During a well deserved winter break that came after an extremely busy course schedule, 2 Usul-ud-Deen students travelled to Chicago for the MAS ICNA convention. Not because they wanted to enjoy a weekend away with like-minded friends, or to benefit themselves...but because of their strong belief in the The Usul-ud-Deen program. They didn't HAVE to go, they WANTED to go. They just wanted everyone else to know about the wonderful program that they were a part of, so others could benefit from it too. Here, they provide a small glimpse of their experience.
May Allah (swt) preserve their love for their deen. Ameen.
Madina Institute participated in the 14th annual MAS-ICNA convention in Chicago, Il. We had a booth in the bazaar right next to the prayer area and for three days we met and spoke with Muslims from communities across the US. The bazaar was all in all a spectacular place to walk through. Along with the run-of-the-mill clothing and perfume stands there were booths promoting such novel items as brail Qur’an codices, siwak toothbrushes, and selections of both new and classic Arabic titles. The non-profit booths included Spanish dawah initiatives, charity organizations, and educational organizations. How entrepreneurial are the Muslims of America! All the while you can hear the auditorium’s PA system blasting the fiery speeches of today’s sought after orators. The speakers touched topics near and far... pluralism… negotiating values… raising children… foreign affairs. The discourse was ever relevant to the concerns of the audience; indeed the believer is a mirror of the believer.
In the bazaar products and ideas are sold on the same open market. And everything’s demand is determined by its utility in one’s every day life. Shoppers must be thinking: what can I take home with me that will make it easier to live Islam in America? What will fortify my iman in a place and time where it’s constantly being challenged? A new abaya or a color-coded tajweed Qur’an would be the obvious choices. How about a year to learn the fundamental sciences of your deen?
Although straightforward- it’s a heavy proposition for the casual passerby. In this market where everyone is trying to offer you something exciting, where does the serious pursuit of knowledge fit into the picture? Sometimes people think the idea through or politely decline or give you a blank stare. Most of the time they’ll ask you some questions back: What will I graduate with? Is it offered online? Is this the Madina in Saudi Arabia? The Duluth in Minnesota? By day two you get a feel for what kind of thing most people want: brand name and on-demand. And as a student of knowledge you know that’s not what this program is designed for and a thousand years of our intellectual heritage doesn’t just arrive at your doorstep overnight.
A few people showed some serious interest. Usually these were enthusiastic youth who have already tasted the sweetness of knowledge and want to pursue further studies or parents with their soon-to-graduate-high school teenager idling behind them. We spoke to some of these young people at length. After highlighting the scholars and the curriculum, my partner and I would usually mention that we too are students of this program, manning this booth during our winter break. To which they would often look surprised as if to say, ‘There are actually people who dedicate their time to do this?’ Yes, in between two degrees - in between a busy life. It’s a year of sacrifice and a lifetime investment. And it’s beautiful. Why don’t you try it after you finish school? (You might gain a fresh perspective of the cosmos!) For many youth, this prospect presents them the daunting possibility of having to learn the proofs for all the things they do or have so far neglected to do in their own lives. For the people of core - the seekers of excellence and impact, this opportunity sounds engaging. These are the ones for whom the deen matters too much to them to have it interpreted by someone else. Joining the program was something they said they would strongly consider doing next year.
The world is changing. An older gentleman once told me about how in the early nineties, when serious Islamic scholarship was rather elusive in the US, he used to travel with his family to Damascus where they would take the Islamic sciences from distinguished scholars. One of his teachers told him - over twenty years ago - that the door to knowledge would soon be closed in his part of the world. And save the few exceptions, the scholar’s portent has largely come true. The ‘back home’ many Muslim-Americans know as a place they can fall back on if they want to seriously learn the deen has changed drastically in recent years. Either the country as a whole is unstable or its institutions have become polarized in the heightened climate of intolerance. It’s a landscape that has become less and less conducive to intellectual growth and understanding Islam in a way that we can apply to the 21st century.
Many first-generation Americans draw from the religious heritage of their parents who moved from Muslim societies. But how far will that knowledge extend to the posterity of Muslims who only know the west? These concerns make imperative that the US become self-sufficient in its Islamic educational institutions. This will be so that Muslims in America do not have to go overseas to seek knowledge nor would they have to rely on the legal opinions of foreign scholars who may or may not be fully acquainted with the realities of practicing Islam in the west. With an emerging class of homegrown scholars, there could be a culturally nuanced approach to understanding Islam. Perhaps the US could even become a place where the Islamic sciences are revived- scholarship that has stagnated for several centuries now.
This all depends on the willingness for the American Muslims to make sacrifices – minimal in the big picture – and invest their time and energy in places like Madina Institute. We hope to continue stressing the importance of our institution at future conventions.