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On the religion beat: Young Muslims learn ins, out of government

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH
  • Star Tribune
  • October 19, 2012 - 7:05 PM

To learn more about how government works, some 40 Muslim students are holding a "mock legislature" at the Minnesota State Capitol.

On Friday, the high school and college students debated public policy issues and prepared bills that were presented on the floor of the mock legislature. The event was part of the first Muslim Youth Leadership Conference, organized by the Minnesota chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

"Right now in the Muslim community there really aren't many youth that are civically engaged," said Lori Saroya, executive director of CAIR-Minnesota. "That's what we're hoping to do, make sure they have the tools and the resources to be more engaged. We want them to be on the House floor and get a feel for it, how the process works."

The students debated several "real life, relevant" bills that dealt with issues like voter ID, bullying and prevention policies, school nutrition, cellphone use while driving and minimum wage.

The conference concludes Saturday, when U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota -- the first Muslim elected to Congress -- and more than 20 speakers including attorneys, interfaith leaders and media representatives are expected to address students. Topics of discussion are Islamophobia, civil rights and the law, among others.

Saroya says other state chapters of CAIR have been holding similar youth conferences for years. The Minnesota chapter decided to organize its first conference because a number of Muslim youths were interested in doing so.

After the event, participants want to continue mentoring the students and help them throughout their careers, Saroya said.

"We have so many youth who come to us ... who are interested in these fields. They want to be legislators, attorneys, reporters. We're hoping they can create those networks now. We want them to stay true to their goals. We want to help them achieve those goals."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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