Yale’s annual Ivy Muslim Conference  Encourages Connection and Spirituality

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Yale’s annual Ivy Muslim Conference Encourages Connection and Spirituality

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The conference drew attendees from across the Northeast to discuss what it means to be a Muslim student, how to connect to one’s faith in a university setting, and how to deal with current issues affecting Muslims across the globe.

This year’s annual Ivy Muslim Conference, held last week of November, brought together around 200 students to discuss issues ranging from personal religious identity to the Israel-Hamas war.

The Ivy Muslim Conference, an opportunity for Muslim students across the nation to gather and connect, took place Oct. 27 to 28 at the St. Thomas More Center. Organized by the Yale Muslim Students Association and the Chaplain’s Office, the event’s registration was open to Muslim college students from Ivies as well as nearby schools, including Quinnipiac University, the University of Connecticut, Vassar College, and Williams College.

Omer Bajwa, the director of Muslim Life in the Chaplain’s Office, and his wife Lisa Kinney-Bajwa came up with the idea for the conference, which first occurred in 2010.

Per its mission statement, the conference serves as an opportunity for having conversations “about the intellectual and spiritual opportunities as well as challenges of being Muslim today” and for building relationships with other Muslim students.

“The conference is foremost a way for students at the different schools to get to know each other and make connections,” said Kinney-Bajwa.

This year the conference included a keynote address from ​​Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans, the first scholar-in-residence at the American Learning Institute for Muslims. Evans converted to Islam in high school and has studied in America and abroad.

Evans explained that the goal of his speech at the conference was to “empower” students by providing “a framework to make a contribution to the community.”

In his speech, Evans explained how everyone, regardless of their interests and abilities, has a role to play in shaping the future of the American Muslim community.

“Not everybody will feel compelled to be a religious scholar, but everybody should feel compelled to do something in their capacity, as an expression of their individual talents, that seeks to give victory to Islam in America,” he said.

Another theme in Evan’s address was maintaining a balance between the Islamic concepts of deen and dunya — religious life and secular life.

Evans urged the audience to practice Islam “authentically” and within the “boundaries” of the religion.

“Why not work on creating modalities of being that are authentically Islamic and fit within the world you live in?” Evans asked.

In response to a student’s question about how to improve their relationship with God, Evans answered that one’s view of the relationship should be as a “covenant of love” rather than a “transactional” relationship.

Other questions centered around sacrifice and community.
Evans urged the audience to become an integral and respected part of the communities they inhabit. “One way you can ensure a greater rate of success is earning some credibility in the spaces”

where you want to create change, Evans explained. Once you “do that work to assert your allegiance to the whole” you are more empowered to create substantial change.

Some students were particularly interested in Evans’ encouragement of religious literacy, engagement with the community, and the general creation of a comfortable atmosphere where he frequently made the audience laugh.

The next event of the conference was the “Coffee House Conversations,” during which students engaged in a series of discussions over coffee. The discussions were guided by student facilitators and pre-written questions.

The Coffee House Conversations event was the brainchild of Abdul-Rehman Malik, an associate research scholar and lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Yale Divinity School. Malik has led coffee houses around the world at international conferences.

He explained to the News that his idea for the coffee house as a time for discussion of pertinent topics originated from its historical background.

“For me, the coffee house really represents, and I think in sociological history and human history the coffee house represents, this incredible eruption of human beings engaging with one another in the realm of ideas, in the realm of politics, and in the realm of literature,” Malik said. “And coffee, which came from the Muslim world, became the libation that kind of sparked this. The institution of the coffee house became the institution where so much social, political, and economic change happened.”

Per Malik, the questions this year surrounded the war between Israel and Hamas.

Malik said that the event felt especially “real” due to discussion members’ direct connections to the conflict.

“We are in a really difficult moment right now. There are students here who are Palestinian, whose families have been directly affected by what is happening in Gaza and Israel right now,” Malik said. “We know people, families, and communities on the ground.

The conversations themselves were closed to the press because, Malik explained, of the importance of maintaining the participating students’ sense of privacy and safety.

He explained additionally that these conversations serve to encourage civic participation and community organizing among Muslim students.

“One of the things that the students are discussing is how do we combat Islamophobia and antisemitism and anti-Black racism on Campus,” Malik noted. “I think to make sure that our students have an opportunity to understand these issues not as silos, but as a broader human impulse to freedom is really important.”

Another event was the “Changemakers’ Sessions,” which according to Bajwa, aimed to give students a sense of different career paths by hearing from Muslims working in a variety of fields.

The speakers this year included Saquib Lakhani, a clinical director of Yale Medicine’s Pediatric Genomics Discovery Program, Mohsin Ansari, who has had a long career in hedge fund management, and Rusha Latif, a researcher, and writer who recently authored “Tahrir’s Youth: Leaders of a Leaderless Revolution,” a book about the role of young people in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

Lisa Kinney-Bajwa noted that this kind of professional panel was a feature of the conference in its early years but was later replaced by other events as a result of student feedback. This year, she explained, “we’re going full circle and doing professional panels again.”

The first Ivy Muslim Conference took place in 2010 despite a mid-Atlantic snowstorm.