By Jamil Aboushaar
Something special happened on the second floor of Chicago’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center this past Labor Day weekend.
There was no better place for this nation’s Muslim youth to be as the Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA) hosted its 37th annual convention. MYNA presented an all-encompassing experience for the participants, from listening to impactful lectures delivered by some of this country’s top scholars to reuniting with friends in faith. The thousands of youth coming from different regions united for the sake of God, a truly wonderful sight to behold — especially because the entire event had been planned by the youth for the youth.
One of the global Muslim community’s biggest struggles is balancing deen with dunya. For youth, the struggle is even more convoluted due to the influences coming from their friends and family, Muslim society in the U.S., American culture, as well as their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Each one of these pulls them in a different direction and forces them to navigate their surrounding environment’s endless hurdles to find and understand the balance. “The CuRe: Understanding Culture and Religion,” the ethos of this gathering, sought to help them with this undertaking.
This relevant theme ensured that every seat was filled during the lectures and workshops. Youth listened to speakers such as Mufti Hussain Kamani (imam, Islamic Center of Chicago; instructor, Qalam Institute), Shaykh Abdulnasir Jangda (founder and director, Qalam Institute), Shaykh Ubaydullah Evans (ALIM’s first scholar-in-residence), Shaykha Ieasha Prime (resident scholar and curriculum director, Islamic Society of Baltimore) and Dr. Dalia Mogahed (director of research, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding).
Lectures touched on subjects like the seera and Quran while addressing LGBTQ+, feminism, toxic influences and other social issues.
The instant you entered the “MYNA Zone,” you could see that something was different. The sense of community fostered through MYNA events is unlike other youth-focused programs. Coming from across the nation, they all have different backgrounds, upbringings, experiences and interests — and yet act as if they are blood-related. They last had encountered each other months — if not years — ago, but when they met it was as if no time had passed. From the long-time campers and volunteers to the first-ever attendees, all of them shared a comfort and sense of belonging. They displayed their power throughout the convention, even during the main ISNA sessions, for their chants could be heard throughout the hall.
As the program was closing and attendees were leaving the final session, there was a surprise waiting for them in the MYNA lounge area: a special Quran recitation session by young qurra’ (reciters). The beautiful recitation of an elementary-aged boy, emulating the recitation style of Sheikh Abdul Basit Abdul Samad, one of the most iconic modern reciters, clearly softened the audience’s hearts as they gathered to bask in the joy of listening to God’s words.
Given the current state of affairs and the trend toward the decentralization of faith, it’s vital to find and attend Muslim gatherings like this one and other MYNA events to ensure that we stick to and understand our identity and roots.
We must develop ourselves so we can lead as productive Muslims and be the present and future of the umma in this country. This convention gave us the spark; now it’s our job to provide the fuel to build and maintain a fire of passion within our souls, a passion that pushes us to make a difference in our communities.
Jamil Aboushaar served as the MYNA Convention’s chair.
MYNA Offers Six Winter Camps
As believers, we often take our knowledge of God’s existence for granted. For many of us, faith in God may feel so natural that we just assume it to be the case. But belief and the quest for existential truth is not as easy for many others, especially in an increasingly faithless society, one in which believing in God is becoming equated with superstition and fantasy.
The evidence for God’s existence and Islam as His one true religion is grounded in emotional, experiential, spiritual, rational, logical and scientific proofs. These proofs give us purpose, meaning, comfort and guidance throughout our lives, and the Quran and Sunna further strengthen our certainty. But how do we learn the case for God’s existence inside and out? How do we use it to relinquish any doubt and to defend our faith when questioned by others?
This winter, Muslim youth in six different locations will have the opportunity to join MYNA at one of its winter camps and explore the brand-new theme of “Proof of the Truth.” This week-long retreat will seek to ground them in faith and strengthen their conviction.
Participants will take a deep dive into the evidence, including the miracles of the natural world, scientific discoveries, the Quran and Sunna. A host of renowned scholars and teachers will lead lectures and workshops. Past guest speakers have included Mufti Hussain Kamani (imam, Islamic Center of Chicago; instructor, Qalam Institute), Khadeejah Bari (graduate, Qalam Institute), Imam Ahmed Alamine (Al-Fajr Mosque, Indianapolis) and Ustadha Amina Darwish (associate dean for religious and spiritual life and advisor for Muslim Life, Stanford). Campers will also participate in ziplining, rock-climbing, archery, team sports and other recreational activities.
“In the most formative years of our lives, this relevant topic needs to be discussed, and MYNA’s got us covered,” Maryam Amar (outreach coordinator, MYNA Executive Committee) said. “A week full of spiritual and personal growth surrounded by forever friends. There’s no way I am going to miss out on this, and there’s no way you should either.”
Gain beneficial and applicable knowledge. Ground yourself in your faith. Experience the joy of Islamic companionship. Register today at www.myna.org/camps.
A Summer Recap
The beauty of our religion is in its simplicity.
For one week during July and August, over 300 youth from all over the nation came to this realization, thanks to MYNA’s six regional summer retreats. Rooted in the theme “Back to Basics,” these events allowed campers to take a step back and revisit Islam’s roots and learning about the foundations on which it was built.
Ranging from the Islam’s pillars to iman and ihsan, campers gained knowledge through lectures, preparing short talks with our scholars’ assistance, as well as cooperating with other campers in skits and creative poster workshops to express what they learned. Speakers and staff graded their projects not only for creativity and aesthetics, but also for their content’s accuracy. This ensured that all campers left every workshop with another lesson learned.
In more than half of MYNA’s camps, youth were joined by a resident scholar. Imam Mohamed Herbert, Ustadha Faduma Warsame (chaplain and Muslim Life advisor, University of Minnesota), Imam Ahmed Alamine and Ustadha Khadeejah Bari stayed with campers throughout the event, enabling the latter to build a relationship with renowned scholars and open up to them about their questions and concerns.
Youth were also joined by Mufti Abdulwahab Waheed (a co-founder, Miftaah Institute; a co-founder and director, Michigan Islamic Institute), Ustadha Jannah Sultan (resident scholar, Tarbiya Institute), Ustadha Amina Darwish, Dr. Bilal Ansari (faculty associate in Muslim Pastoral Theology; co-director of MA in chaplaincy; director of Islamic chaplaincy program, Hartford International University for Religion and Peace), Shaykh Mohammed Bemat (counselor/imam, ISNA), Mufti Hussain Kamani and others.
Campers also got to engage in recreational activities and build new friendships while participating in archery, ziplining, hiking, tomahawk and even canoeing. And what adds to all of these events is the MYNA environment. Campers learned they can do so much during the day, still pray every salah on time and wake up for fajr — even tahajjud! Detached from their smartphones, they made new friends who have similar interests.
“I don’t know where I would’ve been without MYNA,” Mahmoud El-Malah said. “I’ve been going to MYNA camps since I was 12, and I experience every camp as if it’s my first camp. MYNA played a vital role in my upbringing and my childhood. It taught me that no matter where I live, I can always find friends that can bring me closer to Allah. Every single camp has taught me a new aspect of our religion.”
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