In today’s society, where Islamophobia runs rampant, the number one fear parents have for their children–besides their obvious safety–is their child’s perspective on Islam amidst the rise of xenophobic rhetoric and hate crimes against Muslims.
Since the emergence of Daesh in Iraq and Syria, there has been an increase in anti-Muslim bias, bullying, and hate crimes , also due in part to a lack of public information about the true essence of Islam.
Schools have not been immune to the chaos. Along with children being called “terrorists” or “ISIS,”–sometimes even by teachers–physical attacks, verbal threats, social isolation, and other forms of harassment have impacted schoolchildren who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.
Fortunately, there are social and education groups developed to help our children. One that stands out in particular is the Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA). Muslim Girl was able to interview Sidra Hashmi, an active member and previous vice president of MYNA National, to discuss how MYNA has impacted her life, and helped her cope with the anti-Muslim sentiment around her.
Muslim Girl: What is MYNA and how/when did you get involved?
Sidra Hashmi: MYNA is a national organization that works to unite and empower our ever growing Ummah to become the movers, shakers, and producers of today and tomorrow. MYNA has been empowering the American and Canadian youth over the past 30 years to embrace their skills, and unlock their full potential in their respective interests. We are “the next generation of Muslim activists in America.”
Alhamdulillah, my parents have been making the concerted effort to take my siblings and I to the annual ISNA Conventions since we were barely functioning human beings. MYNA can be thought of as the youth version of ISNA, and my exposure to MYNA came from these conventions. From before I can remember, I was in the babysitting section of ISNA with my three older siblings. Our name tags had “babysitting” printed under our names and I was oh so proud of my title as “Sidra Hashmi – Babysitting.” As the years went by, however, I watched as my sisters’ name tags changed to having “MYNA” under their names, as they consecutively hit 12 years of age. Soon, my brother moved up the ladder as well, and I grew ever anxious to ditch my senior status as pro-babysitting area kid, and haul butt to the MYNA section.
As it was, we happened to attend a MYNA East Zone conference when I was 11, back in 2007. I just barely made the cut for MYNA–it’s for ages 12-18–but I stuck around the MYNA booth in the bazaar long enough to be given the immense responsibility of standing on a chair in a high traffic isle, shouting to the crowds “Help support the Muslim Youth of North America! Every penny counts!” People loved the little hijab-clad sixth grader who didn’t care how wild she looked as long as the fundraising was working. I held my position as “kid who stands on a chair while fundraising,” with all the pride I had, for that entire weekend. You could have even just have called me the “fundraising chair.” At the time I was not at all sure what I was getting myself into, but I knew I loved every minute of it, and that I wanted to continue being part of this greater-than-babysitting group for as long as I could. The next convention rolled around and I received my name tag with honor, newly titled “Sidra Hashmi – MYNA.” The rest is history.
MG: How has MYNA influenced your social and student life? Has it influenced your aspirations at all?
S.H.: MYNA has played a huge role in shaping me to be the person I am today.
MYNA taught me leadership, comradery, loyalty, and courage. It instilled patience, kindness, consideration, inclusiveness, an undying love for Islam and our Ummah, and confidence in my identity as an American Muslim. MYNA exposed me to the many different colors, sizes, and faces that represent the beautiful souls who make up our Ummah, and the trials and tribulations that we all have to work together to overcome.
Throughout my years of being a member of MYNA, going from an attendee of conventions and camps to a volunteer, then a coordinator, and finally to becoming the vice president of MYNA National, I have gained indescribable experience in the social world as well as in the business world. Alhamdulillah, MYNA created a network for me that spans across North America, including Canada, and these connections are of the nearest and dearest to my heart. In every state that I visit I have a warm welcome awaiting me from the friends who have become family from our experiences together at MYNA camps, retreats, and conventions.
My student life has been greatly impacted from these experiences as well. I am constantly drawn towards others with the same goals and aspirations to better the community, while bettering ourselves as well. Throughout my entire high school career I threw myself into every leadership opportunity I could get my hands on, which I strongly believe was a direct result of being nurtured and grown through my works with MYNA. Moving on to college, I continued to pursue extracurricular activities on and off campus.
MG: What are some of the activities you’ve done with MYNA?
