The inaugural MSA National Leadership Retreat took place from June 2nd through 7th in Henryville, Pennsylvania nestled in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. Students from around the nation, including 26 universities and 4 regions, gathered for six days filled with learning, networking, and developing to become stronger Muslim leaders. The theme for the retreat was: “Many students, Many campuses: One Voice”. The program provided critical platforms that:
● Provided personal development opportunities
● Supported national networking
● Engaged in discussions to share best practices, challenges, and solutions
● Inspired MSA activists with a new vision, mission, and leadership of MSA National
Day 1: The retreat kicked off with an inspiring talk by Dr. Altaf Husain speaking on the vital importance of time management. He emphasized the value of spending our time engaging in good acts, understanding our roles and responsibilities as leaders, and encouraging consistent good attitudes. After a lively discussion, it was time for lights out. The first night was very cold as it had been drizzling non-stop the whole day, but we were able to make it through the night and the rest of the warmer evenings.
Day 2: Despite the cold cabin situation, we were up and ready for the first session of the day. Ahmed Kaki from the Texas MSA Lone Star Council led the Action Plan discussion where he guided us through the process of planning events and initiatives focused solely on the people we serve in order to gain the most from our time in office. Students were able to present and share ideas and events that work nicely at their respective institutions. Dalia Mogahed then joined us via Skype in a captivating discussion on the Prophet Characteristics of Leadership by giving us 10 tangible points. This was the first time we had a speaker join us virtually in this capacity and it was very successful.
After a short break for lunch and sometime in the sun, we prepared ourselves to welcome and engage the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson. After some brief introductions, Jeh Johnson shared some stories of his life and explained his responsibilities and duties. Jeh Johnson spoke about challenges in the Muslim community and engaged with us on how to work towards a brighter future. We then shared some of our concerns specifically around the countering violent extremism (CVE) program. The discussion ended on Jeh Johnson offering to work with a small group of Muslim students in order to gain their input and perspectives on various issues. This was truly a tremendous step for MSAs and we hope Jeh Johnson will join us again next year after working more closely with the Muslim students. Following dinner, we gathered around the campfire and discussed the various political issues plaguing the Muslim community and actions we could take together to correct them.
Day 3: Corey Saylor from CAIR joined us the next morning for an enlightening discussion around Islamophobia and Media Relations. He shared key tips on how to handle situations on campus related to Islamophobia. He then coached us on dealing with the media, knowing how to answer questions, and the importance of speaking points. After some humbling role playing we stopped for lunch.
Shaykh Yahya Rhodus then joined us outside as he spoke on some of the spiritual challenges faced by leaders. He encouraged us to be knowledgeable leaders and to spend our time learning and improving ourselves.
Later on, Dr. Jawad encouraged students to think about what they would like to see from MSA National in order to improve their respective MSAs. Students wrote each idea out on a sticky note and posted them onto the wall.
We ended the night with s’mores by the bonfire with a discussion lead by Dr. Jawad Shah about the beauty of our deen.
Day 4: Dr. Jawad Shah started off our morning with an insightful discussion on social justice from an Islamic perspective. We then had some of the regional MSAs present the amazing and unique work they are doing in each of their regions. Jummah prayer was led by Br. Osama Eisa who invoked us to take a critical, honest inventory of our spiritual weaknesses and strive for improvements. After learning more about one another through the icebreaker “two truths and a lie” and enjoying some recreational time at the volleyball pit, Br. Osama led us into another discussion on embodying a positive, welcoming, and merciful leader. Br. Osama explained and encouraged in-discriminatory outreach and community building. We then ended the night with an in-depth discussion on gender interactions, understanding the limits and the expectations on working with the opposite gender.
Day 5: Our last full day together started off with an energetic discussion by Br. Osama Eisa, who explained how Islam is practiced in different ways and that MSA members need to be cognizant of this phenomenon. Sr. Shine Hawramani then led an interactive discussion on effective dawah strategies. After lunch, we came back together and discussed the many inspiring MSA National initiatives, encouraging everyone to step up and benefit. Everyone then spent their time preparing for the very imaginative entertainment night. Sister Lena taught us some self defence moves, the girls put on a short play entitled “The Dysfuctional MSA”, brother Reies taught us “Activism 101”, brother Azraf sang us a few songs, and we enjoyed some high quality films made by talented MSA members. It was an amazing evening of laughing, smiling, and bonding.
Day 6: We packed up and said our farewells. We look forward to hosting more of you next year inshaAllah!