This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the 46th Annual Convention of the Islamic Society of North America in Washington, D.C.’s Convention Center. This is a huge community gathering, part conference/part celebration that attracts tens of thousands of Muslim Americans from illustrious scholars of Islam to national and local communal leaders, from singles interested in matrimonial meeting to families with young children in tow.
The mood in the hallways was friendlier and less chaotic than I am used to at a convention. Only after I got home did I read in the program bulletin a page of “Guidelines for Participants” that included “Go out of your way to greet others with Assalamu Alaykum” and “Be kind, polite and patient with hotel and convention staff.” Hmm…
There were many wonderful learning opportunities. I found particularly valuable a session entitled Blogistan: Muslim Americans on the Web. The four speakers and the moderator were all bloggers with a following that includes non-Muslims. (There is another, much larger, network of Muslim blogs written for Muslims themselves.) They explained how their presence on the web serves both to create virtual community for far flung Muslims and also to impact the way stories about Islam are understood by others, including how the stories are handled by the main stream media.
These relatively young, highly educated and exceptionally smart individuals are making a difference far beyond what was possible before the internet. What struck me was the gentleness and humility with which they presented their work, stressing their efforts to support one another and to empower new bloggers. I was impressed by the lack of ego and competitiveness on display; the relationships felt genuine. These are men and women on a mission. Evidently, they trust that there is enough work to go around.
If you are new to this world, a good place to begin is with the writings of Hussein Rashid who not only spoke on this panel but also will be teaching for RRC during the spring, 2010 semester. He has his own blog called Islamicate , contributes to Altmuslimah and also is a regular contributor and editor at a blog created at Emory University called Religion Dispatches.
I was particularly charmed by Wajahat Ali who says he blogs on a “lap top that is on life support” at Goatmilk: An Intellectual Playground. He encouraged the young people in the audience, saying “If I can do this, you can too.” Wajahat, in addition to his day job as an attorney and his blogging, has written a play about a Pakistani-American family that will be opening in New York City on September 11, 2001. The combination of humor and depth that Wajahat brought to his presentation led me to believe we will be hearing more about him soon.