Notes from the United for Change Conference

Okay, so one week ago yesterday, I had the honor of attending my first ever United For Change conference. It was the third conference of its kind and the theme this year was “United We Stand: One Nation, One Destiny”. Sporting scholars such as Karen Armstrong, Anya Cordell, Dr. John Esposito, Altaf Hussein, Dr. Merve Kavakci, Dr. Sherman Jackson, Imam Mohammed Magid, Shaykh Muhammad Ninowy, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, Imam Sayed Hasan Qazwini, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, and its organizing founder/chairman Imam Zaid Shakir, the light of knowledge surrounded all those that attended.

As an attendee, I felt that this conference was right on time. There’s a lot of change happening in our world and a lot more change that needs to be made if its going to be a world that actual people can live in. In the wake of an increasingly mafia-esque Islamophobic and xenophobic world, conferences like this are important to stop the production of inhumanely inhumanly humans, the most catastrophic epidemic of our times.  People are so far away from the natural balance in which they were made (fitra), that the combined efforts of the world are needed. I just wish that more people attended. And though geared towards a Muslim majority audience, in some ways, I wish that more people of other faiths attended. There was an interfaith and intrafaith slant to the discussion focusing on how Muslims could contribute to the betterment of the world. People of all faiths should have been standing in the back for this important conversation, but instead, there were quite a few empty chairs.

At the heart of the discussions were the concepts of Mercy, Compassion, Action/Activism, Truth, and Unity. These seem like such small words but they are such big concepts (thus the caps!), and they can be found in the examples of the lives of ordinary people to the lives of the prophets (peace be upon them all), to the Noble Characteristics of The Ever-Living One. To sum it up, the conference was deep, and this isn’t to be confused with my usual exaggerations. I’m still digesting my notes. The knowledge I received was so vast that the best thing I can do is tell you a few particular quotes that stuck out to me and give you the link to my twitter feed  which was constantly being updated throughout the conference. If I tried to summarize all of my notes, you’d probably stop reading the blog for the sheer effort, time, and patience it would require to get through them :). But I must tell you that I particularly enjoyed the speeches of Dr. Tariq Ramadan (“Speaking Truth and Building Power”), Imam Siraj Wahhaj (“Things Ain’t Good in the’ Hood), and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (“United We Stand: One Destiny”). They really penetrated the soul. And were a welcome departure from the general 9/11 rhetoric that surrounded this weekend.

QUOTES (Note: I have put the word “paraphrased” for quotes that I could not get completely word for word):

“Spiritually void people terrorize. Islam doesn’t support evil in any format whatsoever.” Dr. Altaf Husain

“Everything begins with Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim [In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful]. You see? Mercy flows throughout Islam in everything we do.” [paraphrased] Imam Zaid Shakir

“No matter how we define it, heroism can’t be separated from mercy.” Imam Zaid Shakir

“Mercy and sacrifice go hand in hand. You need the sacrifice element to be a hero in every definition.” [paraphrased] Imam Zaid Shakir

“Good can conquer evil. Good and evil are not equal. Respond to evil with something better.” [paraphrased] Imam Zaid Shakir

“Let’s not reduce the seerah to legends of the past–this is what we need to look to for our future.” Hadia Mubarak

“What’s going on right now isn’t a Muslim problem; it’s a human problem.” Anya Cordell

“Surah Rahman begins with one verse that’s one word: Ar-Rahman (The Most Merciful without Limit)…if you are far away from compassion, you are far away from the Qu’ran.” Shaykh Muhammad Ninowy

“When people become wahideen (people of tawhid, united as one), the issues disappear. We need to have a tawhidic perspective.” [paraphrased] Imam Mohammed Magid

“The most difficult sunnah is to forgive those who have wronged us.” Imam Mohammed Magid

“The Prophet Yusuf (as), Henry David Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were all put in jail…and they were all men of principles.” [paraphrased] Imam Siraj Wahhaj

“People confuse dissent with disloyalty–the two aren’t the same.” [paraphrased] Imam Siraj Wahhaj

“We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union.” Imam Siraj Wahhaj

“Everyone looks down on poor people, but Allah and His Messenger elevated poor people.” Imam Siraj Wahhaj

“An imam is a shepherd accountable for his flock. So is the husband, father, mother, and president. There’s no excuse for anyone. We are all accountable.” [paraphrased] Imam Siraj Wahhaj

“If you are only good to those around you, then what good are you?” Shaykh Muhammad Ninowy

“We don’t need to explain Islam to the non-Muslims; we need to internalize it ourselves.” Shaykh Muhammad Ninowy

“If hate is the problem, then how can hate be the solution?” Anya Cordell

In the Bible, Jesus (pbuh) is recorded as saying, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” [Hosea 4:6]. And both the prophets Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) were persecuted by their people and made the same du’a for them, “Forgive my people for they do not know.” [paraphrased] Imam Siraj Wahhaj

“As people of truth, we must point out the truth wherever it may be.” [paraphrased] Dr. Yasir Qadhi

