The second annual Our Muslim Neighbor Conference was held on September 24th. It was organized by Faith & Culture Center (FCC), in partnership with: The Nashville Public Library, Religions for Peace, USA, Metro Human Relations Commission, Humanities Tennessee, Islamic Women’s Council, and Family of Abraham. The theme for 2016 was “The Power of Rhetoric and Imagery,” and focused on media depictions and portrayals of Muslims and Islam. The aim of the conference was to convene a group of practitioners, subject matter experts, and interested community members to build and extend a constructive conversation on the issue of media portrayals of Muslims on the national and local level.
The strategic objectives of the 2016 conference were to discuss the underlying issues that lead to negative images of Muslims and Islam, and to help determine how to respond to the underlying issues in a pragmatic way. The program was developed so that conference participants not only learned about “Islamophobia” in the media, but also were able to creatively construct and consider various ways of responding to Islamophobia in their respective institutions and communities. This was accomplished through conversations and interactions participants had with Muslim and non-Muslim keynote speakers, breakout panelists and facilitators, and other conference attendees. In addition to two national speakers who discussed the issues from their own areas of experience and expertise, small group breakouts were a key component of the conference. Moreover, attendees were encouraged to ask questions throughout the day, and to use the breaks built into the program (including a complimentary catered lunch) to interact and build community.
The program included keynote addresses by Imam Talib Shareef, of The Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Larycia Hawkins, of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Both Imam Talib and Dr. Hawkins focused on the theme of common human dignity as the starting point for interacting with, understanding, and ultimately, respecting, the “other.” As our keynotes were from different faith traditions (Muslim and Christian), the juxtaposition of their remarks was especially powerful, in that attendees were able to receive both a Muslim and non-Muslim perspective. In addition to the keynote addresses, the conference offered two time slots devoted to breakout sessions. Four breakout session options were offered, and were repeated during both the morning and afternoon time slots to ensure that conference participants were able to attend their top two choices. The breakout session topics were: Racism and Islamophobia, Civic Participation, Media Critique, and FCC’s relationship building program, A Seat at the Table.