Inspiring American Muslim Youth: My Identity, My Tomorrow

By Maheen Ahmad

Cradling steaming cups of coffee, a dozen or so committee members sit around four tables arranged in a square.

“Okay. For the Entertainment session . Any ideas?”

“What about a Muslim Family Feud?”

It gets quiet. A tiny voice asks, “What’s Family Feud again?”

Groans erupt from the room. “Are you kidding me?”

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Someone else responds kindly. “It’s the TV game show with the surveys.”

Another committee member theatrically comments, “And the survey says!”

“OH! Give me a break. It’s 7 o’clock in the morning!” Muffled chuckles ensue.

“It could help us be different than all the other conventions,” says one committee member after much thought.

“But if we’re gonna have 2,000 people in the audience, it might get really rowdy.”

“True.”

“But it’s definitely more entertaining than our Jeopardy idea.”

“Also true.”

Noor Suleiman’s pen hovers over her convention notebook. The first page preserves the minutes of the very first convention planning meeting. It’s dated January 2011. Thirteen months of intense planning later, Inspiring American Muslim Youth, or IamY, stands as a youth-led convention committee branching out for national support. Noor is IamY’s meticulous secretary, and perhaps she knows better than anyone how far the committee has come. The drastic increase in action items as the convention date creeps closer is one visual indication.

Reaching a stalemate, Noor and the other committee members pause and look to Emad Hamdeh, the convention committee CEO. Only the slurps of coffee and tea are heard. “I think it’s a good idea. But we’d need a really good family to make it fun. Look for two willing families that’d work.” The meeting is only two hours long, and Hamdeh knows there are still several other things to discuss. He pauses briefly for any objections and then plows on. “Alright, the next thing…”

By The Youth about Youth Issues

The two day family convention will begin on Saturday, March 17 and end Sunday afternoon. Located near what was once known as Giants Stadium, the IamY convention will take place at the Meadowlands Sheraton Hotel in East Rutherford, NJ. With a powerhouse line-up of speakers, an appearance by the Deen Show, an Art Gallery and Auction, bazaar, and a full-fledged separate babysitting program, IamY seeks to be an unforgettable convention.

Emad Hamdeh, the youth director of New Jersey’s Islamic Center of Passaic Country, first proposed the idea in March 2011 as a way to provide Tri-state youth with a challenging project of their own. Inspired by ICNA, ISNA, and other conventions, he understood that organizing an event of this magnitude would require community members who exhibited commitment, responsibility, and, most importantly, concern for the Muslim ummah to take on the task. Despite a slow start, things soon picked up pace and committee members began to contact scholars, brainstorm potential themes, and procure a venue. But the journey wasn’t without its setbacks. Originally planning for an audience of 5,000, the committee had to downsize because the venues just weren’t big enough in the appropriate area.

“It was kind of dissappointing, but alhamdillah, we got through,” says Bayan Abbasi, IamY Speaker Liason. Abbasi juggles full time college coursework while simultaneously working for IamY. When asked why she’d spend her time scrambling after speakers, arranging registration drives, and giving up Saturday mornings, she says, “Every moment I have is blessing from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), if I don’t spend it this way, what other way is there?”

The rest of the team are also college students with their own set of responsibilities and commitments, but they all heartily agreed to receive an endless stream of e-mails, attend innumerable early morning meetings, and deal with the many setbacks that inevitably come along the way. What the IamY committee lacks in experience, it makes up for with its unwavering determination and contagious enthusiasm.

Significance of IamY

Hamdeh stresses the significance of IamY as an entirely youth-organized endeavor.  When asked about his motive behind spear-heading IamY, he answered, “It’s time that the youth take the initiative and lead the community.  This convention is an outlet for the youth to have their issues highlighted, as they see fit.  Most conventions have separate parallel programs for youth, while others attend the regular convention. IamY seeks to bridge the gap and have the entire community and family focus on important issues youth face.  The youth have a lot of energy, creativity, and zeal. I decided to channel that to create a project that will have a positive outcome.”  True to his word, Hamdeh leaves much of the decision-making for the convention in the hands of those less than the age of 25.

Committee members know first-hand the challenges Muslim Americans face growing up in the United States post 9/11. Many of the student organizers hope to utilize the convention, the invited speakers, and the addressed topics as a way to answer their own burning questions about their faith. What are our duties as both citizens of the United States and as Muslims? Is there a clash between the two? The convention theme is fittingly, “My Identity, My Tomorrow.” Their message is clear. Without knowing who one is, there really can be no future. And if the youth have no future, where does that leave the Muslim community?

An important component of IamY is the “trickle-down effect” they hope to create.  The name, “Inspiring American Muslim Youth” reflects the organization’s mission and vision.  Through their convention, IamY seeks to empower Muslim youth as leaders in their individual communities in both the religious and public realm so that they may “inspire” others.  A chain reaction results and an abundance of benefit flows into communities across the nation. After all, communities are built up of societies, and societies are built of families. By reaching out to families and educating them about the different dilemmas that plague their children, IamY hopes to rejuvenate the Muslim community and ultimately pave the way for a brighter, more successful future.

With less than a month until opening day, the excitement is palpable amongst organizers and convention registrants alike. IamY committee members labor tirelessly to finalize all the details and crank up advertising. Though feedback from the community has mostly been positive, some have complained about the timing. Many people, however, can be seen talking energetically about the convention and the powerhouse speakers who are invited. Some generous community members have already offered to volunteer as security guards, baby-sitters, and aids during the convention. Indeed, a lot of work awaits the IamY committee as March 17th nears.  However, the community’s increasing enthusiasm as speaker and entertainer details are released propels the committee to ensure the convention is as enjoyable and educational experience as expected!

 

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