Community Reflection: Making Our Mark – A Reflection from the 2012 MAS-ICNA Convention

In December of 2012, the MAS-ICNA convention brought roughly ten thousand attendees to Chicago. There, they listened to high-profile speakers like Tariq Ramadan talk about the year’s theme of “Renaissance.” Hussein Sheikh-Aden, LSA sophomore, recalls his experience below.

I’m chit-chatting with my friend to my right. We are choosing between places we wanted to check out in downtown Chicago. This small lapse in concentration during a lecture by the ever-insightful Tariq Ramadan is quickly cut short by something that sparks my interest.

“So, if you look at the example of Zinedine Zidane, we see how his background, race, and creed were rendered irrelevant after he won the World Cup with France in 1998.”

I am at full attention. Somewhat rudely, I tune out my friend’s musings on where we should go after the lecture to listen closer to what Dr. Ramadan is saying. For when one talks about anything related to football, one has my complete attention.

He goes on. “The fact that Zidane was an active part of the narrative made his compatriots see him as being 100% French regardless of his odd name and immigrant parents. If we want to be part of American culture and to be accepted as being American, we must be part of its narrative.”

My friend shakes my forearm and asks if I am listening. I apologize and we settle on heading to the Cheesecake Factory by cab after Dr. Ramadan finishes. As we walk out of the filled-to-capacity convention hall, I scribble down some key ideas on the inside of my wrist.

Dr. Ramadan, in this lecture entitled The New “We” Redefined, offered this wonderfully simple yet complex advice to the burgeoning Muslim American population. Simple in the sense that it can be summarized in a sentence: “if you want to be part of something, go out and be part of it.” Still, it is deep because the application may not be so straightforward. We often times complain about how Muslim Americans are treated as aliens from outside of American culture. Yet, the reason for this may be that we collectively fail to apply what Dr. Ramadan is speaking on.

If we as Muslims in America are to be parts of something larger than us―i.e., the society we live in―we have to participate in it while shaping its narrative. The longer that we live isolated in our own mosques and communities, the more space things such as Islamophobia and xenophobia have to exist. When we shape something with our hands and hard work, we have ownership over it. A type of ownership that dissuades anybody from telling us, “Well, you didn’t help do so and so, therefore it’s not yours and you’re not really part of us.”

To me, what Dr. Ramadan is saying is to venture into our local communities and build ties with the people around us regardless of their faith. The common ground here is that both parties are American, and that really should be enough. We should be the ones extending our hands and getting to know our neighbors. Muslim Americans need to be active in their communities, shaping our collective futures.

We arrive at our destination and indulge in some dessert. We get up and leave after some time and hail a cab to return to the convention hall. Our cab driver gets the conversation started.

“Where are you guys from? What brought you to town?” the driver asks, fairly sure of the fact that we are tourists.

“Yeah, we’re from Michigan. Here for this thing called the MAS convention.” I reply.

“Where are you guys really from?” he asks again, in a more assertive, probing tone.

“We’re from Somalia.” my friend quickly replies.

“I would’ve guessed that! I’m from Nepal, just got here a year and a half ago. So hard to live here, but man, America’s nice.” he goes on.

“Yeah, it is.” I reply, ending our pleasantries as we step back out onto the cityscape.

“With-ness” – Chaplain Tayssir reflects on ASB

In the Name of the Creator of all things, the First, the Last, the
Merciful, the Compassionate, we begin in the Name of the One whose name out
shadows and envelops all names… The Lord of the Worlds.

We ask that He send peace and blessings on His beloved Prophet Muhammad a
peace and blessings that cure us all of our ills inwardly and outwardly.
May these peace and blessings purify our hearts, redirect them to their
Creator, and unite them forever with their Prophet with Gentleness and
ease. May God’s peace and blessings be sent upon our Prophet Muhammad,
the gate of God’s mercy, according to the knowledge of God, a peace and
blessings that are never ending through the never ending domain of God, and
upon the Prophet’s pure family, companions in their entirety, and those
who tread on their path. And upon you and I with them for all of eternity.