“Islam dictates that I’m going to respond to your very worst with my very best.” Dr. Yasir Qadhi

“The Prophet (saws) didn’t try to find the Light–he became the very light to those around him.” Dr. Yasir Qadhi

“Our religion tells us to be moral even if the whole world around us becomes immoral” [paraphrased] Dr. Yasir Qadhi

Quoting the Qu’ran, “Allah won’t change a condition of a people until they change the condition of themselves.” Karen Armstrong

“The Greek/Latin root of compassion is “to endure with”. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a change.” [paraphrased] Karen Armstrong

“Change is a jihad, a struggle.” Karen Armstrong

“It’s human greed and human envy that makes wars, but they are often blamed on religion.” Karen Armstrong

“Compassion doesn’t mean pity–feeling sorry for people. Compassion is not weak, it’s strong.” [paraphrased] Karen Armstrong

“When we speak out, we must think if we’ll do more harm than good. Are we doing it to injure or improve the situation?” [paraphrased] Karen Armstrong

“We need to reclaim the transcendent side of our religion. […] When you crate a black and white world, you create us vs. them.” Dr. John Esposito

“Never divorce compassion from courage.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“I don’t belong to a camp–I belong to principles.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

Quoting a hadith, “The way you help your brother and sister when they are doing wrong is to prevent them from doing wrong.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“Anti-Semitism is anti-Islamic.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“Dare to be free.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“We need to get rid of shirk al akhfi–the hidden/lesser shirk. […] We need to use our brains, not ‘think by proxy’, relying on whatever the shuyukh say. After all we worship Allah, not shuyukh.” [paraphrased] Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“Sharia bills are creating an atmosphere of Islamophobia. It doesn’t matter to them if the bills are passed or not; that’s not the point or their goal. It’s to get people to hate the Muslims.” [paraphrased] Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“Stop worshipping quantity, worship quality.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“With knowledge comes peace.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“What the USA needs is reconciliation between principles/preached values and behaviors.” Dr. Tariq Ramadan

“It’s important to respect the feelings of people if we are going to communicate with them.” Dr. Sherman Jackson

“We don’t live in perfect countries or societies, but part of our charge is to make those societies better.” Dr. Sherman Jackson

“Why should you accept other’s definitions of what an American is? America is a multicultural, multiracial, etc. society. No one definition has the right to impose itself on the rest of us. America is not a monolith. Anyone trying to control the makeup of America is acting against America.” [paraphrased] Dr. Sherman Jackson

“Islam has always been respectful and engaging with other cultures–Islam connects based on values. This is why Islam was able to go all over the world and indigenize itself. This is the history of Islam.” [paraphrased] Dr. Sherman Jackson

“A lot of Muslim Americans are suffering from a double consciousness–a false dichotomy: half in Islam, half in America. Who told you couldn’t be Muslim and American?” Dr. Sherman Jackson

“We can’t be Muslim Americans without principles. We can’t be unprincipled Muslim Americans.” Dr. Sherman Jackson

“America is not just the land of the free, it’s the home of the brave.” Dr. Sherman Jackson

“There are other options on the table besides the us vs. them dichotomy.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Presenting a common Muslim and Christian question, “Where are you going? In both body and soul?” [Answer for soul is to Eternal Bliss (Heaven) or that other place (i.e. Hell, but he used a fancy term for it that started with a D…] Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“The time we’re in is the best of times and the worst of times.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“The point of [the Preamble’s statement] ‘a more perfect union’ is that we are a work in progress.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Quoting his mother, “A mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“If something bothers you, you have to ask yourself why. It might be because you haven’t dealt with it within yourself yet.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“It wasn’t too long ago that you used to be able to speak to the leaders all over the world–sit with them and take them to account. It wasn’t too long ago that you used to be able to wave your family off at the airport. It also wasn’t too long ago that there was racial segregation.” [paraphrased] Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“We have people in power now in delusional states.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“We aren’t beyond racism. Ask the Tea Party or the White Supremacists.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“America is in danger of becoming a mafia-don.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“We are part of the intellectual tradition and history of America, Europe, and the world–we are part of the family. We are a quarter of the world and we aren’t going anywhere.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Referring to America’s political-military complex, “Some people never serve this country, they serve themselves.” Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

And those weren’t even all my notes. You want to be there next year, don’t you? I hope you are. The basic theme running throughout the program is that we as people–not as just one faith group–need to connect on universal values to make this world a better place. We need to unite to make change. If we don’t, we’ve already seen how situations of bigotry play out–Holocaust, Trail of Tears, Slavery and Segregation, Japanese Internment Camps, Rwanda, to name a few…you know the list is exhaustive. Do we really need to feel the effects of the poison of anarchy, tyranny, terrorism, madness, and genocide again in this world? The task for us now is to educate ourselves and act upon that education for knowledge without action is not wisdom, but mere stupidity! Imam Siraj Wahhaj mentioned books and authors that are dear to my heart and great reads for you to include in your home library: Thoreau (especially “Civil Disobedience”), Emerson, Martin Luther King, and Fareed Zakaria. Speaking of which…What I would like to see the scholars collectively do, especially Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, and Imam Zaid Shakir is put together a critical reading list for people of concern. If you can get your hands on the program, there is an Action Plan for Conference Attendees that has some recommended books, but there are so many more that were mentioned and could have been mentioned for people of concern to read…I, myself, am presently trying to start an online book club/reading group on GoodReads and/or PeacexPeace that includes books for thinking people. Any takers? Check my profile for updates on the book club creation process (see links above). Until then, if you want to get in on the action now, start with Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion and Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s article, “Daring to be Free.”

