Saturday, June 4, 2016

USA: For Young Ahmadiyya Muslim Men, Yosemite Retreat Strengthens Sense of Identity


There are lots of discussions about faith and morality, and there’s even a Quran recitation contest. But there’s also plenty of time for fun: hiking, biking, even rafting.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: KQED News
By Alice Daniel | June 4, 2015

There’s the Merced River running in the background and bird songs here or there. But the most compelling sound in Yosemite’s Lower Pines campground is the voice of 20-year-old Sohaib Awan.

He’s singing the Muslim call to prayer.

Awan is one of about 500 young Muslims here for the 48th Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Retreat. It’s the first time it’s ever been held on the West Coast.

One of five major aspects of Islam calls for five daily prayers — and this week, campers are laying out their prayer mats on top of pine needles, facing Mecca under towering granite cliffs.

The camp encourages brotherhood, and explores what it means to be a Muslim man in America. There are lots of discussions about faith and morality, and there’s even a Quran recitation contest. But there’s also plenty of time for fun: hiking, biking, even rafting.

Tariq Malik, 34, won this year’s Quran recitation contest. Now, he’s on to other spiritual quests, like a steep 15-mile trek up Yosemite’s popular Mist Trail and beyond. Malik thought he had broken in his new boots before this morning’s grueling effort, but maybe not.

“I’m getting blisters on my feet,” he says pointing to his boots. “But every time I get that, I go to the stream and put my feet in there. It cools it off.”

Every turn of the hike is stunning, he says, and the waterfalls are incredible.

“I get to see one of the beautiful places on the planet earth,” Malik says.

Bilal Rana is the president of the youth association.

“It’s kind of like Boy Scouts of America for Muslim youth,” says Rana. “Muslims get a strong sense of identity through this youth group.”

But, he says, youth is defined pretty liberally.

“The youth association includes adults like me,” he says, “so that the youth can lead the youth a little bit.”

The cut-off age is 40.

“With so many city kids from around the country, it’s good to just teach them some basic skills,” says Harris Zafar, the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “How do you identify a regular leaf from poison ivy? How do you start of a fire on your own?”

Ahmadiyya Muslims are persecuted in many countries because they believe the Messiah has already come. It’s why Zaryab Farooq’s family left Pakistan and came to California.

Farooq is now a student at UC Davis. This is his first time in Yosemite. He sits on a picnic bench at the lower pines campground, the sunlight streaming through a grove of trees nearby.

He says he’s never “lived” in nature before.

“It’s not like that easy!” says Farooq as he smiles broadly. He adds it takes some patience to live without basic necessities: no cell signals, no wifi.

“And it’s pretty cold. We have to wake up in the mornings for prayers at 3:45,” he says.

Sohaib Awan says being a Muslim-American is no different from any other ethnic or religious identity.

“It’s like being Caucasian-American, it’s like being Chinese-American; there should be no eyebrows raised,” he says. “We are part of the fabric, we are an integral part of this society and we love to be. I almost don’t see a distinction.”

But these days, after events like the San Bernadino shooting, advocates are raising alarm about increasing anti-Islamicprejudice.

Retreats like this one give the Muslim youth a stronger sense of their identity, says Rana.

And there are serious conversations about speaking out against ISIS and other extremist groups, says Zafar. In this political climate, you can’t just be a college student or an accountant who happens to be a Muslim. You have to speak up.

“If you don’t condemn each and every act of violence committed by lunatics and nut-jobs around the world who call themselves Muslims, if we don’t condemn them, then somehow we are tacitly accepting,” he says. “And that’s a very unique experience for Muslims that I don’t see really happening with others.”

Ahmadiyya Muslims stress non-violence and an acceptance of other religions.

“Our bread and butter is a confrontation of radical ideology,” says Harris. “It’s just part of the DNA of our community. Anything that’s an irrational ideology or irrational thought is what we speak out against.”

Muslims have a religious duty to maintain Islam, he says.

“We believe Jihad is something we wage with a pen, not with a sword,” he says. “That’s the term that the Messiah used, Jihad by the pen. We engage in a rational dialogue in order to rigorously defend Islam.”

For Tariq Malik, who travels a lot for work, speaking up means wearing a sign when he’s at airports. The sign says “I’m a Muslim, ask me anything!”

He says there have been times when his efforts have been very productive.

“People approached me and they were actually asking questions,” says Malik. “They were very excited there was this Muslim guy out there reaching people.”


Read original post here: USA: For Young Muslim Men, Yosemite Retreat Strengthens Sense of Identity


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