Young Muslim-Americans from across the United States gathered in
Washington recently to speak with national political leaders about the
role they can play in shaping future American policies. As we hear in
this report written by Mohamed Elshinnawi, they heard encouraging words
from some veteran politicians about the power of civic activism.
young men and women attended the second annual Young Muslim-American
Leaders Summit-D.C., an event organized by the Muslim Public Affairs
Council, or M-PAC. The private, Washington-based public service group
has been working for the past quarter century to help American Muslims
become active in their local communities and more involved in shaping
Salam Al-Marayati, M-PAC's executive
director, says the Washington summit is designed to give young
Muslim-Americans a stronger sense of their civic identity, and to help
those with an interest in public service to envision a role for
themselves in the policy-making process.
"It opens their eyes
and many of them are inspired to this kind of work now," he says. "We
have young Muslims who are eager to join public policy and non-profit
But Al-Maravati says, "we need more Muslims in civil
society in America; we need more Muslims in government and media; that
is the only way to be part of the solution."
During the recent
Washington summit, delegates attend workshops where they learned how to
become politically active in their local communities, and how to be
agents of positive social change.
Youth meet political leaders
had a chance to speak their minds directly to some of the most
influential political leaders in Washington, D.C. On Capitol Hill,
they met with a group of lawmakers that included Democratic Senator
Diane Feinstein of California and Congressman Keith Ellison of
Minnesota, the first Muslim ever elected to the U.S. Congress.
Muslim community in America is on the move politically and we are
getting stronger every day," Ellison told the delegates. He encouraged
them to "get involved in both [presidential] campaigns and shape both
of these campaigns in a way that reflects the best interest of this
country, to make sure that every body is a part of this thing and that
no body is excluded."
Ellison urged the young Muslim-Americans
not to see themselves as victims or outcasts because of actions such as
police surveillance, airport interrogations and ethnic profiling,
which, since 9/11, have frequently targeted Arab- or Muslim-Americans.
Congressman said many Americans are concerned about threats to their
civil liberties. But to change policy, he said, you can't sit on the
sidelines or turn your backs on the policymakers. "What you need is a
full heart, you need to have some confidence in the cause you are
advocating for," he said. "What you need to do is to be able to have a
well-articulated point of view and then you go there and look those
people in the eye and you can tell them how you feel."
But, he added, "then you need to be able to listen to what those policy makers have to tell you."
Discussing civil liberties with government officials
young Muslim-American delegates got that chance during discussions they
had about civil liberties with representatives of the Departments of
Justice and Homeland Security.
Officials from Homeland Security
told the group their agency is trying to balance civil liberties with
national security concerns by setting up an oversight office for civil
Delegate Erum Ibrahim is a political science student
from Chicago, Illinois, who is interning in Washington this summer with
the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. She
said the M-PAC summit was an educational experience that she will share
with her community back in Chicago.
"This has been a great way
for us to meet people of different institutions, to meet actual
Senators and House of representatives members," Ibrahim said. "It has
been great also in terms of understanding how a lot of these
Above all, the delegate said, the summit taught her "how, as a Muslim and as an American citizen, I can get involved."
said she and the other 24 delegates found most of the government
leaders with whom they met extremely sympathetic to their concerns
about post-9/11 security policies and other issues.
Al-Shurafa, a delegate from California who works with an American
defense company on border security and video surveillance, said the
young Muslim-Americans did not always see eye-to-eye with their
political mentors, noting there had been "some tension in a few
"It is not possible to agree on everything,"
Al-Shurafa said. "However, we have agreed to disagree and still we
leave each other with respect."
Al-Shurafa said that after
taking part in the summit, he is more determined than ever to try to
persuade skeptical Muslim-Americans back home that their votes do
count, and that they are an important part of the American political
tapestry. He plans to educate Muslim-American voters about the 2008
presidential candidates' positions and to make sure all registered
Muslim voters in his community go to the polls on Election Day this