With prayers for knowledge, change, compassion, and peace…

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8 thoughts on “Notes from the United for Change Conference

  1. You noted many of the speakers’ points that stood out to me as well. I really enjoyed that day as a day of learning. I am left wondering how to to move from being inspired by the words to implementing the principles in my life in a meaningful way. I did attend the Unity Walk the next day. I really took to heart Dr. Cordell’s suggestion that true bridges are built towards unity when we have people from other (faith) communities in our living rooms. I went and signed the Charter for Compassion as well, but am left wondering how to act on my commitment to compassion. Baby steps, I guess.

    • Thanks so much for starting the conversation Fatima! I’m at an odds, too. When I wrote that I wished more people of other faiths were there, I made a note to myself that I didn’t invite anyone from another faith tradition. So how can I mobilize change if I don’t take the initiative to make it? You’re right about those baby steps…it seems that any step at all…an action towards unity is an action enabling change. Doesn’t the saying go, change begins with one? While I think it’ll take me a while before I have people of other faith communities in my living room on a regular basis, I wouldn’t mind sharing their company regularly and virtually through a reading group/book club. That’s one step towards change…I mostly use my laptop in the living room….If I can get it started, would you join?

    • Thank you Myron for joining in on the conversation! The speakers were AWESOME–I think you would have loved to be there. I actually thought of you when Anya Cordell spoke, a Jewish activist working to stop hate, bias, prejudice, racism, and all those other evil isms. She said “The hardest bridge to cross is the threshold of someone else’s front door” and it reminded me of how open your front door (and phone) was to us as we journeyed across your part of the world. She also said that Jews and Muslims have many natural alliances and issues in this country (who knew?! 😉 ) and that since both our religions are law-based, Jews can fight for sharia courts for Muslims to use here, just like Halakha courts are in effect here. Imam Qazwini further added “attacking one religion is attacking all religion”, and the image I am left with most from this conference is that of a story Anya Cordell told…that we are moving towards a future where the new Anne Frank will be a girl hiding in someone’s attic wearing a headscarf and reciting Qur’an.

  2. It was a great pleasure to attend and speak at the conference, and another pleasure to read this review. It seems the author is a most accomplished writer, as well, and I look forward to discovering more. Here is a piece of mine, currently at the Washington Post site, with a short intro. I hope you enjoy, comment, and share on your own sites and pages:

    10 YEARS AGO, YESTERDAY, a wonderful innocent man was murdered in a post 9/11 hate killing spree. Here is what I would say to try to make this world A SAFER PLACE for us all, along with my piece, “Where the Anti-Muslim Path Leads”. Anya Cordell, Recipient: Spirit of Anne Frank Award http://www.Appearance-ism.com

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/hate-speech-against-muslims-incites-violence/2011/10/03/gIQA8QmqIL_blog.html

    • Dear Anya, thank you so much for visiting and commenting on my blog post–I’m so happy you enjoyed my recap of the conference…my baby steps in promoting change and sharing valuable, beneficial information with those who could not be there.

      Thank you also for the link to your newest article–I especially appreciated how you remember the forgotten–those who were victim to hate post 9/11…Those Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians killed out of ignorance. I also loved your likening of traditional Muslim attire to that of notable Christians, and the proposed alliance of those with spiritually-activated air conditioners and heaters under their clothes. 🙂 What beautiful, creative metaphors you resounded for us to see out similarities rather than focusing on the differences.

      Your work has inspired me to read Anne Frank’s diary again which I read while in grade/middle school. I’m in need of a reawakening reread with my adult mind. Also, after reading your short bio, I noticed that you participated in the Parliament of the World’s Religions…I too was a participant when it was held in Barcelona, Spain! Which reminds me of how active I was in interfaith work then and begs me to question what I am doing now…

      Do you think you could link us to some more of your tips of getting people “across the threshold”? Or perhaps you’ll want to be a part of our online book club for people of concern? Or at least recommend some more books? (You can see what I have on my bookshelf if you click the Goodreads link).

      I sure do hope our paths cross again in this life Anya and that we can all glean from your peaceful existence as a result.

    • As-salaamu alaikum dear sis, subscribe and you’ll always get my notes…I always post my notes from notable events I go to inshAllah….:)…just trying to spread the knowledge and develop some wisdom. Happy this was of benefit to you!

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