Bright Days on the Dark Continent
Uniting non-governmental organizations from around the world, the Islamic Youth Forum came to a close in Khartoum, Sudan. The week-long event is the seventh youth congress of young Muslims. Russia was represented by activists and volunteers of the “Solidarnost” foundation – Adelina Faizullina, Tatarstan, Naida Tonaeva and Abdulazam Kebedov, Dagestan. This week’s main agenda was the motto “Uniting Muslims through NGOs”.
Sunrays in every heart
Khartoum welcomed us with warm sunshine and friendly smiles. 23 degrees above zero – that is what African winter is like. Nevertheless, the locals openly maintain that the weather is “chilly”.
Mr. Bahaa, one of the forum coordinators and participants, meets us at the airport. As soon as he sees us, a smile spreads over his face. He courteously picks up our luggage and seems sincerely interested in how our flight went. The conversation gradually switches to climate, and we tell Bahaa that Sudanese winter is like Russian summer for us. Bahaa laughs. “Welcome to Africa!”, he responds heartily.
Warmth, a typical feature of all African countries, is not only about climate, but also about people in Sudan. We noticed as much upon our arrival. Children of the sun, the Sudanese exude kindness, open-heartedness and hospitality – a rare thing for us Russians used to chilly weather and aloofness of our compatriots.
Surmounting difficulties together
The first event in our working schedule was the opening ceremony. Apart from participants and organizers, guests of the youth forum included Sudanese government officials. The Minister for Youth and Sport, the Minister of Government and Development Abu Ali and the main organizer of the event, Secretary General of the international umbrella organization UNIW Dzhihangir Ishbilir welcomed the participants at the event.
After the official opening ceremony it was time for our reports and presentations.
It is worth noting that most participants obviously devoted time and effort to preparing their reports. Dealing with the same agenda – ways to unite Islamic organizations – the topics spanned a wide range of co-operation opportunities within Islamic ummah – from economic development to the collaboration of charity organizations.
The contributors exposed the challenges that Islamic young people have to face in their homeland and abroad, as well as suggesting or demonstrating possible solutions based on their experience.
Most participants of the forum are activists of the organizations they represent.
For instance, Eda and Endrit from Albania take active part in the work of an Islamic non-governmental organization – a multi-purpose madrasah that implements a wide range of projects: from publishing Islamic literature to instructing young Muslims of Albania.
Pakistani Ammar Yasir represented the Al-Khidmat Foundation, the biggest NGO of his home country that implements various charity undertakings spanning from water purifying to providing orphans with lodging.
During short breaks between presentations and reports we had a chance to attend fascinating lectures by prominent public figures of Sudan, including the famous Sudanese professor Abdurakhim Ali who talked about uniting Islamic youth from the cultural, national and economical point of view.
After the reports were over many participants asked questions, ventured comments and voiced their requests.
We children of Russia‘s obscure years
As special guests of the youth forum and representatives of the largest state and a multinational country, we enjoyed special attention at the forum. One of our main goals was acquainting our listeners with the life of Russian Muslims and their everyday challenges. We tried to illustrate this by telling the story of Fanzil Akhmetshin, accused of drug storage and trafficking after a successful fundraising campaign benefiting Somalis during the hunger crisis. We also talked about the cooperation of Muslim organizations in Tatarstan and Dagestan – each year, their number rises steadily – as well as about the humanitarian mission of our foundation to Gaza that enabled Russian Muslims to bond with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in faith.
Following our report we were assailed with questions and heard a lot of kind words and warm wishes from other participants.
The conference lasted for three days, followed by the cultural programme.
The river Nile, the birthplace of mankind
First of all, we set out to see one of the most striking hydroelectric sites in Africa – the “Marawi Dam”, the pride of most Sudanese. The journey took a whole day, but was worth it: the powerful dam, built to generate electricity and protect the area from flooding, impressed us by its might and high technology.
Located on the banks of the Nile, this reservoir created a whole infrastructure in the area and has significantly improved the living conditions of the poor in the Khabab area around the dam.
Another memorable event was the visit to one of the most revered Sudanese Sufi sheikhs – Sheikh Al Savm Dima. His name translated from Arabic means “always fasting”. After the Friday prayer in one of the oldest and most beautiful Khartoum mosques – the Al Farouk Mosque – the sheikh received all participants in his residence. This is a special centre for those learning to read the Holy Quran and leading an ascetic life. All the sheikh’s pupils, young and old alike, welcomed us with dhikr – the traditional praise of the Almighty.
The sheikh’s mosque and its premises are a home and an educational centre for those wishing to acquire knowledge. Food and lodging for the pupils of the mosque is provided free of charge.
The educational centre is also equipped for blind students. The hosts proudly presented to us several copies of the Quaran written in Braille.
A special occasion was the dinner given in our honour by the Vice President of Sudan Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, who welcomed all participants of the forum in his home, as well as the journey on the Nile. We travelled on the president’s yacht!
We can make the world a better place
Time flew by quickly, and too soon the forum drew to a close. At the final meeting, we were awarded certificates of participation and were able to share our impressions with the organisers. Every participant had an opportunity to voice his or her ideas and concerns.
Charged with new impressions, we – like all other participants, it seems – felt sorry to leave. In just a week Sudan became a home, and those we got to know were now like brothers to us.
We saw how Muslims live in other countries and understood that their lifestyle is a marked contrast to that of ours. They are all interested in improving their life and changing the world around them. Aside from their private lives, most take an active part in community life and pursue different kinds of activities at the same time.
We returned to Russia revived and brought home new personal connections and warm memories, as well as new ideas, inspiration and the spirit to change the world around us for the better.