S.H.: MYNA hosts a number of events through the calendar year, and constantly revamps the cycle to keep up with the expansion of its reach. When I was VP back in 2013-14, our year consisted of a week long Summer National Retreat, four week long Winter Regional Camps in each established region, and a set of weekend long Education Forums and Spring Break Camps. Although the camps are definitely what I would call the heart of MYNA, including bonfires, lectures, recreation activities, all five prayers in congregation, spiritual rejuvenation, and lifelong friendships, we also have the more formal set up of the MYNA Convention every year with the ISNA Convention. Something a little different with my term was that we created an entirely new program known as the HIRA Intensive, getting our feet wet in launching a one month long summer intensive program for youth. More information can be found about all of these absolutely life-changing events on MYNA’s web page.
MG: Do you think MYNA has had a big impact on your closeness with Allah (swt)?
For me, MYNA has always been more than just a place to meet new people and make new friends, more than just an opportunity to join committees and do volunteer work. When I would go to MYNA Camp, I would go seeking the spiritual rejuvenation that I knew I could find there. Something about the MYNA experience makes it near impossible to describe to those who have not yet had the absolute blessing of being part of it. To say it’s life-changing almost doesn’t cut it. My love for Islam and all we believe in has grown in ways I cannot begin to explain, from experiences that have seemingly no correlation. MYNA opens your heart to your surroundings, to those you do not know, to those you do know, to let you love in ways you did not know existed.
Being close to Allah includes being close to His creation, and the bonds forged in MYNA have certainly brought me closer to Him. I count MYNA as one of the biggest gifts to me from Allah and every day I thank Him for blessing me with all the lessons and friendships I have gained from my days there.
I look forward to returning as an alumni and as a counselor for the camps that molded my youth in hopes that I can be a part of bringing someone else closer to Allah through the connection we form.
MG: Do you still keep in touch with your friends at MYNA, and are you still involved in some way or the other?
S.H.: Not to be redundant, but I cannot say this enough: The MYNA experience is one that is almost factually known to be near impossible to describe. The largest part of what makes it so difficult to explain is the sheer purity of the friendships you form during your time at a camp, or convention, or forum. The friends you make at camp, in particular, are ones you hold close to your heart for the rest of your life, even if you do not see them for years at a time. There is something we call PMD (Post-MYNA Depression) that hits every person who goes to a MYNA event the minute they leave, and often times, even before they leave the event. To think that you can go to a camp as a 12-18 year old, not knowing a single person beforehand, and be put into a group with 4-8 random girls your age from around the country, and walk out one week later with tears streaming down your face and tension in your very soul, and sadness for having to go back to regular life without them is amazing. This is what makes MYNA special: the fact that I can say no, I do not keep in touch with my friends from MYNA. But rather I keep in touch with the people who I hope to be raised up in Heaven with, my Jannah Squad, my MYNA Family.
There is a quote by Miriam Adeney that goes “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere.” This should probably be made into a bumper sticker for all MYNA members and alumni, because for us, truer words have never been spoken.
MG: What is the condition of Muslim youth today in America? How do you think an organization like MYNA is bridging the gap between your identity as a Muslim, and as an American?
S.H.: I believe that we, the Muslim youth, have a lot of work to do in order to carry on, revolutionize, and enhance the foundations that our forefathers have built for us as first and second generation children. Social media has been the scaffolding of the thoughts and ideas that have been formulated and exchanged by our generation. The dialogues taking place today are allowing for the progression of Muslim youth, and raising awareness on topics relevant to our collective growth.
There is no one way to solve the bigotry that Muslims around the country and world continue to face, but the first step may be to go back to the foundations of our faith, and learn from our predecessors on how to navigate this timeless issue.
Muslim youth organizations across the country provide platforms for youth to engage in wholesome environments where American principles and Muslim ideologies are meshed into one culture. The nature of this founding is critical to the continued success of the Ummah and future generations to come.
MG: How can other Muslim girls and boys get involved with MYNA and similar organizations?
S.H.: You can contact MYNA here regarding everything from local leadership retreats and seminars, civics education, outreach events, to counseling services. You can enroll your kids in the MYNA Regional camps for kids ages 12-18. Adult volunteers are also welcome!