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US Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Leading with Compassion

PHILADELPHIA – The third annual convening of the Black Muslim Psychology Conference (BMPC), organized by the Muslim Wellness Foundation, focused on the importance of  compassionate leadership, community well-being and healing justice.

With a new larger venue, the conference hosted double the attendees as last year.

Workshops and panels centered on the BMPC theme Leading with Compassion: In Search of Healing Justice & Collective Well-Being.

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The conference is the vision of Kameelah Rashad, founder and president of the Muslim Wellness foundation. AboutIslam.net asked Rashad how it felt to see another successful year of the conference and hear so many praises about it.

US Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Leading with Compassion - About Islam

“If this is what Allah intended that I do, I am so grateful that he gave me this mission because there is nothing like seeing your people happy. It is not the kind of happiness that is so optimistic that you are oblivious of challenges.  It’s a happiness of gratitude, fulfillment and peace. If I can provide a space and mechanism for people to find peace, even for two days, it is just tremendous.”

Imam Round TableUS Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Leading with Compassion - About Islam

One of the conference’s innovative presentations was the Imam’s Roundtable, which comprised of an array of Muslim leaders across the country, including: Siraj Wahhaj (Masjid At-Taqwa – Brooklyn, NY), Shadeed Muhammad (Rawdah – Wilmington, DE), Tahir Abdulla (Community of Uthmad Dan Fodio in America – Chicago, IL) and Carlos Muhammad (Muhammad’s Mosque #6, Baltimore, MD). During the roundtable, a moderator presented case studies to the imams for their perspectives and insights.

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The audience surrounded the group of imams centered in the room. “There were two groups of 15 imams surrounded by over 175 people,” organizer Kameelah Rashad told AboutIslam. “Instead of asking the imams hypothetical questions, [we presented] case studies. They had to deliberate about each case study in front of the audience. We also had a live poll while they were deliberating, which allowed the audience and people outside the roundtable to post questions and comments.”

The audience provided imams with their feedback, especially points where the imams could broaden their perspectives about the realities of Muslim life in the United States.  Many Muslims express that leadership is frequently unapproachable and resistant to constructive criticisms. The conference’s imam roundtable offered opportunities for leaders and those under their leadership to connect.

“At times, it was a bit heated, but for the right reasons,” Ryan Williams told AboutIslam. “No one was disrespectful. It was interesting to see imams from the Sunni, Shi’i, WD, NOI and Sufi communities sit down and have a conversation on issues that affect the Black community in general.”

“I would also have to say that the younger imams really held their ground and made me hopeful for the future of our ummah. They truly represented in a way that made me tearful and proud.”

Organizers offered additional spaces for people possibly triggered by the roundtable to process their thoughts and feelings. Psychiatrist Dr. Mona Masood and psychologist Dr. Halim Naeem respectively created sessions for women and men.

BMPC Live Streams

Many participants shared live streams of the conference on social media. Representative Ilhan Omar delivered a stirring keynote speech on personal wellness for activists.

“So much of this work that we do is so personal; it takes mental draining. It can be physically exhausting; it can be mentally hurtful, and it can be very harmful. We should all step back and realize that world’s state is not dependent solely on us.”

Yusuf Jones presented on Islamic healing circles. “One of the things we lost [is] and awareness of what power, strength and healing there is in intentionally gathering together. There are so few safe spaces; there are so few sanctuaries, there are so few refuges.”

Emerging Leader Award recipient Azza Altiraifi gave an inspirational speech reflecting her commitment to disability advocacy and encouraged listeners to become more aware and supportive.

“A lot of us who go through this, who experience the world differently, we aren’t very visible. We don’t have very many spaces where we can be authentically ourselves, where people will accommodate us because they understand that even though we might process things differently; we might speak differently. I might look different from you, but fundamentally, I bring as much to the table, and I have as much value. It is important [to] all of us that we accommodate those voices.”

A Safe and Empowering SpaceUS Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Leading with Compassion - About Islam

Attendees continually expressed their appreciation for the BMPC as a safe and empowering space for black Muslims, who frequently encounter layers of discrimination and bias inside and outside of American Muslim communities.

“The conference was a beautiful experience. It was truly a safe space for black Muslims,” H. Layla Harrison told AboutIslam, “a space where what sect you adhered to did not matter, a space for our voices to be heard. As a very introverted person, I found myself letting my guard down completely. I felt like I was among friends and family while the majority of the people I had never met before.”

“We’ve been talking about the conference non-stop since we left,” said Ryan Williams.

When asked about his experience at the conference, presenter Yusuf Jones told AboutIslam, “It was a powerful event, but we must support all our efforts and strengthen all the models we have for creating and sustaining safe, healing spaces for ourselves and our people. Now the real work begins of collaborating and developing a workable, replicable, sustainable, effective and transferable peer based model.”

The Muslim Wellness Foundation is already planning the Black Muslim Psychology Conference – Homemade Love: Lessons on Intimacy, Sex, Marriage & Family scheduled for July 20-21, 2018.