ISNA shapes up for its 59th annual Convention
By Rasheed Rabbi
Just when we hoped that the pandemic was over and uncertainty was gone, we encountered a new variant. The moment we started to recognize global unity to overcome the Covid catastrophe, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine divided and compelled political leaders to make difficult choices. We Americans hoped to live through the pandemic’s financial crisis with stimulus money, but were overtaken by the unprecedented level of inflation. Needless to say, the new wave of mass shootings, even in an elementary school, shook the entire nation — it is still in shock.
At the same time, other enduring social depravities, among them devastating humanitarian crises, worsening climate impacts, prevailing social injustice and the never-ending gender divide, continue to mark their embarrassing milestones. Despite living in a First World country, life has become a vicious cycle of endless social evils, which frequently make us feel lost or hopeless. These conflicting realities may seem unreal, and yet experience proves them to be obvious over and over again.
In the face of many such conflicting realities, ISNA invites all Muslim Americans to explore beneath the surface contradictions so that the real grains of wisdom emerges. One tenable assertion of that wisdom is to extend resilience and weave sustainable hope amidst these social adversities through the fabric of faith. To that end, this year’s ISNA Convention coined the following theme — Resilience, Hope & Faith: With Difficulties Come Ease.
Each one of us showed resilience during 2021, when our perception of the pandemic also changed. At first we thought and hoped it would have a defined end; over time, however, we accepted that it will always be part of our lives. Similarly, our idea of resilience must be adjusted and evolve. Resilience is not, as so many of us thought in the pandemic’s early days, an end state we can reach; rather, it’s a constant process of becoming. In the presence of endless uncertainty, our committed attitude to accepting them and moving forward is resilience. It’s not a marker to reach, but rather a mindset to live with.
One immediate benefit of this extended resilience is the relief from succumbing to despair, for added resilience exudes hope to respond by adapting. The secret of emitting hope from resilience lies in the fact that it differentiates between something real and something that only worries us — a task that faith has been fulfilling since humanity’s creation. Faith simplifies real vs illusion (3:185 and 57:20). Just as night becomes darker only to disappear into daylight (57:6), similarly every hardship comes only to offer ease (94:6). So, all these difficulties are disguised opportunities to improve our living conditions.
To instill our trust in this conviction, the convention outline currently contains 10 main and 18 parallel sessions, in addition to the introductory and concluding sessions. In between these, there will be a few special events, such as the Community Service Recognition program with an award presentation, a children’s program, a chaplaincy program, an interfaith panel, a panel on global crises, Islamic finance and entertainment. While this may seem overwhelming, there is a definitive itinerary to ensure hope and encourage resilience. First, it plans to address individual responsibility, then elaborate on community empowerment and gradually include other discussions — but all geared toward global peace resolution.
A few highlights will be:
• Employ Faith to Renew Resilience and Harness Hope. The antidote to uncertainty is to trust, mainly in our own selves. Believing that everything happening around us is meant to bring positive change makes us resilient enough to formulate alternative courses of action during difficulties. The stronger our vertical relationship with God, the more hopeful and resilient we will be in our horizontal relationship with our family, community and wider society.
• Nurturing Values of Togetherness in the Family. Family is the first place in which to weave faith and ground the deen as a complete cycle — from instituting marriage to instilling Islamic values in children and extending empathy toward the elderly. However, living in a non-Muslim country poses distinct challenges to embracing faith holistically within the family. ISNA conventions offer us space to reflect on how we’re falling short in fulfilling our commitments and diminishing our Muslim identity, when just a little awareness could strengthen the threads of faith in our families.
• Building a Beloved Community. American Muslims are a small minority, but they represent the most diverse and fastest-growing population. This diversity makes us vulnerable to division within mosques and local communities. Multiple sessions will reveal how Muslim communities are thriving via inclusivity across genders, tribes, nations (49:13), language and color (30:22) to foster our spirituality and solidarity. Tips to make our family mosque-oriented and engage in outreach services to fulfill our accountability will be abundant.
• Islamic Education for Community Empowerment. As Muslim communities are coming of age, Islamic education is boasting of its six-decade legacy in the U.S. However, many parents and families are unaware of this realm. ISNA plans to overview the current state of Islamic education, along with a comparative picture of religious vs traditional or mainstream schooling and a vision of Islamic education in the U.S.
• Ethical Liability in the Face of Global Calamities. Just as we have been plagued by the coronavirus, our society has long been infected with multiple deadly social viruses, such as mass shootings, gun control, racial inequality, social injustice, institutional racism, immodesty and manipulation of freedom of speech. Interestingly, these are the outcomes of long-overlooked ethical liabilities. Political exploitation often makes us blind to these problems’ sources and larger impacts, and, as a result, unable to devise lasting solutions. ISNA plans to host a full session on the ethical implications of resolving global calamities.
• Emotional Well-being for Community Solidarity. The uncertainties associated with Covid-19, global political unrest and unstable national economies constantly challenge our sanity and impact our emotional well-being and positive outlook. ISNA has invited several professionals and experts to highlight the best practices for our daily lives, as well as necessary actions that the community can take to better protect the most vulnerable.
• Fulfilling Global Commitments. Discussing the global crises’ ethical aspects increases awareness, but we still must take actions to resolve them. Several speakers will remind us of our commitments and ongoing initiatives, not only on human rights, but also in preserving the environment for future generations. With scary statistics and worst-case scenarios, our approach of speaking about climate change is often very intimidating. ISNA plans to introduce positive initiatives like the Green Masjid Taskforce Group which has been diligently raising awareness across 2,700 mosques and 300 Islamic schools in the U.S. to reduce energy consumption and host an efficient and eco-friendly premises. Many such attempts exemplify excellence (ihsan) and provide hope to be a part of them.
• Comprehensive Vision for Holistic Transformation. A key convention theme is hope, which becomes tangible due to our comprehensive vision. Once our hope is backed by knowledge, information and faith, we feel more committed and thereby resilient to adjust to all adversities to realize our hope. How faith, hope and resilience interplay will become evident during all our current struggles.
• Youth Empowerment. In addition to parallel MYNA sessions, ISNA has planned a main session dedicated solely to youth, focusing on their unique challenges in American society. Experts will present their years of experience to bridge the gaps between parent-child relationships and faith at home versus classroom or outside.
• Parallel Sessions. While the main sessions struggle to pay adequate attention to many topics, parallel sessions offer more focused discussions on those topics. For example, ISNA plans to address Muslim family issues, mosque and community challenges, resources for financial stability in the unpredictable Western economy, global warming and various political issues such as Ukraine vs Russia, Palestine vs Israel, and Kashmir, Uyghur, Rohingya and Afghani resettlement in the U.S.
These sessions seek to engage the larger audience and give them hope beyond the convention hall and show resilience in the days to come. Don’t forget to claim your portion of hope and resilience during the Labor Day weekend in Chicago’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center!
Rasheed Rabbi, an IT professional who earned an MA in religious studies (2016) from Hartford Seminary and is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry from Boston University, is also founder of e-Dawah (www.edawah.net) and secretary of the Association of Muslim Scientists, Engineers & Technology Professionals. He serves as a khateeb and Friday prayer leader at the ADAMS Center and is a certified Muslim chaplain at iNova Fairfax, iNovaLoudoun and Virginia’s Alexandria and Loudoun Adult Detention Centers.
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