Often puncuated by humor, the lectures of Nouman Ali Khan (left) resonate with many teenagers, say youth who attended the December 1, 2012 Young Muslims Conference at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Photos by Muslim Link.
Extremely popular speakers, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan and Shaykh Omar Suleiman, drew crowds from as far away as Richmond, Norfolk, and Salisbury. Many times in gatherings and conferences, the young are discussed in the context of problems, an issue with the ummah. It was refreshing to see the organizers and speakers at Young Muslims Youth Conference exemplifying what is right with the youth. The Young Muslims Youth Conference was held on December 1, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland at the Islamic Society of Baltimore.
Looking at the crowd that attended the conference, one can easily make the argument that Muslim youth today are smarter, more connected and more involved in their communities than their parents' generation. They are social media savvy, and hungry for knowledge.
Young Muslims (YM) is a national youth organization started in the early 90's. Camaraderie, bonding, and learning were all part of this one day conference. Many chapters of YM drove up to the conference, for example, the group of young brothers from Piscataway, NJ.
The 2nd Annual Northeast Youth Conference, was co-sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). Geared towards the whole family, but run, managed, advertised by the youth from all over the northeast.
Fresh faces lined up from10:00 am as many vendors were setting up at the entrance. Since the masjid is separate from the main hall, both men and women sections had equal access to the speakers at this venue. Stalls selling Young Muslim gear were manned by 13 and 14 year olds. The theme of the conference was 'From Darkness to Light'.
Conversations are changing too. For several years youth conferences would focus on what is wrong in Muslim communities, now we are moving to more strategic leadership from our speakers and scholars. For example, Nouman Ali Khan spoke about setting higher standards for the youth who are already involved in Islamic work. He gave them 3 concrete goals to work on for the rest of the year to improve their lives.
Dr. Altaf Husain, of Howard University in Washington D.C., a prominent speaker and social worker, gave real life examples of using positive peer pressure to bring friends who were not attending, to the conference.
Dr. Altaf threw out this question to the crowd, "What makes a person cool?" Answers from the audience included: knowledge, basketball, be a good example, clothes, energetic, hair, strength and personality.
Using the example of Musab ibn Umair, he gave life to the notions of Activism and Engagement of Youth. "His shoes were imported, as was his cologne and perfume. He was good looking, smelt good, women would line up to watch him, If they had Facebook then, these girls would be updating their status: You don't know who I just saw, MUSAB!" Dr. Hussain used a vernacular that resonated with the crowd.
The transition in this sahaba's life had meaningful takeaways for the listeners. "He was a rich 'mama's boy' but he changed. He didn't wait for his friends and he went to learn about Islam on his own. 8000 people came to Islam based on his message of humility,"
"We don't need you to be foolish; we don't need you to go to prison. We need strong Muslims," Dr. Altaf addressed the audience.
"If we travel and speak a lot and change does not happen then there is no use of these conferences. These conferences have to be the starting points of letting go, letting go of habits that displease Allah, habits that your parents don't know you have, habits your friends don't know you have, but you know," Dr. Altaf pontificated.
All the speakers spoke within the perimeters of youth development, at a level that they could comprehend and utilize effectively. Equally effective was seeing past leaders of YM, Dr. Arif Husain, former national coordinator and Br. Qasim Mazhar, of New Jersey, addressing the crowd.
Shaykh Omar Suleiman said we have had enough of the 'give you a spiritual high' lecture; this group needs a Hazrat Umar (radhi ta ala unhu) kind of serious introspection. It was not just 'make you feel good fluff', and the results showed in the youth's reactions (see sidebar).
The lectures are available on the YM Youtube channel.
"How many time do you see boys go to the bathroom in 'groups'?," comedian Baba Ali joked, entertaining the crowd with standup comedy on the difference in boys and girls; followed with stories on how he met his wife.
Omar Regan, a L.A. based comedian on the Helping Hands tour with Baba Ali, also entertained the jam packed hall. Mira Ariefiani tweeted "@babaali & @omarregan, great performance tonight in Baltimore. May Allah make everything easy for your da'wah & reward you both with Jannah."
Shahab Khan, a father of four, of Sterling, VA was attending with his family and had the following feedback. "It is getting crowded, more people coming. The lectures are great and we benefit all benefit from it. Now if we could just get the young of their gadgets." Maybe YM need to have breakout sessions with the individual speakers; smaller, more close up, so the youth continue to grow and benefit.
The community is looking forward to next year's conference.