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A Volunteer’s Account

As Muslim in the West, we face a unique set of challenges. Whether we’re young, old, male or female it can feel like our sense of identity is constantly under threat of erosion. Put aside for a moment the current divisive political climate, or the terrible events we hear about in the news with regrettable regularity. You know the ones I’m talking about; the tragic kind you grieve over but also make you go “Oh I really hope it wasn’t a Muslim”. You’re still left with the everyday challenges of growing up in a society that reflects some of your values about as well as a puddle of mud reflects anything. These challenges to our identities can be so small that we no longer give them a second thought. As small as:

  • turning down Friday night plans with your non-Muslim friend’s week after week,
  • hoping no one walks by while you’re praying at your not-so-secret salah corner on the 4th floor of the campus library,
  • getting caught with your feet in the sink (happens to the best of us),
  • the looks people in the hall may or may not be giving your hijab,
  • keeping your eyes planted squarely on the bus floor and off the PDA taking place in front of you,
  • or hey, even just scrolling through the comments of the wrong article.

Now these challenges aren’t inherently bad and we’ve gotten so good at dealing with them that most of the time they’ll bounce right off of us. But with the amount of times incidents like this come up, something’s bound to stick. Something will linger, just briefly, in your mind before its gone. The momentary feeling that you’re different, despite full well knowing otherwise, that maybe you don’t belong or (authu’billah) that something’s wrong with you.

Events like Generation Muslim provide an important opportunity to turn back the clock on some of that wear and tear. When I look back at the time I spent volunteering at the GenM conference, what stays with me the most is how I felt. More than once I looked around and said to myself: ‘This is Islam’. I saw Islam in the shining faces of the organizers and my fellow volunteers, in the sense of fellowship and camaraderie that we shared. I saw Islam in the incredibly knowledgeable and articulate speakers, scholars and sheikhs, and the wisdom they shared with us. The best kind of wisdom, the kind that you can put to use and makes you a better person. Islam was in the smiles and words of kindness that were shared. Islam was the generosity of all the people that contributed with their effort, time, money or simply their presence.

At Generation Muslim I saw reflected back at me all of the grace and the values of the faith that I myself hold so dear. That’s just not something we experience in our day to day lives around campus, work or even just generally. A break from the daily grind, the conference was a vacation of the best kind, for the heart and soul. By the end of what should have been an exhausting two days, I felt rejuvenated.

Next time Generation Muslim, or an opportunity like it, comes by you owe it to yourself to take a look. If you can’t volunteer (which believe me you can, since this humble, but incredibly lazy, volunteer managed to) then at least drop by for a few minutes. Just don’t be surprised if some small voice in your heart nags you into sticking around for a while. Who knows, maybe like me you’ll look around and see what I saw; the Islam which we all so desperately wish the world would see more of. Which, incidentally, is the goal that the incredible people behind Generation Muslim Conference are working towards and the reason why I’ll be back next year.

See you then InshAllah.

– Br. Umair Tariq

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