13th Annual MSA West Conference 2011: Taking Back Our Narrative. January 14th-16th, at the University of California, Los Angeles.
I can only imagine how I will shake with a giddy sense of excitement from hijab to foot as I unfold the campus map and set off with a group of sisters from my university. It'll be my first MSA West Conference ever and it's taking place at none other than the world-renown university UCLA. After being swept into the Muslim student organization at my own university, I've taken the insistent advice of the upperclassmen and have decided to travel to Los Angeles and participate in the 2011 MSA West Conference, “Taking Back Our Narrative.” For the last few weeks, mailing lists have flooded my inbox with numerous emails and all I've heard the upperclassmen talk about are the stories from conferences in years past and their high expectations for the upcoming MSA West Conference this very week. For them, just like the hundreds of other students who attend, the yearly conferences serve a crucial function and provide a much-needed space for young Muslim students, giving them a sense of community. The conferences connect and unite Muslim student organizations and their members from all over California, providing them important resources, revitalizing their spirituality, refueling their activism, and creating a network unlike any other.
They finally got to me and convinced me to register. As I completed my pre-registration and closed the window, I wish that I had taken advantage of the many MSA West conferences in my younger high school days. At a school where being a Muslim meant being a loser, it was difficult for me to find the group of people to rely on and to look forward to growing with. The handful of Muslim peers around me hid the fact that they were Muslim and I had no hope of finding a place to fit in and develop myself into the young Muslim adult I wanted and dreamed of becoming. I gave in and decided that I would just wait until college where I would inshā'Allāh find a motivated and dedicated group of Muslim students. Now I realize the many years that were wasted. For the “lone Muslim student” on campus, for the Muslim trying desperately to revive and resuscitate the Muslim student group, for the young Muslim who can't seem to find a place at the local masjid—the annual MSA West conferences provide the best way to get involved with other Muslim student activists, to find projects to work on, to seek and gain beneficial knowledge, to bloom spiritually, and to be continuously supported and surrounded by like-minded friends who turn into life-long companions.
All of the talk from the upperclassmen gave me anticipation of my own, with expectations and hopes and images I prayed would not only be fulfilled, but would be easily succeeded. This year's conference theme, “Taking Back Our Narrative,” sounds – quite frankly – amazing. Inspired by one of the most important and influential figures not only in recent American history but in my own life, I buzzed with excitement as I watched the trailer for the conference and heard Malcolm X's booming voice vocalize sentiments that I, as a Muslim student in America, feel just as strongly.
The theme would be relevant to any Muslim student in California given the current atmosphere in America and attitude against Muslims worldwide.
I am extremely excited to hear lectures from my favorite speakers and to participate in some hands-on workshops. I hear that the line-up this year (check out the full program here!) includes religious figures from across the country, alumni active in MSA West from back in the good old days, and even a few current students. We've got Bayyinah's own Br. Nouman Ali Khan as well as local imām (who accompanied my MSU on our past two retreats) Shaykh Junaid Kharsany. I'm really looking forward to hearing for the first time, in person, Zaytuna's imām Zaid Shakir, as well as Brooklyn's very own – imām Siraj Wahhaj! And some of the all-star sisters from my community will be speaking as well – frequent blogger and my halaqa leader, Yasmin Mogahed, as well as attorney and political activist Reem Salahi! I impatiently await to be inspired by the alumni from the “golden days” and hope to even meet and mingle with the sisters. Look's like the alumni speaking this year include the previous president from my MSU at UCI, Omar Zarka, and his wife Maryam Amir-Ebrahimi from San Jose State, as well as Cal Poly Pomona's da`wah heavy-hitter, Amir Mertaban! We've also got former Cal State Long Beach MSA president, and current CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo, and previous MSA West president Taher Herzallah. I guess it's some sort of tradition or duty or something, because the current MSA West president and student from UCLA, Abdallah Jadallah will be speaking as well.
In terms of current leadership of MSA West, I have a lot of faith in the quality of this year's conference that they'll be putting on. Current president Jadallah speaks on behalf of the planners of this conference, saying:
“The annual conferences provide a forum for youth to discuss the challenges we face and how to correct them. The slant for the conference this year is to equip student leaders to be the catalysts for change to correct the major problems facing our community.”
Jadallah also describes the goals of this year's conference as an effort to make long-lasting changes in the attendees' lives instead of just providing a temporary īmān boost. For this reason, the 2011 conference has a new focus: community issues and how to address them. Improving from last year's conference, the planners of the 2011 MSA West conference have taken a different approach this time around. Jadallah said,
“Upon reflecting on last year's conference and Muslim conferences in general, this year we decided to include more practical information. Through the main sessions and especially the leadership workshop series, we hope to provide this type of forum for our students to encourage them to overcome the complacency of the Muslim American community, and to, at the very least, start thinking about how to address [our community's] problems.”
I don't need to stop at taking only his word for it, but I can also look forward to the upcoming conference based on what local imām, and alumnus from my own university, Shaykh Mustafa Umar has to say about the conference. A speaker at the conference this year, if he insists on the event's importance and he himself looks forward to the event, then I'm definitely 10 times more excited about going!
It's official—I'm going to the MSA West Conference 2011, “Taking Back Our Narrative” at UCLA on January 14th-16th, and I'm telling EVERYONE I KNOW about it! I am widely circulating the flyer and spamming (in a good way) every Muslim student I know, whether active on his/her campus or not.
I've been convinced that this year's conference will top all others and I'm not going to be selfish—I'm inviting everyone to attend “Taking Back Our Narrative,” the 2011 MSA West Conference in Los Angeles—EVEN YOU! I hope you're registering at this very moment and I pray to see your face as one of the many hundreds on the Friday, Saturday, or Sunday of the January 14th-16th weekend.
I hope that you also invite all of the students/youth you know. :) Spread the word and collect the reward, inshā'Allāh.
SEE YOU AT THE 2011 MSA WEST CONFERENCE IN LA!