Islam

Beyond Borders: A Recap of the 2018 Muppies Conference

This year I was honored with acceptance into Muppies, an organization of over 2,500 Muslim professionals spanning 25 different countries. I started attending the Seattle chapter’s events last year and thought it would be an interesting experience to join it as my second professional association (my first one being the Association for Computing Machinery). As part of that experience, I decided to travel to Toronto to attend their annual conference. Over the past weekend, 300 Muslim professionals from 5 different countries gathered around the theme of “Beyond Borders”.

I found this topic particularly resonant for myself. Today’s world and political climate centers strongly around the concepts of nationalism and patriotism. Two topics that society deems for certain hyphenated populations inappropriate. I grew up at the intersection of American and Indonesian culture, and often my experiences were very different from not just my peers in age and geography, but also among my Muslim peers.

Most of my generational peers in the Muslim community typically were second-generation immigrants from Pakistan, Egypt, or a myriad of other cultures in the Muslim world. I found very few peers that had mixed backgrounds like my own. Add to that the experience of climbing through the social ladder and one finds a very unique (and perhaps strange) combination of experiences that didn’t quite mesh with the people around me.


It was with this mindset that I landed in Toronto for the conference. I arrived with several other like-minded professionals from industries as vast as Finance, Law, Business, Tech, and Social Work. The commonalities that bound us were our identification as being Muslims. Not in the typical theological sense all too common with these gatherings, but in the sense of a shared common identity. There was an understanding there that we all came from those same formative experiences, traumas, and values that came from this faith tradition.

This theme was reflected as the keynote sessions began. A reminder about how our faith defines us through the values of humility, service, and leadership set the tone for the conference. Specifically that we all had the capability and the blessings to be able to create change in our communities and across the world.

The biggest challenge to the Muslim community is the weaponization of information. It’s important to understand the playbook that’s being used against us and other faith-based communities.
— Haroon Ullah

However, this optimistic view had a looming shadow over it. It’s no surprise the Muslim community faces challenges throughout the world. Haroon Ullah explained to us the playbook that was being leveraged against Muslims and placed this in the scope of the current discourse on information warfare. The narrative that exists currently is not something that was manufactured and beamed into people, but rather it’s an exploitation of woes and worries of the populace to incite an agenda. One point I appreciated from this discussion is that technology is not the end-all solution. Ullah argued that the platforms need to take a stance on the content they choose to allow on their platform.

Dr. Mehmood Khan talked about how the scope of problems facing our generation are growing. Problems like these and others are ones that are tackled by leveraging our leadership and influence. That leadership doesn’t come just from your “skill” or “field” but from your experience and passion. What you learn will become irrelevant within the next three to five years. Passion transcends the borders that knowledge typically imposes. Muslims used to be one of the most influential centers of knowledge and we should seize that tradition and the values from it. Using this passion and influence is how we can address problems like world hunger, access to food and water, and climate change. Our communities are the ones that will have to face this. We have a tradition of excellence and we should strive for that and divorce ourselves from the post-colonial minority mentality we’re all too prone to.

However this leadership will not come without challenge or effort. Qaisar Shareef shared a great story of his experience starting Proctor & Gamble in Pakistan. A large part of what leading in the 21st century entails is getting out of your comfort zone, meeting people where they are, and understanding cultures and bridging connections between them. Muslims and other hyphenated minorities are in the positions to be able to make those connections and we shouldn’t completely whitewash our ability to do so.

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. Engagement is being able to pick the playlist
— Farzana Nayani

Our cultural experiences define who we are. Creating an inclusive environment is a critical part of that as Farzana Nayani explained. Leading our communities and generations through these problems involve building inclusion at every level and not just for a business case. Inclusion comes by leveraging three forces: Public pressure, employee advocacy, and leadership initiative. Each of these points have influence on how the others act in public. The recent #GoogleWalkout I and other participated in was an example of how public pressure and employee advocacy could cause pressure on leadership. A large part of this is looking at how unconscious bias affects our communities (even within our minority circles). Farzana challenged attendees to look at chairs next to them and ask themselves: Who is missing from that chair? Why are they not here? Could we have more women? More people of different genders? More Afro-Muslims? More mixed Muslims? Part of leadership is using the position you have to bring others to the table.

The challenge a lot of us faced was finding out how to apply those principles and concepts into the real world. Chris Blauvelt talked about his experience in creating LaunchGood, a crowdfunding site for Muslims. He talked about how we can solve our problems as communities and use that as a means of benefiting people around us. Islamic history was the center of the world for a long time and we need to capture that tradition and bring it back. LaunchGood, for Chris, was an example of how creating a high quality product for Muslims was a viable means to make a difference and create meaningful change. It was proof that we could move from having our own problems to being our own heroes. But it requires getting us out of the victimization mindset and moving to leverage our amazing skills and work in our communities.

