The Usuli Institute is proud to present its educational events via livestream when possible, and recorded for viewing online on our YouTube channel or as listed below. Our regular Halaqa (Circle of Learning) sessions cover both pressing issues confronting humanity today, as well as deeper investigations into the Islamic Intellectual tradition such as Original Qur'anic Commentaries (Tafsir) and the Meaning, Purpose and Effect of Prayer. In our Usuli Institute Conversation Series, we bring guests to discuss specific issues or hot topics. Our Friday Virtual Jumu'a and Khutbahs offer weekly spiritual and intellectual inspiration and uplift for living as thinking, ethical and engaged Muslims confronting modern-day challenges. Be sure to follow us on Facebook for the most up-to-date notifications of events and new uploads.
Grace Song is the Executive Director of the Usuli Institute, and regularly shares her personal stories, reflections and ideas in the introduction to each halaqa, presented here. She brings a unique voice to the Usuli Institute as a woman, an American-born-and-raised daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, a Muslim convert since 1994, before she knew Dr. Abou El Fadl, and ultimately as the wife and partner to such a learned Muslim scholar. Her introductions seek to illuminate the importance of knowledge and the impact of the Usuli approach to everyday life as a Muslim in America - engaged in modern day challenges with a commitment to moral and ethical beauty and reasonableness in all affairs, while seeking the divine path.
In the introduction to the halaqa on Surah 92 Al Layl (Conclusion) and Surah 91 Al Shams (Start), Director Grace Song shares her thoughts about a recent Facebook post by a Muslim woman counselor speaking to a large group of Muslim teenagers aged 13 to 18 at a recent Islamic conference, who received over 100 text questions afterwards on sensitive and difficult topics and wondered if Muslim parents were failing their kids by not creating the climate for addressing such questions. After finding the YouTube video of this counselor speaking, Grace imagines her 14 year old son's reaction to the speaker and the Islamic conference. Grace shares stories of how she approached the topic of God and Islam in her son's upbringing and how she thought about teaching him to love God from an early age. She talks about her research in becoming a parent, and how she focused on building her son's foundational character before all else. She shares her experience, advice, and "never break" rules. Delivered 9 November 2019.
In the introduction to the halaqa on Surah 93, Al Duha, Director Grace Song builds upon her last introduction in which she criticizes a group of Muslim female comedians, and presents her own attempt at a comedic monologue. She also shares a number of humorous real-life stories from her experiences as a convert. Delivered 10 August 2019.
In the introduction to the Usuli Halaqa on Surah 94: Al Sharh, Director Grace Song talks about her excitement, surprise and then shock over the state of Muslim female comedy revealed in the line-up of an upcoming event in Southern California. She shares the experience of growing up as a child of immigrants and how finding beautiful Islam led her to confront the embarrassment and discomfort with her ethnic roots--the same discomfort that seemed to be expressed by the comedians, except which resulted in Islam-bashing through conflating Islam with their ethnic culture. She presents suggestions for how to use the powerful tools of comedy and artistry to break through to audiences for goodness and offers examples. Delivered 13 July 2019.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute Halaqa on Surah 95 Al Tin (The Fig), Director Grace Song shares personal stories and reflections about her experiences as a young convert and the underlying messages that were communicated to her by the Muslim community about what was necessary to be a good Muslim. She reflects on the impact of such messages that tied piety to such things as the ability to speak Arabic, wearing the headscarf and "appearing Muslim". She addresses the power of perception and language with regard to how Islam and Muslims are understood in the West. She calls for a rethinking of each in order to better convey the beauty, authenticity and truth of the faith, particularly in light of anti-Islamic forces that seek to cast Islam as a "foreign" religion so as to "otherize" Muslims. She offers food for thought on how to flip the perception of Muslims and how to reappropriate the language used to speak about Islam according to the language of our day and age. Delivered 15 June 2019.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute Halaqa on Surah 97 Al Qadr, Director Grace Song shares more about her personal story and the serious tests she confronted when she first converted to Islam. She speaks about the challenges of her family's acceptance of Islam, and the estrangement from her family for 8 years, and the journey from darkness to light. She explains why she fell in love with Islam and why she continues to believe in the transformative power of Islam after so many years. Delivered 18 May 2019.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute halaqa on Surah 100: Al 'Adiyat, Director Grace Song discusses the powerful net take-away from Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl's Friday virtual khutbah (15 February 2019), in which he argues that Muslims in the West can and must start anew in defining their faith, casting away the hypocritical and despotic messages of Islam coming from Middle Eastern lands, and instead, relying on the God-given religion of fitrah (natural instinct, intuitiveness and innateness) where the justice, beauty and reasonableness inherent to each human being is their guide. She encourages everyone to watch and share this transformative khutbah, which gives Muslims back their faith, releasing them from all of the ugly, oppressive and backwards messages that make people turn away from Islam. Muslims in the West have now been given permission and license to redefine what it means to be a thinking, ethical and moral Muslim in our day and age.
