The Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow

The Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow January 22, 2009

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.

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