Over a period of four days in late August, the 2018 National Student Leadership Forum brought together 200 young people from across the country to Canberra in order to explore the intersection of leadership, faith and values.

The purpose was simple; to instruct and inspire young people on what it means to be a leader. The overarching theme was the exploration of how leaders across politics, business, activism and entrepreneurship navigate their faith and values in their professional lives.

I found the openness of discussing faith and spirituality to be rather refreshing in our secular times. I was inspired to discover how many leaders derive strength from their faith and values.

One leader was former Treasurer Peter Costello who used his Christian faith to frame his leadership principles. Another leader was current Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten who shared his values of fairness and equality.

During the Forum, the federal Liberal leadership spill was underway, and hence the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was unable to speak. I won’t deny how exciting it was to be right in the thick of it.

For me, the forum was life changing in many ways. I don’t mean that as a cliché. I discovered that leadership transcends its technical definition of representing others, and extends to incorporating ‘servant leadership’, which encompasses putting the concerns of others first. We had to practically implement servant leadership through community service.

We met families in Canberra and helped them with manual tasks of cleaning and gardening. It was humbling. I remember collecting some items on the floor and walking to the bin when I thought to myself “wow, this is what being a servant leader is like.” Too often we get caught up in lofty ideals when it comes to leadership and too often we forget the impact on the ground.

In my own Islamic tradition, the concept of Khidmah, which is ‘service’ in Arabic, is fundamental to leadership. I was reminded of its immense virtue at the forum. I was reminded that sometimes you have to get your hands dirty and make a meaningful difference to someone’s life, even if it means assisting them in the garden.

Getting my hands dirty!

One poignant moment was when former NSW premier Mike Baird reflected on his time in politics. In particular, he reminisced the devastating moments of the 2014 Lindt cafe siege and how he was resolved to unify society, at a time where divisions were easily exploitable for political gain. It was impressive to see his remarkable courage in the face of backlash.

My message to fellow young people is to use your faith tradition, whatever it is, to engage the world, not withdraw from it. As one of three young Muslims at the 2018 Forum, I hope to see more Muslim youth become active and participate in wider society, to ensure positive representation.

I’ve since made friends from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Each of the speakers at the Forum were motivated by a range of values and diverse faiths, guided by one potent motive, which was to serve others.

One of the themes of the forum was gratitude and being grateful for the people that support you. So I’d like to give a special acknowledgment to one of the Forum organisers Jock Cameron for his extraordinary perspective on servant leadership.

I would like to thank my sponsors for supporting my journey: Australian Lebanese Foundation (ALF), Cumberland Council, Father Patrick McInerney on behalf of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations and Dr Mehmet Ozalp from Islamic Sciences Research Academy (ISRA).