Knowledge of God. That’s the answer to the often asked question, “Why
were we created?” The Qur’an refers to it as worship and our
tradition’s exegetes, Qur’anic commentators, explain that worship as
knowledge of the Divine. Interestingly enough our faith’s sages explained
that all aspects of the human experience are called to come to know God.
Our limbs in their outward worship, our intellect in its reflection and
logical outward knowledge, and our hearts in their spiritual journey. Like
the sages of old Muslims understood the most noble knowledge, the knowledge
of God, to be achievable through what is traditionally called knowledge
AND action. Simple scholastic endeavors cannot help the wayfarer travel the
distance to knock at the gates of the Divine. While our spiritual ancestors
were committed to the idea that only the Divine could truly have you come
to know Him, they still espoused that the proper way for a servant to ask
for that knowledge was to learn and to act accordingly. Character is born
of knowledge and character is the tangible result of wayfaring.

This past weekend the Muslim Student Association at the University of
Michigan embarked on its first Alternative Spring Break. As a young man
growing up in the 90’s I remember quite vividly the growing culture of
the MTV Spring Break phenomenon. An unfortunate turn in our community’s
development it seemed the glorification of money being wasted, of the
excessive use of alcohol and drugs, as well as the horrid popularization of
all things promiscuous enveloped the college experience. Yet while this
characterized a segment of the community many young people before, during,
and after refused to succumb to the material, to the consumerist model of
life, to the carnal desires that seemed to never be quenched and to never
address our spiritual thirsts. While the 90’s popularized some of the
worst of what spring break had to offer, as early as the 1980’s
organizations across college campuses began initiatives to use their
college spring break to give back to the community. One expression of
spring break involved the very epitome of heedlessness and the other
attempted to flip that notion on its head and to be conscious, cognizant,
aware, mindful, and in service of others. This is the tradition that the
MSA at U of M was attempting to take part in.

Our sages and scholars remind us that prayer and the remembrance of God are
blessings in and of themselves. One of the blessings associated with prayer
and remembrance is that God Willed the worshiper to be in His presence and
to speak to Him; and so He Willed his prayer into existence. Worship is a
sign of Divine blessing to the worshipper and something that the Divine
should be thanked for. This is so central to our faith that we are told to
thank God for our very ability to thank Him. My spiritual teachers would
call out to the congregation to remember the blessing of calling out to
God, “Ya Allah,” (O’ God!) when so many others were busy calling out
to God’s creation instead. Our trip to Chicago, to be in service of the
elderly community, particularly those who are of lesser means, should be
thought of as a blessing for us. We did not help those beautiful people but
they helped us. By coming to know a bit about them and by our being blessed
with the chance to serve them our Creator allowed us to come to know Him a
bit more we hope and pray. The famous sage Ibn Ata’ Allah explained in
his pearls of wisdom that God varied the means of worship in His Knowledge
of the changing states of His servants. Community service, travel, bonding,
are all means of worship that are not taken advantage of on a day to day
basis. This trip allowed us to drink from a spiritual river that many of us
barely visit.

I cannot adequately express to you all how much I benefited from the young
men and women who went with us on our trip. Their beauty, dedication,
sincerity, intelligence, and support are unfathomable. I feel blessed and
ennobled at just knowing them. The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and
grant him peace) is narrated to have said that all of God’s creation are
His dependents and that the best of God’s servants are those who are most
beneficial to His dependents. I testify to the beauty of those souls who
took part and I pray I can one day be more like them.

