For me, my Muslim identity was always tied to my community. My late father, Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, a professor of sociology for 38 years, was one of the original 13 founding members of the Muslim Students' Association of the US & Canada in 1963. He later served as the first President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), in 1982, currently the largest main-stream Muslim organization in North America. The ISNA Annual Convention, this year being held during the July 4th weekend in Washington D.C., has become the single largest gathering of Muslims anywhere in the western hempisphere.
Not only did my father share stories of his travels across the country in his 1957 Buick during the 1960's, going from city to city looking for Muslims, but I also had the opportunity to visit many Muslim communities with him and my mother around the US and Canada. Together, we met, ate, and prayed with Muslim community leaders of various ethnic backgrounds, including generations of African American leaders, Indian/Pakistani, Arab, Bosnian, South East Asian and even caucasian "reverts" or non-Muslims who had converted to Islam and taken leadership roles. I have gotten to know many of our community's scholars and now aging leaders, who are more like "uncles" to me than community leaders commanding respect.
I had a front row seat in watching the formation, growth and progression of the American Muslim community in all of its shapes and forms, from the most liberal/progressive to the most ultra-orthodox. I also had a front row seat in watching the American Muslim community's setbacks, as I stood beside my father watching the horrible events of 9/11 on our television, the day after I celebrated passing the Florida Bar and obtaining my law license. I quickly realized that our American Muslim community would be soon under siege from all sides. My father, I and many other American Muslims have worked extra hard to try and rebuild our community's reputation and good name, and with the help of many other faith communities, have made significant progress, despite the daunting challenges that we still face.
Now I myself have entered the national leadership as a member of the Board of Directors of the Islamic Society of North America, following in my father's footsteps, so-to-speak. I have also taken an active role in local and national politics. I hope to share my future experiences in the growth of the American Muslim community with my wife and [so far two] children.
While I am certainly no scholar of Islam, I am an activist, dedicated to my local, national Muslim and general American community, committed to making our role as American Muslims one that provides a positive and beneficial contribution to our collective American society.
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