Twenty-five 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 national policies.
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 work."
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
They 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.
"The 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. . .
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 institutions work."
Above all, the delegate said, the summit taught her "how, as a Muslim and as an American citizen, I can get involved."
Ibrahim 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. (MORE)