It’s that time of the year again! January is both an exciting and significant month, not only as it opens up the new year, but also as it will bring forth the highly anticipated MSA West Conference.
It is with much excitement that the MSA at UCLA will be hosting the 17th Annual Conference this year on our I cannot think of a more perfect way to begin the new year than by attending the largest Muslim student conference organized by students, for students on the west coast. The conference brings together folks from all over the state of California, (as well as even Arizona, Nevada, and Utah!) for a weekend packed with lectures, workshops, artistic expression, networking opportunities, scholar access, friendly competitions, and so much more.
The best part of the conference is the long-lasting friendships that are made through sharing stories and connecting with one another. This leads us to the annual conference theme. Each year the conference has a special theme, and this year it is ***drumroll***: “Rooted In. Rising Up. | Solidarity Through Stories”. The program will focus on our stories–those of our past, and those of our present–to learn our histories and bring attention to the different narratives that make up our community today. From the stories of the prophets (peace and blessings be upon them), to the stories of the first Muslims in this country, to the stories of our families, it is vital that we know our roots. Further, it is imperative that we remind ourselves how this deen instructs us to live: as trustees on this Earth, with the mission of spreading peace. The reality is, we are affected by the plagues of racism, gender inequality, classism, internalized Islamophobia, and sectarianism, among others. We must use the knowledge of our purpose to address such issues of injustice both within and beyond our community. Our religion entails that we be activists. We cannot shy away from activism or focus solely on spirituality, because the two are actually intertwined and cannot work without the other. The goal of this conference is to apply what Islam beautifully teaches us, and learn from one another’s stories to mobilize in building a community that counteracts injustices.
For the past few weeks, conference material has slowly begun to unfold, and the hype is only building. Will YOU take advantage of this great opportunity and witness the beauty of student unity? If you have never attended the MSA West Conference before, you are in for a treat. One of our very own MSA Bruins, Br. Omar Nazarkhan, who is currently serving on board for MSA West describes the importance of this year’s conference: “The Conference not only exposes students to the pressures and responsibilities we face as global citizens, but allows them to actively change the course of these injustices as a part of a broad student base that spans across the west coast”. Those who have been involved in conference planning along with Omar are excited to see what the weekend will bring. One of the bruins working alongside him, Sr. Ayesha Ibrahim, who is leading logistics for the conference comments, “Why am I so excited for this conference? It’s at UCLA. How can I not be? Plus there will be hundreds of Muslim students everywhere from so many different schools I will get to meet and learn from”.
What’s interesting (but also slightly unfortunate) is that the conference is what is thought of when discussing MSA West. Although this speaks to the great impact the conference has had in our community, it is also important to be aware that MSA West is much more than just the annual conference. Rather, the conference is just one of the many programs put on by MSA West–the umbrella resource organization established in 1998 by students (many of whom were UCLA Bruins!) who had a vision to unite and serve the MSAs on the west coast. Today, alhamdulillah it is a thriving resource organization for the MSAs and aids in the development of servant-leaders for our community. The current MSA West President, Br. Ahmed Abdelgany from UC Riverside comments, “We hope that MSA West will develop to be an impactful resource to MSAs across the west coast. We currently provide training programs to MSA activists, a platform for collaboration, and share resources between the campuses. We hope to help develop servant-leaders who will go back and develop their own MSAs”.
I am thrilled to see the fruition of the work put on by MSA West, and experience the conference again at UCLA under Bruin hospitality. It was last held at UCLA in 2011, and attendees still remember and talk about the conference. We are bringing it back with many new and exciting aspects this year, and pray that it will benefit many and leave a large impact on this campus. Bismillah.