One of the grand spiritual masters of our time when asked what the end of
this path looked like, he answered, “With-ness.” May God grant you and
I a with-ness with God that is unbreakable. May all those who read this
message be forgiven of their sins large and small. May we all be included
in the circle of God’s mercy and love. May we become Muhammadan in our
service and character. May we be people of true values and have hearts that
are connected to our Lord; full of light, love, mercy, and knowledge. We
ask God of what He asked of us and we seek His protection from the evils of
this world and our own selves. We ask God sincerity in worship and to be
able to give what’s due unto Him.

I leave you in God’s care,
Mohammed Tayssir Safi

ASB Reflections: A New Meaning

Bismillah El-Rahman El-Rahim,

We begin in the Name of God, The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful:

The 2012 MSA ASB trip has offered a lot of new perspective for all the organizers and participants, and I can speak to this personally. A few weeks back, I gave a short Khatira (religious talk) after a Mini-Quiyam to the Brothers and Sisters that were present. My talk highlighted two Hadiths from the Most Beloved (PBUH) that say:

“Allah fi ‘own el ‘abd, ma daam el ‘abd fi ‘owne akheeh”

Roughly translated to:“Allah will be there to help his servant, as long as his servant is there for his brother”

“Man kaana fi hajati akheehe, kaana Allah fi hajatihi youm el qiyama”

Roughly translated to: “Who so ever is there to help with the need of his brother, Allah will be there to help with his need on the day of judgement”’

Reflecting on these Hadiths now, we can see that serving humanity can directly bring us closer to The Divine (SWT). In both Hadiths we can see how helping one another can translate into self-betterment and benefit. The first Hadith teaches us whether it is becoming a better student, or your desire to be the very best like no one ever was, that helping one another translates directly into Allah helping us in every single journey that we embark on. The Second Hadith shows that fulfilling the needs of one another, whether your Brother or Sister needs a ride across town or something as simple as a hug, if we are able to be there for one another, Allah will be there to help us in our most needed time (The Day of Judgment)

So let us ask The Most Generous to make us from those that will be there for their Brothers and Sisters in humanity, as well as those who always try to be there for their Brothers and Sisters’ needs so that we may attain His Love and Approval such that we can enter His Jannah without judgment.

Ameen thumma Ameen, Walhamdulillahi Rab El-‘Alameen

-Humam Malas

The whole group with Natalie from the Blackhawk Manor (HOME location). ASB Day 3

ASB Service Reflection: Y’all Are Great!

“Y’all are great!” she said as we posed to take a picture with her broad, authentic smile. We crouched and posed around her wheel-chair stricken figure. Exiting from her humble, warm home, we were greeted by a feeling of wellness. Happiness for her: happiness in the fact that we left her in a better state than we found her. We felt a deeper connection with our innate human emotions. Of empathy and compassion.

Mrs. Daisy (yes, this is her name) is an elderly African-American woman, a double-leg amputee and a cheerful mother of five. We were invited into her home through our partnering ASB organization, Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (HOME). Our task was a simple one: weatherize her home by putting plastic insulation on her windows. We completed our task together quickly. However, beyond weatherizing the windows in her home, we got to know Mrs. Daisy and her family on a more personal level. Her family appreciated the work we did inside her home and we appreciated their opening up their home to us.

Beyond that, we gained an invaluable experience. None of us had weatherized windows before; a few of us (including me) even learned how to properly position our hands to use a broom; and we learned how to interact with a homeowner when volunteering within their home. My high school counselor used to echo a single phrase: “What are we more than aggregations of our life experiences?”

Our lives are made up of our experiences; things we’ve seen, felt, and done. I am proud to have MSA-ASB 2012 as one of those invaluable and unique life experiences.

-Hussein Sheikh-Aden

Monday Night Reflection: Re-enacting our responsibilities at home

We concluded our last night in Chicago together by reflecting upon the entirety of our trip. In order to prolong the great experiences and emotions tied to helping others we discussed the importance of devoting a small amount of time to others and doing so consistently. Enlightened by Mufti Kamani who emphasized the value of serving others, and how that service positive impacts ourselves, he explained that essentially it results in them serving you by keeping you in good memory and duaa. This ASB trip has enabled us to serve others, ourselves and present Islam in a positive light; inshAllah we are provided with the will, time, and heath to continue to do so.

