation of values rather than negation of stereotypes. It is the difference between “hi, I am a hardworking and honest citizen” versus “hi, I am not a terrorist.”
But how can we live up to the notion that Muslims are an asset to this society rather than a threat if we do not put our values where our mouth is and our activism where our values are.
Indeed, the core value of our faith is not only to serve Muslims but to serve humanity.
MYLS encourages participants to dream up unique and creative ways to tackle meaningful issues central to our faith including but not limited to:
- Standing up for racial equality
- Caring for the orphan
- Fighting poverty and homelessness
- Raising health awareness
- Cleaning up the environment
- Combating inner-city crime
- Eradicating child and spousal abuse
- Promoting literacy and excellence in education
- Raising awareness against drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse
- Demanding fair compensation for workers
- Lobbying for academic freedom
- Lobbying for electoral reform
Self-Expression: Muslims Vis-A-Vis Pop Culture
American pop culture is tour-de-force that can single-handedly define public perceptions and attitudes towards many issues and entities – including minorities.
Pop culture is mostly influenced by four industries: Hollywood, television, music, and magazines. Ironically, these are four areas that Muslim-Americans are glaringly absent from. It is no wonder then that Islam and Muslims can be so easily and widely misconstrued. There is little progress Muslim-Americans can make in reversing popular misconceptions without serious interaction in these four arenas.
Part of the problem is a long-standing Muslim cultural aversion to arenas that lend themselves to shaping pop culture such as the news and entertainment industries.
While Muslim parents have long encouraged their children to seek careers in medicine and the sciences as a way to attain individual success and prestige, it is doubtful Muslim-Americans could ever match that success and prestige as a community without tangible contributions in literature and the arts.
Our cultural outlook needs to change.
Rather than shy away from the domains of pop culture, our youth are welcome to embrace their values in defining the nature of their contributions in the annals of pop culture. Whoever said you have to leave your values at the door?
Muslim youth should be equally encouraged to seek careers in law, journalism, filmmaking, and literature if that is where their talents and interests lie.
MYLS does not seek to discourage against a career in the sciences, but it does seek to shatter the taboo against a career in the arts.
Islamic values, contrary to common misconception, do not stand in opposition to filmmaking for instance; a successful documentarian is no less holy in the eyes of God and no less prestigious in the eyes of society than a successful pediatrician. While a good doctor can offer health care to a few patients, a good documentary can seek health care for millions more.
Rather than write-off films as a frivolous waste of time, why not make meaningful films that inspire and enlighten others? And instead of complain about the news industry’s obsession with negative stereotypes of minorities, why not become the newscaster who sets a new standard for balanced coverage?
At the end of the day, MYLS recognizes that all careers are equally needed and can be equally prestigious. The key is to seek excellence in whichever career one chooses. MYLS encourages students to follow the career that best fits their personal interest.
America remains a land of opportunities, and each citizen is free to decide how to make the most of the opportunities at their feet.
Be a part of this exciting movement today.