On August 11, 12, and 13, CAIR-DFW held its first leadership retreat, The You(th) Factor. Held at YMCA Camp Grady Spruce, a beautiful camp in north-central Texas - surrounded by lakes and mountains, the retreat’s purpose was to educate and inform young Muslim men and women about the issues faced by the Muslim community and what they can do about them.
Campers departed from CAIR-DFW’s headquarters near downtown Dallas and headed west to Camp Grady Spruce. After the two-hour bus ride, during which campers talked and formed friendships, they arrived at the camp had an amazing lunch followed by Juma led by guest speaker and Executive Director of CAIR-Florida, Hassan Shibly. Then, groups were formed and everyone went to their cabins to settle down and bond with their new friends.
After the break, the campers headed to the main hall for some icebreaker activities, which allowed everyone in attendance to get to know each other better. The campers ended the day with a beautiful scenic hike to the top of Johnston's Peak. The breathtaking views offered an opportunity for the campers to take some time for reflection and meditation while admiring the natural beauty around them.
Attendees started each morning with Fajr (morning) prayer in congregation, which allowed them to get spiritually connected and charged for the day ahead. On Saturday, after the Fajr recharge, campers had opportunities to play sports, go swimming and hang-out before breakfast. Post-breakfast, all attendees participated in a personal safety workshop, which taught basic techniques to escape a fight while harming their opponents enough to stop them from chasing them down. These were valuable and practical lessons for everyone to know, especially given the higher risk minorities have in today's political climate.
For the remainder of the morning, the attendees participated in activities such as archery, canoeing and marksmanship under beautiful blue skies. However, the sunny weather didn't last long! Soon after lunch, the skies opened and the rain began to fall, which allowed everyone to head to the main hall for an informative discussion about Islamophobia with Corey Saylor, CAIR National Director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia. Corey's discussion centered around the different causes of Islamophobia and what the youth in attendance can do to counter it. The discussion then turned to the campers to share their personal experiences of Islamophobia, what they learned from it and how to better handle such instances.
The session ended with the team leaders holding an extremely important discussion on the subject of gender interaction, explaining how one should act around the opposite sex, where to set limits, and why these limits are important.
One of the key discussions that many campers were looking forward to how to get involved in our local political system. For this Ayah Housini led a workshop on how to engage with elected officials and how to use the tools, such as calling, campaigning, protesting, to achieve goals on an individual and organizational level. Ms. Housini also spoke about her time as an intern for Senator Al Franken and the experiences she had during that time.
As highlight of any camping trip is sitting around a bonfire, roasting marshmallows and making s'mores. Unfortunately, with the rain still coming down outside, the innovative campers had to improvise and set up a small grill under the awning of the dining hall to ensure that they still had their fill of s'mores! To cap off the night, the group engaged in a series of inspiring performances, spoken word and nasheeds. The campers showed their creative sides and were able to appreciate the lost are of poetry and spoken word, which are powerful tools to communicate important and emotional topics.
The final day of the camp brought Mufti Hussain Kamani from the Qalam Institute, who gave a talk on activism and spirituality. Through the Quran and Sunnah, he showed that it is part of our duty as Muslims to speak up against injustice. He also gave practical tips on how to stay spiritually connected and charged while working as an activist; a balance that is not always easy to achieve.
As the camp came to an end, a somber mood descended upon those in attendance. Iyad Alnachef, Interim Executive Director of CAIR-DFW, spoke to the youth about CAIR DFW's latest project, the Youth Core, a program designed to engage and empower high school and college aged youth to get more involved in the political process, activist work and community organizing. This provided a renewed spirit in the attendees and something for all of them to join and look forward to.