Our discussion on the final night happened in a Baskin-Robbins, where we inhaled  and consumed sweetness, literally and figuratively. It consisted of inspiring ideas to keep us consistently involved in our efforts to humble ourselves by being thankful for what we have. “Those who aren’t thankful to people are not thankful to Allah SWT,” thus, constantly surrounding ourselves with those who are less fortunate reminds us of how much we take for granted and our duties towards others. Simple things like caring for your neighbors via considerate messages or treats to take to their door present an easy way for us to pave our path to paradise. Carving out time to help those within our academic community by structuring a tutoring system in which those who have already taken a course can provide assistance for an allotted amount of time to those struggling in that course–once again preventing us from taking our own knowledge for granted and instead educating others with what we have been blessed with. Another idea that can inspire acts of service towards others could be to involve each MSA member by making them responsible for completing a minimum set number of hours of volunteering. Doing so provides an opportunity to easily help a great number of people, a means of da’wa, and also keep members not only engaged with MSA, but also the responsibility that our deen places upon us to care for the people and world around us.

May Allah (swt) purify our intentions and provide us with the ease to implement our ideas consistently–for actions speak louder than words and good, consistent acts are valued more than inconsistent great ones. Ameen.

-Sahar Aggour & Afrah Aslam

Sunday, Feb. 26 Reflection (ASB Day 2)

Hussa/ein squared. Mufti Hussain Kamani with our Hussein and Khalid.

Sunday night, we headed to the Islamic Center of Chicago to listen to Mufti Hussein Kamani.  In a room normally used to teach children about Islam. Mufti Kamani shared stories from his childhood and his mother’s life. While he shared a number of stories, one stuck out. He spoke of a time when he was a boy studying abroad and his mother came to visit. She wanted to buy him lunch and as they walked, they came across a poor woman lying on the floor. As they walked closer they saw that this woman was on her last juncture of life. Hussein’s mother knelt beside her and asked how they could comfort her. The woman said that all she wanted before she died is one last meal.  Hussein’s mother then gave her son a choice: We can eat, or she can. He agreed to go get the poor woman food.  They fed the poor woman and she was grateful and in her last moments, she held up her hands and made du’a for Mufti Kamani and his mother.

Mufti Kamani’s talk provoked us to do a bit of soul searching of our own and remember our own personal experiences and what our family has taught us.  Our relationship with our family is integral to our religion.  As the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said, “One will not enter paradise if he/she cuts off relations with relatives”.  Even though school can get busy, we always have to remember what our parents and family have done for us.  In doing so, we need to always show them how grateful we are.  We reminded each other to call our parents frequently and not let them have to call us.  We also reflected on the concept of love for one another and how we love each other for the sake of Allah SWT.  Humam Malas mentioned how the very concept of love involves humility because when you love someone, you make yourself vulnerable to rejection.

A lot was said and when we split into groups, we shared our own stories and perspectives.  Many shared the sentiment that the culture we live in today places more emphasis on independence than family ties.  Perhaps most importantly, we remembered our family, lost ones, and how much we owe to them.  We remembered our sister Betul’s father, who passed away recently, and then made du’a for him and all of our lost ones.

We hope that our reflection Sunday night helped us remember how important keeping ties with our kin is and gave us additional perspective on its value and relationship with our deen.  For most of us, we’ll be going back to our family during spring break and should be free from the stress of school and work.  Inshallah, we’ll be able to show them how much they mean to us and spend some quality time with them.