Closing off the conference, Amughan Ahmad talked about what leadership really means in practice. One of the most important assets that we have as Muslims is our stories and experiences. When sharing those stories, it can help us to inspire ourselves and others through difficult times. As technology and especially Artificial Intelligence become more prevalent in our economy, the jobs of the future will require that empathy and storytelling to move the world forward. To lead in the next 50-100 years, we need servant leaders; people who put the priority of the people and organization above themselves. Leaders who give credit to people working hard to changing the status quo. Leaders who aren’t held hostage to their past and instead take it as a challenge to excel.


Over the two days and many sessions I couldn’t capture in just one post, I had three major takeaways for how moving our world beyond borders could happen.

First, we need to look at the problems that affect everyone. We will be facing some of the biggest challenges our civilization has ever faced, global problems require global effort to tackle and address them.

Second, you cannot create truly meaningful solutions unless they are meaningful for all. Inclusion and creating an environment where people can share what they bring to the table in a way that’s not just corporate talk is critical to addressing global problems.

Third, true leaders are ones that serve others. This is unfortunately a talent that seems to be lost or less visible in today’s world. Having leaders that are willing to serve the least advantaged of their population or community are the ones that will help create the solutions that carry our world forward.

What I learned during the conference was that we do have the capability to succeed, we just need to find ways to bring others on board in a way that they feel truly included in your solutions. That requires patience, service, and passion to change the world.

Open Letter to Peter Zieve - CEO of ElectroImpact, Mukilteo, WA

To: Peter Zieve <PeterZ@electroimpact.com>, "mukilteostaysafe@gmail.com"
From: Tariq Yusuf <tariq@tariqyusuf.in>
Subject: Mukilteo Postcards
Date: 14 April 2016


Hello Mr. Zieve,

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Tariq Yusuf, I am a Software Engineer at Google working in Kirkland and living in Everett. I graduated from your alma mater, the University of Washington, in 2014 with my Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and have lived in the greater Seattle area my whole life.

I saw you mentioned in the Seattle Times this evening in connection with postcards that were sent throughout the Mukilteo area regarding a Mosque that is currently being built. The mayor mentioned in the news article that you had "international and national concerns" regarding the project to the point where you have held community meetings at your company about this matter.

I understand you may have some concerns given the political climate and rhetoric about Muslims in the recent months. I wanted to offer some point of contact in case you have not had a chance to talk with any of the area Muslims about this project or the goal and purpose of mosques (with specific emphasis on those in the region).

Some background on Muslims in the area, there are roughly 100,000 Muslims living in Washington state, some 40,000 of them in the Seattle area. That community includes around 40 mosques ranging from Bellingham to Bothell and Spokane to Seattle. The first mosque in the region was founded in SeaTac in the 70s.

A Gallup poll from 2009 showed that Muslims are not only one of the most diverse religious populations in the US, but also that Muslim women are among the most highly educated demographics in the US. In addition, Muslim American men and women are equally as likely to have a college degree or some form of higher education.

Specifically within the Everett and Mukilteo areas, a majority of the Muslims in the region work for the Aerospace industry, many of them for Boeing and Crane. One of our congregants at our mosque is one of the head stress test engineers for the 787 project.

One of the main reasons why having a mosque or community center to gather at is it allows us to run our community programs like after-school tutoring, guest speakers, weekly worship services, and counseling for troubled couples or youth. Additionally, Muslims that are connected with a strong mosque community are in fact more likely to give back to their communities through volunteerism and philanthropy. This is something I have seen first hand in all the mosques in the region and beyond.

I understand that a lot of the rhetoric can be concerning especially if one has no personal experience or encounter with Muslims. Because of this, I'd like to offer you an open invite for lunch or dinner to converse about some of the questions you may have or concerns that might be worrying you. In addition to that, I'd also like to recommend some resources that will be helpful in understanding American Muslims as well as getting a better feel for the Muslim community.

  • The Seattle Islamic Speakers Bureau provides workshops and talks about Muslims for people who have little to no familiarity with Islam.
  • The local Council on American Islamic Relations has lots of information on how to contact local mosques and community members to better understand how Muslims live in the US and specifically Seattle.
  • Finally, the Muslim Association of Puget Sound is one of the major pillars of the Seattle area community and definitely a good place to talk to if you want to see what a mosque is like. This is the mosque and community center that's an example for all the others in the region.

If you ever want to ask any questions about the Muslims community or want to know more about us, you can email me directly at tariq@tariqyusuf.in. If I can't answer your question, I can most certainly direct you to those who can.

I hope your family is well and you have a wonderful day.

Your neighbor in peace,
Tariq Yusuf
Software Engineer, Google
Everett, WA