Last month I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion among Haroon Moghul, Wajahat Ali and Imam William Suhaib Webb – who are, in my estimation, three of America’s most engaging Muslim public intellectuals. The panel, which was hosted by Northwestern University’s Muslim Students Cultural Association, asked each of the speakers to address the question, “Does Religion Still Matter?” to a full house. Though there was some [valid, in my opinion] critique of having an all-male panel, composed of two South Asians and one Caucasian, all hailing from Generation X, the conversation was dynamic, multi-layered and profoundly critical.
The resident academic, Columbia University’s Haroon Moghul, began the evening by comparing organized religion to a fireplace that has long lost it’s ability to warm those who try to take comfort it in it’s vicinity. Al Jazeera’s Wajahat Ali, a skilled storyteller and playwright, argued that religion is a language through which people try to make meaning out of their lives. And Boston’s Imam Webb rephrased the paradigm, that people still have faith in God, but the problem is indeed religion, or man-made religious structures. He offered several challenges to mosque leaders, who often do not build institutions that minister to and prepare their congregation for the real world; rather, they try to incubate them from the pressures of the outside world. He also challenged the mainly Muslim audience to reclaim their faith from those who who would promote dogmatic interpretations of Islam and encouraged the mainly Millennial Muslim audience to engage their faith in God and become secure in their identities as American Muslims.
At his request, Imam Webb’s speech has been removed, but his answers are included in the Q&A section of the link below. I had an incredible time participating in my capacity as the moderator of this critical conversation, which covered everything from atheism to biryani and everything in between. Please listen to the audio of the panel and share your thoughts in the comments section: