This past week, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered in Toronto for the 10th annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Conference. To highlight the conference theme, Control, Chaos or Community: Three Ways, One World, Our Choice, speakers from around the world stressed the importance of self-reflection, community service, and social activism.
I’ve been writing over the past year about Muslim-based organizations and initiatives that are countering extremism, participating in the political process, and serving communities. The annual RIS conference has turned into a central meeting point for this growing movement that was initiated and organized by predominately young Muslims born and raised in North America.
Organizations that have traditionally claimed the responsibility of representing Muslims living in North America are losing influence to smaller, local groups that connect nationally through specific issues or initiatives. Many of these groups focus on social justice issues and have used social media as access points to discuss them and how their Islamic faith informs their actions.
The Islamic Center at New York University (ICNYU) and Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) are two examples of Muslim American organizations that have used their respective platforms to inspire believers and encourage community activism through faith. Khalid Latif, Executive Director and Imam of the ICNYU, often gives khutbahs, or sermons, related to domestic violence prevention and the importance of performing small, selfless acts on a daily basis. Founder and Executive Director of IMAN, Rami Nashahibi supports a variety of programs that have assisted communities living on Chicago’s Southwest side. Free health care clinics, vocational training, and prison re-entry programs have been just a few of the many initiatives that IMAN has spearheaded.
The ICNYU and IMAN are just two organizations among many operating around North America. These organizations point to a common bond to their success: their focus on building community at the local level. A genuine investment in local people and the issues that affect communities allow ICNYU, IMAN, and others to gain national and even international recognition. These Muslim-based organizations believe civic engagement to be foundational to both American and Muslim identity and utilize the teachings of Islam to inspire members of their communities.
The theme of this past week’s RIS conference in Toronto clearly demonstrates the future direction of Muslims in North America, and doesn’t involve people sitting on the sidelines. Although Muslims have traditionally been more disengaged from mainstream North American politics and society, there is a new generation that has taken the opposite direction. Over 20,000 Muslims proved that this past week, and it will be interesting to see how this “movement” develops even further.
Are you a part of the “movement”? Have you become more engaged within your own community because of your faith, regardless of your spiritual or religious tradition?