Generation Change Event Gathers Future Muslim-American Leaders
(Young American Muslims network, discuss how to improve their communities)
By M. Scott Bortot
Washington — Future Muslim-American leaders exchanged ideas for improving their communities and heard from pioneering Muslims from America and around the world at Generation Change, an event held at the State Department on September 7.
Seventy American Muslims under 30 — community organizers, filmmakers, artists and engineers — attended Generation Change as part of an evening that included an iftar with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/September/20100908062817yggep0.8886377.html ).
Farah Pandith, the United States’ special representative to Muslim communities, said the young Americans are playing important roles.
“This is a really historic moment because you are brought here to the Department of State to tell us how to do things better with your generation,” Pandith said. “You are reflective of what it means to be change agents and doers and leaders.”
At the event, five trailblazing Muslims spoke about the successes and failures that shaped who they are today.
Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of the graphic novel series THE 99 ( http://www.america.gov/st/educ-english/2009/August/20090807175620cMretroP0.8330761.html ), discussed handling challenges early in his career. After publishing his first two books in Kuwait, Al-Mutawa faced censorship on his third, but refused to make the suggested changes. As result, it went unpublished.
“And that’s the lesson. That’s the failure because that message could have gotten out if I didn’t get in the way of myself,” Al-Mutawa said. “Sometimes, you have to go back and just find that compromise.”
Herro Mustafa, special adviser to Vice President Joe Biden for the Middle East and South Asia, shared the story of her family’s arrival in America from Iraq. Mustafa, who joined the State Department in 1999, said the new generation of Muslim Americans can discuss their experiences with the world.
“Your generation is able to use the resources that you have to spread your stories and to spread our stories,” Mustafa said.
Hana Siddiqi and Kauthar Umar, co-producers of the documentary New Muslim Cool, talked about their film. New Muslim Cool follows the spiritual journey of a Puerto Rican–American convert to Islam who overcomes challenges in the post 9/11 world and discovers new connections with people from Jewish and Christian faiths.
Umar, who is also a writer and photographer, acknowledged the talent at Generation Change.
“In this room alone, we are graced with young lawmakers and entrepreneurs, community organizers, religious leaders and artists, all who make up the fabric of America and are dedicated to making positive change in our communities and our nation,” Umar said.
Ahmed Ahmed, an award-winning comedian and film producer ( http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2010/July/20100712164639kcsniggih0.3888666.html ), discussed why he chose comedy.
“The reason why I became a stand-up comedian is because I was so hungry to have my own voice and I know a lot of youth out there, Arabs and especially Muslims, feel like we don’t have a voice,” Ahmed said. “Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Don’t be afraid to be self-deprecating.”
After dividing into three groups and addressing key issues for Muslim-American youth, Generation Change attendees reconvened.
Danish Kurani, an architect in New York with the international firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, said his group focused on how to solve a crisis of identity faced by some Muslims.
“I think that one of the things to remember is that even within the Muslim community in America, or across the world, there is diversity,” Kurani said. “There is a need for pluralism and tolerance.”
The event concluded with videotaped comments from Secretary Clinton and Rashad Hussain, U.S. special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)