Over 160 Muslim youth from all over Australia converged on the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra on Saturday 28 May to discuss issues close to their hearts.
The event, jointly organised by the Canberra Islamic Centre (CIC) and the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA), aimed to allow the youth themselves to “explore constructive solutions to religious and social issues,” according to the President of CIC, Azra Khan.
“A network of Muslim youth can play a very active and influential role’ added Ms Khan. “The Summit will cover a broad spectrum of issues including extremism, religious discrimination, drugs and alcohol abuse, social exclusion, unemployment and mental health.”
Appropriately subtitled “Nothing for us, without us”, Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp, President of ISRA, stressed that the summit aimed to allow “robust discussion, propose solutions, collaboration, networking and looking to the future together.”
“Muslim youth need to be empowered to deal with challenges they face in the land they call home,” A/Prof Ozalp added.
The event featured prominent speakers from the Muslim community. including long-term youth worker Shaykh Wesam Charkawi; leading Muslim youth activist, author and professional Ms Yassmin Abdel-Magied, community leader A/Prof Mehmet Ozalp, and author, activist and academic Ms Mehal Krayem.
Shaykh Wesam Charkawi, a long term youth worker, spoke about how verses from the Quran is being used in topics or preached but are not properly understood because the background of the verses is not known.
He stressed that treating ignorance as fact is a grave sin quoting the hadith that the Prophet (s) said “Those who give ruling based on ignorance will be in hellfire.” He pointed out just by reading a medical book doesn’t make you a doctor, you must learn from a proper teacher.
He concluded by making the point that technology can help but it must be from person to person contact.
Ms Mehal Krayem, a sociologist and currently co-editor of an online magazine, Sajjeling, spoke about social issues affecting Muslim youth: the challenges they face by living their lives primarily online, advising them to stay away from “anything that compromises your humanity and the preservation of your soul”.
A/Prof Mehment Ozalp spoke about social activism and posed the question what is the right way to be socially active in Australia. He emphasised the guiding characteristics of Islam – surrender and submission to Allah – that Islam is fundamentally constructive and to keep on the straight path- Siratal Mustaqeem.
Leading Muslim youth activist, author and professional, Ms Yasmin Abdul Majeed spoke about youth empowerment and inspired everyone with her life journey.
Her key message was to look at everything as an opportunity to learn and never underestimate your capacity to change the world.
She also spoke about the importance of follow-through: “Don’t give up if you fail – just keep pushing ahead.”
She recounted her own story of when she was a teenager she wanted to make a change but people wouldn’t respond to her because of her age. However, with dedication and follow-through she was able to create Youth Without Borders, an umbrella organisation that works towards positive change for young people of all backgrounds.
Since 2011, Youth Without Borders has carried out projects that have provided kids with learning and social opportunities that they would otherwise have missed out on.
The attendees then separated into groups. Each table was provided a discussion topic and attendees were told to walk around the room and sit on the table of their choice. A facilitator then joined to instigate the discussion on the topic.
The topics included: Islamic education; radicalisation; Islamophobia; mental health; and Muslim identity.
Each table was then asked to choose two people to present the key points from each discussion.
The attendees had an overwhelming positive view of the summit which bodes well as there are plans to make this an annual national youth summit.
Sourosh Cina, from Sydney, said that the youth summit “was a great initiative.” He said he came in with open expectations and was impressed with the high quality of speakers and how their topics flowed.
“The discussions were good but we suffered from the lack of time,” he added.
He suggested that the next time they could “come with certain definitions” so that there could be “more depth in the discussions.”
He hoped that this could be a stepping stone to something bigger both nationally as well as back in the communities of the attendees.
This story was written with substantial input from Azra Khan, Areeb Siddiqui, Saminah Ahmad, Ibrahim Khalil and Afzal Ahmad who were attendees at the Summit.