You never know what will inspire the next generation of political leaders. Last week, Washington, D.C., was the meeting place for the first annual National Muslim American Youth Summit.
Muslim students from around the country got a firsthand look last week at how the U.S. government works.
For many, this first annual National Muslim American Youth Summit was their first exposure to the world “inside the Beltway.” That wasn't the case for Salaha Khan, a Georgetown student from Van Nuys.
Khan says she's heard it all before: Washington could be doing a better job. She says there's a negative connotation to government. "When you say government, people are like, 'Aargh!' And they just think that it’s, like, this massive body of like people who are kind of, like, abstract, out there, who are not really human, they’re kind of like, just machines, politicians, liars, you know, all that stuff."
Khan says her opinion about public servants changed when she and fellow Georgetown students lobbied Congress about Vietnamese Internet freedom and immigration reform.
She says she discovered that civil servants, "more often or not.,.. are sincere, hardworking people who really care about what they’re doing." She calls that "inspiring."
Khan joined Muslim students from around the country making the rounds of Capitol Hill as part of a youth summit organized by the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
UC Santa Barbara student Noor Aljawad admits she wasn’t expecting much from the folks inside the beltway. She says her meetings with Congressional staffers and a representative of the National Security Council just confirmed that.
"It’s superficial because you meet with politicians and you ask them these questions and even though you’re challenging with the questions you ask, their response is kind of like evading the question. And I don’t feel like it’s genuine at all and I just feel like they’re trying to not directly answer the question because they know that what they say, the truth of the matter, the fact of the matter will probably anger a lot of people."
Aljawad says her heroes are Ralph Nader and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. She says the trip to Washington solidified her career path; she wants to work with a non-governmental organization, like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.
The trip was inspirational for Marjon Momand of Rancho Palos Verdes. The UC Berkeley student says the light went on for her when she visited the people who conduct the Gallup poll and learned about a survey of American perceptions of Muslims.
"You can be a part of this change," she says. "American Muslims can be a part of the process, and can be a part of trying to convince people that, you know, 'hey, I’m a Muslim, too!' And talk to me and I’ll talk to you about my religion. And I can talk to you about this. What really stuck out with me is I need to introduce myself to people and tell them where I’m coming from."
During their D.C., visit, the Muslim students made the rounds of Congressional offices — and met with policy makers at the State, Justice, and Homeland Security departments.