Photos by Zia Ahmad

The “Awakening the Islamic Spirit” conference in Sydney attracted more than one thousand young people listening to a number of panellists addressing various issues facing the community such as faith-based support for mental health, recognising and tackling homosexuality, empowerment of Muslim women and suffering of the global Ummah due to oppression. The highly successful event was held on Sunday 20 October at The Highline Venue, Bankstown organised by the Muslim Students’ Associations (MSA’s) based at various universities in NSW. 

The event was sponsored by Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, Human Appeal, MCCA, MAA and Australian Islamic College of Sydney.

The past few decades have seen a growing sense of helplessness around the problems of the Muslim Ummah abroad. Crisis after crisis, it seems that none of the efforts to help have actually born fruit.

There is a growing sense of disempowerment within Muslim societies suffering from violence, internal conflicts, authoritarian oppression and external attacks by hegemonistic world powers.

During the event, the first panel titled ” The Muslim Ummah bleeds: What can we do from here?” sought to address the plight of the Ummah overseas from right here in Australia. Bringing together experiences across different activist groups, charity organisations and diverse group of scholars, the panellists showed some direction towards helping the bleeding Ummah.

This panel was facilitated by  Mohammad Wahwah while the panellists included Mufti Yasir Nadeem, Sheikh Hassan Elsetohy, Uthman Badar and Rima Chahrouk.

Mufti Yasir Nadeem, an Islamic Scholar and Director of Darul Uloom Online based in Chicago sought the explain the plight of Umah through history by quoting the concept of Asabiyah, fragmentation of the concept of brotherhood from historian Ibn Khaldoon and its 5 point solution propounded by reformer Shah Waliullah Dehlawi.

Uthman Badar, a Sydney based community activist said that in addition to improving our iman, doing charity work, earning a living and so forth we, in the West can do a lot more to assist the global Ummah towards empowerment.

Sheikh Hassan Elsetohy, CEO of Muslim Aid Australia pointed out that this is not the only time that the Ummah is disempowered. We need to look into how the Ummah got out of this situation from a historical perspective and come up with a contemporary solution.

Rima Chahrouk, reflecting on her own family’s history and that of many Muslim migrants to the West described how they were forced to emigrate from their homeland due to conflicts and oppression and are thriving in their new homeland as first, second and third-generation migrants.

Mufti Yasir Nadeem emphasised the need for the spiritual upliftment of oneself, cooperation with those around you and awareness of the unity of the Ummah. Sheikh Hassan Elsetohy pointed out the difference between Ikhtilaf, the difference of opinion being acceptable but not Mukhalifah, opposing one another that was detrimental to the unity of the Ummah.

There was a spoken word performance by YouTube celebrity Kamal Saleh who recited a letter to the Prophet Mohammad (s) in the form of a poem on the plight of the Ummah with special reference to the Christchurch massacre.

Many Muslim youths have become alienated and struggle to find purpose in communities which do not understand them. With internal fractures and disunity within the Ummah, it seems that many of the most pressing questions get lost in the noise.

The second panel boldly addressed a hot issue entitled “Homosexuality in the Muslim Community: Have we criminalised our own? reflecting on community conversations around homosexuality in pursuit of a more mature approach.

The panellists talked about conversations around homosexuality in the Muslim community that have a tangible impact on the lives of those with same-sex attractions. With high rates of people leaving the religion, undergoing severe depression and sometimes committing suicide, there is an obvious need to reflect on the impacts of the existing approach towards homosexuality within our communities.

After the break for Dhuhur prayers in congregation and lunch, there were three more panels on other important topics facing the community.

The third panel titled, “Do those with mental illness need more Faith? Interrogating existing narratives around mental health and faith” was facilitated by Ziyad Serhan with panellists including Mufti Yasir Nadeem, Nuriddeen Knight, Dr Zuleyha Keskin and Zena Nikro.

The interaction of mental health and faith has been the subject of heated disagreement within the Muslim community. While some claim that mental illness indicates a weakness in faith, others argue it is a separate phenomenon to Islam.
A middle ground between these two positions has largely been unclear. Bringing together psychologists and religious figures, this panel digs deeper into the relationship between mental health and faith.
The fourth panel titled, “Muslim women are mistreated: Is Feminism the answer? Empowering Muslim women in a compassionate and principled way” was facilitated by Sumya Rahman with the panellists including Ustada Umm Jamaal Ud-Din, Nuriddeen Knight, Dalya Ayoub, Mona El Baba and Dr Randa Abdel-Fattah.

The past few decades have seen a growing awareness around the struggles that Muslim Women undergo. With continuous controversies around the influence of Feminism on Muslim Women, the conversation around solutions has often been hampered.

This panel raised different voices to articulate the issues facing Muslim Women and to seek a compassionate and principled way forward.

The fifth panel was titled, “Entering the matrix: Can my career be Islamic? Channelling our careers to help the Ummah while obeying the Shariah uncompromisingly” facilitated by Ramzy Alamudi with the panellists including Ustada Abu Hakeem Yusuf Tang, Tanvir Uddin, Mona El Baba and Rahaf Ahmed

Ranging from halal-haram issues at work to feelings of an overall lack of purpose, many struggle to reconcile their Islamic identity with their career goals.

This panel brought together successful Muslim professionals to shed light on what an Islamic identity can look like in the dizzying world of career.

The panellists highlighted what a successful Work-Life-Islam-Purpose balance looks like.