Twenty Years: Anticipation for the Future Is Not a Mid-Life Crisis
North American culture might view the age of 48 as an impending mid-life crisis. However, from July 1st-4th the Islamic Society of North America has completed its 48th year as an umbrella organization with its 30,000 plus membership of individuals, community service organizations, community centers, mosques, charity groups, Islamic banking partnerships, and myriads of successful sponsors in Chicago, Illinois. ISNA’s theme of “Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony” invited the familiar MSA, MYNA, and general programming, expanded its film and art festivals, and introduced the boys basketball tournament. Convention Program Director, Basharat Saleem, initiated a documentary project to capture the familiar and new faces while asking, “Where do we see ourselves 20 years from now?” As Imam Mohamed Majid, who hails from the Virginia area, assumes ISNA’s presidential role, panels continue to define our civic and spiritual challenges while looking beyond the Atlantic—for example, the Arab Spring. North American Muslims excitedly anticipate the convention’s return to the traditional Labor Day weekend—which will insha’allah kick off in Washington, DC in 2012—two months before a presidential election. As the list of media organizations that cover ISNA grows longer, the forecast into 20 years in the future prompts more questions about what and why global news outlets hope to catch at ISNA.
Inter-faith Is the Focus of Engagement
Where ISNA might be twenty years into ISNA’s future prompted optimism rather than skepticism when veteran speaker Dr. John Esposito stated that, “ISNA will continue to draw more Muslim and non-Muslim participants who want to engage in dialogue.” Esposito serves as the Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim Christian Understanding and observes how inter-faith efforts operate as the primary mission of ISNA engagement and will continue to expand across other communities. Esposito alludes to the growing trend of non-Muslim faith partners in initiatives, like “Shoulder to Shoulder” as well as non-Muslim members experiencing the bazaar and purchasing their literature.
Towers of books, like “What’s Right With Islam” by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, illustrate the growing audience of non-Muslim Americans interested in Muslim scholarship. (Imam Rauf leads the New York based Cordoba Initiative.) In fact, John J., a first time Catholic attendee from the Southwest suburbs of Chicago held up a bag full of books that he had just purchased.
The “Meet the Authors Program” facilitated reflections on identity values that did not always centralize the Muslim characteristics. For example, Manal Omar discussed her book “Barefoot in Baghdad”; another panel explored how 40 women spoke for themselves—not as a monolithic voice for Muslim-American women in “I Speak for Myself”. Coincidentally in a separate, unrelated panel, Tariq Ramadan remarked that contemporary Muslim challenges encompass this unhelpful urge to broadly universalize the Muslim experience and to push for a uniform interpretation. ISNA might consider Ramadan’s observation as newer scholars broaden the organization.
ISNA’s Traditions of Community Service
In the usual ISNA traditions, the Community Service Recognition Luncheon awarded its 12th Honoree, Dr. Hisham Altalib, for conducting leadership training in the US and abroad. Dr. Altalib, as an Iraqi-American represents a role model to both his contemporaries and the diverse youth of MSA National.
Another ISNA tradition focuses on global trailblazers, like Tariq Ramadan and James Zogby, to deliver the keynote address. This year ISNA leadership invited Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. His work bridges many cultures by focusing on universal values as marked by “THE99” ranking among Forbes magazine top 20 trends for this year. Al-Mutawa described how he translated his professional expertise in clinical psychology into superhero comic strip “THE99”—which combines the stealth, action oriented flavor of Batman with the positive messages of self-growth. In 20 years, his readership will have memories of both Marvel Action heroes and “The99”—film deal or not.
Speaking of film, Muslim American film-makers showcased more than six films. Noted Muslim North American film makers, like Zerqa Nawaz, Michael Wolfe, Alex Kronemer, and Musa Syed reconvened to engage one on one. Films included “All I Wanna Do”, “Moozlum”, “The Blessed Tree”, “The Blasphemy” and “Abraham’s Vision”.
Muslim Diaspora Communities Expand on Both Sides of the Atlantic
From familiar to new speakers, ISNA continues to broaden its guest list to represent the global dynamics of other Muslim Diaspora communities. For example, the Third Annual Turkish Symposium noted how Turkey’s success in political and economic areas facilitates further opportunities to lead in the region. Moreover, Muslim Diaspora communities can lead in high government position. Mahinur Ozdemir is the first Belgian Member of Parliament who wears hijab. Ozdemir is of Turkish descent and excitedly expressed her hope to attend ISNA again before twenty years pass.
Another newcomer to the ISNA convention signifies the break from isolated communities as the Arab Spring reignites newer voices and participation. Libyan Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali voiced his break from Gaddafi’s illegitimacy as ethical and humanitarian. In April, Ambassador Aujali resigned to stand with the people of Libya to protest Gaddafi’s leadership. Similarly, Yemeni activist blogger, Atiaf Al-Wazir.
The Art Exhibit continues to operate as a silent participant in the larger convention. Hopefully, twenty years into the future, ISNA will provide a platform for the different artist, outside of film, to interface in a more formal setting. For example, the ISNA documentary project gained a better understanding of one particular artist’s inspiration to quilt the Quranic verses together. Essentially, Mrs. Ibrahim’s Muslim-American quilt signifies the hybrid of regional Midwestern culture with the redefined broader Islamic art. She has literally stitched diverse pieces of fabric for expressing her love for literacy, calligraphy, and quilting.
Organizations have expanded their networks from the west to the east coasts as well as filling up the public space with new questions. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding (ISPU), and the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (CAMP), among others, continue to provide a platform to learn about creative initiatives. For instance, CAMP patroned a positive Muslim-American message by inviting the artist and directors behind “30 Days, 30 Mosques”—which will continue to the other 20 American states this coming Ramadan.
The next twenty years might evolve more rapidly in some areas rather than others depending on what the attendance and leadership ask of itself. However film, scholarship, art, and community service evolve, hopefully the future will witness the complex growth of formalized networking and institution building.