More than 100 scholars of Islamic studies from around the country gathered at Yale this weekend for the eighth annual Critical Islamic Reflections Conference, “Community leadership in American Islam.”
Over the course of Saturday’s conference, participants examined the institutions and leaders of America’s Muslim community, and how those leaders could better engage with the next generation of American Muslims. Featuring panels and roundtable discussions, this year’s conference brought together University students and members of New Haven’s Muslim community to brainstorm how to increase political and social activism within America’s Muslim community, particularly among its youth.
“I think the Islamic value of taking action, of service, coincides with the notion of citizenship in America,” co-organizer Rahim Sayani ’12 said.
Scholars presented papers on the “Rise of National American Muslim educational Institutions,” the “American Muslim Community’s ‘Obama’ Problem” and “Developing Today’s Leaders in an Urban Setting.” Panelists also discussed what it means to be a leader within the Islamic tradition and the responsibilities that leadership roles entail.
Omar Bajwa, the coordinator of Muslim life at the University Chaplain’s Office, said he hopes the conference serves not only as an academic platform for scholars to discuss their papers, but also as a means of creating dialogue with members of local mosques.
“It is a Yale tradition to put together a graduate student conference with graduate student focus. [The theme] was inspired by the death of Imman W.D. Mohammed,” said Bajwa, referencing the son of the founder of the nation of Islam.
Edward Curtis, assistant professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, delivered a keynote speech breaking down what Curtis said were misperceptions about America’s Muslim community in the 1920s. Although many believe the community was then virtually nonexistent, Curtis said that community was lively, diverse and characterized by ethnic and international relationships.
Curtis also called on the leaders of America’s Muslim community to pay greater attention to the events of history.
“Our sense of history determines our physical spaces and they are the things that we commemorate,” Curtis said. “In order to do self-criticism, one needs to unearth what has been buried.”
Curtis said he was interested by the strength of self-criticism in America’s Muslim community. That capacity, Curtis said, is even more impressive in light of the discrimination some Muslims faced in the United States following the events of Sept. 11.
Co-organizer Faizan Diwan ’10 said even though Yale has given much support to Muslim life, he still feels like an outsider at times.
“I think in general Yale’s curriculum is very geared towards American and European culture,” he said. “More course offering is needed to make it more international.”
Bajwa said he thinks positively of Muslim life at Yale, calling it “active, robust and engaging.”
“We try to have a healthy balance between the intellectual approach and the community approach,” he said.
Themes from past conferences include “Islamic Law: Questions of Authority and Change,” “Islamic Thought and Modern Science: Re-conceptualizing the Debate,” and “Hermeneutics and the Future of Islam in America.”