-Yazan Kherallah & Khalid Sarsour

Sunday Morning Reflection – Working at the Natalie Salomon House

Today we spent the morning volunteering at one of HOME’s elderly shared living spaces. Once again, the sentiment of gratitude was overwhelming as the owner, Ms. Judi, was so welcoming to our group of 24 volunteers, masha’Allah! There were various maintenance and cleaning tasks and basically divide and conquer was our motto for the day. From rearranging and moving furniture, cleaning windows and scrubbing floors, and even receiving “I love yous” from little children at the center, MSA-ASB’s day two in Chi-town is off to a rewarding start. As the team finished working way ahead of schedule, Miss Judi suggested we check out the sights and splendors Chicago has to offer! Next stop, Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue.

-Reham Khan


Saturday, Feb. 25 Reflection (ASB Day 1)

Dinner & Reflection, ASB Day 1

Brothers and sisters who are part of the first ever MSA Alternative Spring Break got a first-hand experience of being part of a reflection session conducted by two unique members of this trip. “Why are they unique?” you may ask. Well, it is probably because they are the only two international students on this trip i.e. all the way from Malaysia. This in itself makes the whole ASB trip unique, and the team is happy to include Brother Fikri and Brother Izuan on this trip. Subhanallah, see how Allah has arranged for his slaves from different parts of the world to come together and serve the community and serve Him?

The topic of the first day’s reflection was Beyond and Above the Diag: Reaching Out to the Greater Community. The session started off with the story of how the Prophet Issa (peace be upon him) reminded his disciples of the greed of the people nearing the end of days. True enough, his foresight came true. Just look around us and you will see how inhumane people can be nowadays. As one of the declared mission statements and intentions of this trip, the team agreed that this project is a way to remind all of us of our humanity, and to help us break away from the mundane, robotic-like day-to-day routine of college students.

The twist to this session was when the the facilitators decided to pair everyone up with a partner to talk about future their aspirations as means to serve the greater community. Alhamdulillah, the sharing session went very well with all members telling their personal aspirations very enthusiastically. As a result, many interesting idealistic plans were put on the table. Masha’Allah they were all very great aspirations, but here are just a few of them:

  • Reach out to everyone via educating them and instilling the value of knowledge – Br. Tayssir Safi
  • Reform our approach to public and foreign policies so that they are more just and honest – Sr. Zeinab Khalil
  • Build a non-profitable hospital in Palestine – Br. Amir Alawneh
  • Reform the conventional banking system in Malaysia to an Islamic one – Br. Izuan
  • Study and improve the marriage institution of Muslim families in America – Sr. Ayesha Noorullah
  • Advocate to the Malaysian public to embrace the middle ground rather than antagonizing one another in the extreme ends of politics – Br. Fikri
  • Find a good wife and build a good family with  Muslim values – Br. Humam
  • Become a lawyer to put the right people in jail and not the wrong ones – Sr. Kinza
  • Make Muslims become mainstream in television and film, especially Muslim women; open up own bakery that is affordable to all – Noor Haydar
  • Reduce the gender gap and increase equality between men and women in our communities – Reham Khan

By the end of the reflection, it was clear that everybody has a special plan on how to contribute to the community, in their own unique ways. All of these plans weren’t necessarily specifically “religious” so to speak, but many were dynamic personal aspirations. This is good because it still projects a positive aura towards the Muslim community, and towards our larger multi-religious society.

Yes, although these are long-term plans yet to be fulfilled, we totally felt the nobleness in contributing to the community by the volunteer work we did earlier in the day. Though this may be true on a much smaller scale, this ASB community service project can be seen as the first baby step in achieving the greater ambitions insha’Allah.

At the conclusion of our reflection session, the facilitators stressed on the distinct difference between information and knowledge, which was first coined by our beloved Chaplain, Brother Tayysir.  Quite simply, information is the input learned in classrooms or from textbooks, and knowledge is how you put that information into use, to apply it to the outside world. This is something interesting for us to ponder upon.

Jazakumullah kheir and stay tuned for more MSA-ASB updates!

-Izuan Ong & Fikri Fisal


Giordano's Pizza - yum!