The Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow

Those of you who know me well know I’m not the most modest person in the world.

For those of you who don’t know me very well: I’m not the most modest person in the world.

So when I tell you I’ve just spent the past couple of days feeling very, very small and tiny, you’ll know that whatever made me feel that way must have been phenomenal.

Well, it wasn’t something. More like 300 someones.

I was invited to join the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow (MLT) conference in Doha, Qatar, which brought together over 300 of the most incredible Muslims I’ve ever had the honor of meeting from over 75 countries to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing Muslims today.

Image from the conference website.

Image from the conference website.

(There has been lots of press about the conference. It was organized by the New York-based American Society for Muslim Advancement, the Cordoba Initiative, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and sponsored by the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue).

There is absolutely no way I can possibly convey how brilliant, dynamic and articulate each and every person I met was. Suffice to say, I was walking around meeting people and then going “Oh my God! I was talking to who?!” when I looked them up in the biography books we were given (And yes, I do realize how nerdy and stalk-ery that sounds).

Case in point: Talking to an MLT while we were both in the bathroom waiting for a stall to open up and finding out she was not only Malcom X’s daughter, but an author, lecturer and activist. Sitting next to another MLT on the bus and finding out it was Debbie Al-Montaser, principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Joking at the buffet line with another MLT who turned out to be the editor of Emel and a participant in the Doha Debate which we watched later that night. Talking with another MLT for an hour before finding out she was the author of Spirit 21, a blog I check at least every couple of days. Speaking to a Turkish woman who called herself a journalist only to find out she was the producer of Behind Walls, a documentary of women’s relationship with Islam filmed in 13 different countries.

And so on and so forth.

As you can see from the examples I’ve given, there were some truly incredible and fantastic women in attendance, who made up almost half the participants and half the panelists. Which, I’ll have to admit, almost made me jump for joy. (You can read the biographies of all the MLTs here). Women who were all leaders in their own right, and each and every one of them was truly unique, highlighting the diversity of Muslim women. There were veiled and unveiled women, women in suits and women in abayas, women from the U.S. and women from South Africa, women who were rappers and women who were judges. The MLTs were all of different nationalities, ideologies, work sectors and basically different in every which way. As the MLT website stated:

“An Italian imam, a Saudi fashion designer, an Iranian rapper, a Pakistani madrasa reformer, an American blogger, and a Dutch lawyer are among the participants attending the MLT conference.”

The most colorful bag of M&Ms you can imagine. Kudos to the organizers for managing to bring together all these incredible people from every corner of the world under one roof.

The one thing they all have in common? A faith that is threaded through their lives and actions. Oh, and an almost insane ability of multitasking. Ask anyone what they ‘did’ and you’d get an answer that sounded like this:

“In the morning I’m a lecturer at university. Then in the afternoon I go work at the NGO I founded. In the evening I give khutbas at the mosque where I’m an imam, and at night I work on my book, which is a more in-depth look at the topic I tackled in my PhD.”

Truly, the MLT conference illustrated not only the diversity but the sheer braininess of the ‘creme’ of the Muslim community. Civic leaders, religious leaders, opinion leaders and every kind of leader from every kind of field was represented. And it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies: there were differences of opinion, healthy and not-so-healthy debates and many intense and heated discussions. All serving to illustrate that Muslims are not, as many would believe, a monolithic entity.

If the entire conference was nothing except us sitting together and talking, then I would have judged it a tremendous success. As it was, I’ve come out of this conference truly optimistic and invigorated, and met a lot of people I would have never gotten the chance to meet in a million years.

And I ate a lot of good hummus while in Qatar. :)

The Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow (MLT) is a global program, social network, and grassroots movement meant to cultivate the next generation of young Muslim leaders. By empowering young, dynamic Muslim leaders from all walks of life, the MLT program creates a platform to promote their message and develop the tools needed to galvanize lasting social change worldwide. The MLT program generates a free and open public space where this community can vigorously debate ideas, share best practices, and help one another become better leaders. With ethnic, religious and social diversity as key strengths, the MLTs are stepping up as spokespersons and activists for peace and tolerance around our globe today. MLT is the largest global program creating a new generation of Muslim civic leadership.

  • http://www.islamicate.com islamoyankee

    Aha! You are the one from MMW. I saw the flyers at the Marketplace of Ideas and kept asking who was here, but no one seemed to know. Glad to know where you blog now.

    The real trick is leveraging the network. We’ve had a head start in the US, and I can’t begin to tell you how much it is helped all of us. As Brother Jihad said, none of us is sufficient by ourselves.

    The other interesting thing to me is how many of us are also lay religious leaders, in addition to all the other things we do. It’s not a this or that, but a this and that.

  • laila

    Ethar, you’re so lucky that you experienced one of the best Muslim conference that has come to pass. I heard it was beyond phenomenal! The fact that women made up almost half the participants and half the panelists is astonishing and really exceptional in our community (in particularly to being half the members of a panel). My sister and I plan to go next year Inshallah! It was beyond doubt brilliant.

    Ethar, one thing that disappointed me from the MTL conference was the opinion poll with a question “are the Islamic values in conflict with western values?” 61 percent said “yes” while the remaining 39 percent said “no”.”

    This question upset and offended me because like Krista wrote “For the millionth time, Muslim and America are NOT mutually exclusive”. It’s sad when it’s Muslims who questions Islam as an alien/foreign entity in America, when we have millions of North American Muslims and about half of us are indigenous. Besides, Western values are cultural; therefore they should have equally asked “are Islamic values in conflict with Saudi Arabian values, or Pakistani values or Iranian values etc?” (Like in some places the status of women or abuse of migrant domestic workers, or pathetic solutions to sexual harassment, lack of justice etc, as if this is in line with Islam). The point is every community faces problems.

    This poll in MTL annoyed me but at least it was hotly debated and discussed with great diversity. (I like what some others said about this question
    http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/Display_news.asp?section=Local_News&subsection=Qatar+News&month=January2009&file=Local_News2009011821921.xml )

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  • Rayhana

    Which “western” values were viewed as “in conflict” with Islamic ones? Freedom of speech? Freedom of conscience? Freedom to worship without fear? Equal protection for all people under a single system of law? It would help to know what was at issue, because some folks believe that things like sexual license and immodest dress are “values.”

    And now I want hummus.

  • maria e.

    Yeah Ethar!! So great to meet you in Doha. ME.

  • Mopo

    So sad that you choose to unite only with people of your own religion. It would be so much better to have something like “young leaders of tomorrow” that would be more inclusive with a greater degree of diverse points of view.

  • http://www.islamicate.com islamoyankee

    So sad you choose to make assumptions without information. We actually had several people from other Abrahamic traditions there as observers.

    I wonder, also, if you’d make a comment on a meeting of neurosurgeons that it is a shame they don’t have science fiction authors there to get more diverse points of view.

  • http://nill Abubakar Abdulrasheed

    The recent MLT global conference held in doha-Qatar was a great break through to muslims in the globe,it give challenges that makes one to dialogue with other faith,wherever,whenever and also create ideas,inspiration and innovations on issue concerning the humanity!it also discuss peaceful co-existence,mutual respect and acceptance of others irrespective of thier belief or faith it was an-achievement-ALHAMDULILLAH.

  • Magdy Amin

    it was a very nice initiative … indeed .
    Daisy is a wonderful person…

    keep the good work Ethar !!!

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