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ISNA Reviews 2016 Strengths, Honors

CHICAGO – The first of its kind all female panel convened this Friday at the annual Islamic Society of North America or ISNA conference.  ISNA is the largest annual gathering of Muslims by the oldest Muslim umbrella organization in the US.

The theme of the panel was a review of today’s headlines by the very individuals who were making them.

The guests included director of research at The Institute of Social Policy and Understanding Dalia Mogahed, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York Linda Sarsour,  American sabre fencer and member of the United States fencing team, Ibtihaj Muhammad (also known as the first American athlete to compete at the Games in a hijab), and lastly, visiting faculty fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the university of Virginia,  Larycia Hawkins, who made headlines when Wheaton college suspended her after she wore hijab and claimed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

At the session, Dalia Mogahed initiated the discussion by citing a study that showed that this year’s hate crimes against Muslims spiked to an all time high in correlation with comments made by Presidential candidate Donald Trump, calling for a ban on Muslims.

“What these moments call upon us, is to tell the truth, because the real enemy of truth is not falsehood but apathy. No one can afford to be apathetic,” said Mogahed.

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The ISNA convention themed, “Turning Points: Navigating Challenges, Seizing Opportunities,” opened on Friday, September 2.

It brings together both Muslim and interfaith individuals, families, businesses and non-profit organizations for a full schedule of lectures, discussions, debates and entertainment.

ISNA is the largest Muslim umbrella organization in North America.

ISNA’s annual convention dates back to 1963, when the first such event was organized by the predecessor to ISNA, the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada.

Taking Podiums

Although all the women on stage that night agreed that it is a privilege to be in a position where they are being afforded a platform to speak out, Ibtihaj Muhammad admitted that for a very long time in her athletic career she was told that her job is to perform on the field and not to take a stand on political issues.

“But around the time that I qualified for the Olympics, and was thrust into being a public figure,  I made a conscious decision with a kind of nudge from my management team to stand up for the people who look like me and who face the challenges that I face each day, but don’t have a voice or a platform.”

When asked by moderator Mariam Sobh, whether she ever wished that hijab was not part of the conversation, Ibtihad responded, “I hope that one day the hijab is not the headline and focus in our community.  A lot of it has to do with acceptance and inclusion but also with our girls being confidant in who they are and believing that the path, that they are on, is a wonderful thing.”

She went on to say that the good has always outweighed the bad when it came to messaging.

“There are so many positive messages and how many communities can say that their boys are looking to the women as sources of inspiration. That is the beautiful part of the work that we are able to do,” she said.

Dalia Mogahed confirmed this by confessing that she is the proud mother of two boys who are both in fencing and they are so inspired by Ibtihaj.

“Yes our boys are drawing inspiration from these female leaders,” she affirmed.


One of the stories that made the biggest headlines last year was that of professor Hawkins who said, “as a political scientist, I take it very seriously that my profession should be relevant to being in the real world.”

She said that she teaches her students that embodying solidarity can’t just be theoretical. “It’s my Christian duty to walk a mile in solidarity with my Muslim sisters, whatever the cost” she said.

When asked by the moderator if they ever felt that they do not wish to comment or respond when the media calls upon them, Dalia Mogahed was quick to respond by saying that she never really wants to respond to the media, and she hopes that she always feels that way because.

“I think that the minute that you feel drawn to that lime light is the time that we really need to check ourselves,” she said.

Although she is very grateful for the privilege and honor to be able to represent what she referred to as “a beautiful community on the world stage,” she admitted that it can be a very heavy load at times.

One of the most important take home messages of the evening were the cautionary words of Dalia Mogahed who encouraged the audience to protect themselves from what she referred to as the “toxic waste of twitter mentions.”

“It is absolutely going to take a toll. It will impact and shape the way you see the world. It’s incredibly important that young people limit the exposure they have to those negative messages,” she said.