More than 700 youth attended the meeting, a signature part of the eighth annual Muslim American Society-Islamic Circle of North America Convention. Mahdi Bray, the executive director of the D.C.-based MAS Freedom Foundation, and Joshua Salaam, youth director at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and a member of the popular hip-hop nasheed trio Native Deen, spoke at the event
While planning for the event began in July, according to Bray, the event coincided with the recent arrests of five D.C.-area youth in Pakistan for suspicions of terrorism.
“The five youth were certainly discussed,” Bray said. “Where is this all coming from? How systemic is it? What is the attraction in it?”
“A great discussion came out of what it means for Muslims to avoid extremism.”
But the event mainly focused on more than just recent events. Youth speakers addressed leadership concerns and other issues plaguing young Muslims today, including interpretation of various Islamic sayings.
“One brother asked about the need to stop something with your hands [derived from a hadith],” Salaam said. “We stopped for awhile to talk about that, because there is a lot of room for interpretation.”
The youth also discussed the meaning of the concept of jihad, an Arabic word for struggle, which is frequently used in the media to classify acts of murder and terrorism. There is also a need to be on the Internet spreading the alternate narrative, the true message of Islam, Bray said.
“The [concept] that there is this whole group of young people waiting to be misled is overblown,” Bray said. “But we shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand and act like it doesn’t exist.”
MAS Freedom also announced the “Straight Path” campaign, which will be coordinated by Sarah Baddour, a Muslim youth activist. Mohammad Salhut, a high school student and the founder of the National Muslim Honor Society, is expected to be involved as well, Bray said.
“The ‘Straight Path’ campaign is designed to aid in averting youth from falling prey to extremism, hate, violence and intolerance, especially as found across the internet,” read a Dec. 24 MAS press release. “Components of the campaign will include a website, leadership training and mentoring, political activism training, community service projects, and other nationwide programs and activities.”