Lastly, she pays honor and tribute to Guido Santi, a dear friend and documentary filmmaker, by telling the story of Guido, his importance in the history of the Usuli Institute, and the impact of his living example as a beautiful, moral and ethical human being. Delivered 16 February 2019.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute halaqa on Surah 101: al-Qaria, Director Grace Song shares her surprising observations about the people who convert to Islam, discusses what they experience in the early stages of conversion, and gives insight as to how to survive the early experiences of being a Muslim convert. She tells the story of how Dr. Abou El Fadl answered her question about the necessity of hijab when she was a young convert. Delivered 12 January 2019.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute halaqa on the meaning, purpose and effect of prayer, Director Grace Song returns to the question of vulnerability from her previous intro (8 Dec 2018), and answers two questions she received regarding strength versus vulnerability, and how to create goodness. She discusses the power of dignity, and shares personal stories on healing from trauma and sexual abuse, building empathy from pain, and how to build the habit of spreading kindness. Delivered 22 December 2018.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute halaqa on Surah at-Takathur, Executive Director Grace Song reacts to two separate efforts that look to increase human connectedness through a focus on authenticity and vulnerability: a Top 5 TED Talk of all time by Brene Brown (2010), and a new online effort in 2018, Loominary, which seeks to address the paradox of increase in global connectedness simultaneous to an increase in loneliness. She talks about these approaches from a Muslim perspective and gives perspective on finding one's true authentic self, owning vulnerability, and creating human connectedness from a Muslim point of view. Delivered 8 December 2018.
In the intro to the Usuli Institute halaqa on Surah 104: Al-Hamaza, Executive Director Grace Song discusses the implications of the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court from the lens of a Muslim, a woman and a convert to Islam. She calls out Muslim leadership to be relevant to today's problems facing our country, our youth and humanity; to actively demonstrate the virtues of the faith, or to step aside. She shares her own story and discusses the role of faith, God and serving humanity in healing. Delivered 6 October 2018.
In the Usuli Institute halaqa on Surah 110: Al Nasr, Director Grace Song shares personal stories and reflections on the journey of praying and prayer as a Muslim over time. She discusses her ideas about prayer before she became Muslim versus afterwards, and how her feelings about and during prayer evolved from her early days as a convert to the present day. Most importantly, she emphasizes that prayer is the critical lifeline to the divine that should never be severed regardless of the circumstances. Delivered 15 September 2018.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute halaqa on Surah al Rahman, Verses 34 to 48, Director Grace Song discusses her most powerful role model for a Muslim woman, her mother-in-law Afaf El-Nimr. She discusses the most important lessons her mother-in-law imparted on her by living example on how to be a kind, loving, strong, empowered and divinely-oriented woman in our modern times. She also talks about the oppression facing the Uyghur Muslims in China, sharing a personal heart-breaking story. Recorded 11 August 2018.
In the introduction to the Usuli Institute Halaqa on Surah al Rahman, Verses 26 to 33, Director Grace Song shares a personal story about one of the hardest yet most necessary transformations she had to make in her journey after becoming Muslim: overcoming her own racism. She talks about what it meant to be a racist, how to overcome it, and how her life changed in the process. She discusses why Muslims must own and address racism and lead the fight against racism. Excerpted from the Usuli Institute Halaqa of July 28, 2018.
In the introduction to the third Usuli Institute halaqa (circle of learning), Director Grace Song further discusses the challenge of conversion to Islam in America and delves deeper into the story of her own conversion to Islam: her early reactions to the religion; how she reconnected with God; how she overcame her serious reservations about becoming Muslim through divine intervention; and her ultimate conversion. She shares stories of other converts she has come across in her work and evidence of similar divine intervention. She herself answers the four questions directed to converts on the www.usuli.org website, which invites story sharing, and addresses the disparity between the expectations vs. reality experienced by most converts. Finally, she offers ideas on the opportunity that God provides for Muslims through its converts. Delivered 4 February, 2018.
In the introduction to the second halaqa of the Usuli Institute, Director Grace Song begins speaking in greater detail about her conversion experience and the costs, sacrifices and hard work involved in the difficult decision to convert to Islam in our times. She shares why it is important for those who are "born-Muslims" to have a better understanding of the convert experience and why converts represent a divine opportunity for the future of Islam. Delivered 6 January, 2018.
In the introduction to the inaugural halaqa (circle of learning) of The Usuli Institute, Director Grace Song explains some of the background to and backdrop of the founding of The Usuli Institute. She talks about why the effort is so personal to her as a convert to Islam, and describes the transformative power of knowledge in her journey as a Muslim. She describes why the library exists as the centerpiece to the search for beauty in Islam (also the book of the same name by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl) and is at the core and foundation for work at The Usuli Institute. Delivered 9 December, 2017.