Community Bulletin: Leaders & Achievers for March/April 2023

Longest-Serving Muslim Mayor Continues

Imam Saffet Catovic of ISNA’s Office for Interfaith, Community Alliances and Government Relations attended the swearing in ceremony of Prospect Park, N.J., mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah, who was re-elected to his fifth term (17th year) as mayor on Jan. 7. Including his years on the municipal council, this is his 21st year in elected office.

Imam Catovic (right), congratulates Mayor Khairullah

Catovic said, “This is a clear indication that the Muslim community in America is politically maturing and coming of age — moving from the margins and marginalized to the political offices where decisions are made.” 

The mayor said, “I urge members of the community, young and old, to step up in your local communities. Each person must give back to their community. You don’t necessarily have to run for office. You can volunteer, and that would go a long way.”

He was sworn in by Assemblywoman Shama A. Haider (D), among the first Muslims to serve in the New Jersey State Legislature. Assemblywoman Jaffer, who enjoys the same status, swore in Councilman Mohammed Hussain. 

Attorney Edward Ahmed Mitchell (national deputy director, CAIR) was appointed president of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (NAML). 

NAML, the nation’s largest professional networking organization for Muslim lawyers, judges, law students and legal professionals, serves its members through training, mentorship and networking opportunities. The board of directors now represents the country’s 14 regional Muslim bar associations.

Mitchell previously functioned as CAIR-Georgia’s executive director (2016-20). In 2016, the chapter received CAIR National’s Chapter of the Year award. Before joining CAIR-Georgia, Mitchell, a graduate of Morehouse College and Georgetown University Law Center, practiced law as a criminal prosecutor for the City of Atlanta.

President-elect Rahmah Abdulaleem, who previously served as NAML vice president, is executive director of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. Vice president Baraa Kahf, a former NAML board member, is a partner at Knobbe Martens. Treasurer Shariyf Muhammad, who was re-elected, is the director of health, law & policy at the Georgia Department of Human Services. Secretary Nadia Ahmed, who was also re-elected, is an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada.

Robina Niaz, who worked with mainstream nonprofit organizations for 12+ years before founding Turning Point for Women and Families in 2004, was appointed commissioner of New York City’s Commission on Gender Equity.

Turning Point is the City’s first nonprofit to address domestic violence in the Muslim community.

She has sat on numerous boards and as a member of the Social Work Advisory Council at Medgar Evers College. 

In 2009, she was named a CNN Hero and featured as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims (2009) by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center/Georgetown University. She was named Queens Person of the Week by NY1 (March 2010); recognized and honored by Mayor Bloomberg in honor of Women’s History Month (2011); and honored by FEBA, Chhaya CDC, state senator (now mayor) Eric Adams, Women’s eNews, Bank of America, Queens Council for Social Welfare, NASW-NY, NEMWA (North East Muslim Women’s Association), Women In Islam, Union Square Awards, Open Society Institute, the Queens Borough President, the Queens General Hospital, the International Association for Social Work with Groups (IASWG) and the Women2Women Forum (2019).

Niaz (M.S., Pakistan; M.S.W., Hunter College) is a 2007 CORO Immigrant Leadership Fellow and a 2005 Open Society Institute Social Justice Fellow. In 2017, NoVo Foundation named her one of 21 “Movement Makers.”

On Dec. 13, 2022, the St. Paul (Minn.) school board voted to add Eid al-Fitr to the district’s academic calendar. Students won’t have class on any of the dates. The changes will go into effect in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years. 

Also, the Fairfield, Conn., board of education decided to add Eid al-Fitr to the school district’s calendar. Fairfield Public Schools will begin observing the holiday in 2024. 

“All students deserve to have their religious beliefs and holidays respected by educators,” said CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein. “We thank the St. Paul school district for recognizing the religious holidays of their students.” 

“Because of the Fairfield Board of Education’s decision, Muslim students can celebrate their holiday with family without having to miss instruction,” said CAIR-CT operations director Hassan Awad. “We are pleased to see Fairfield Public Schools supporting their Muslim students by recognizing the Eid al-Fitr holiday.” 

(L-R) Assemblymember Evan Low, Trustee Maimona Afzal Berta, County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan, Trustees Tara Sreekrishnan and Raeena Lari, as well as County Supervisor Cindy Chavez at a swearing in ceremony on Dec. 12. (Photo courtesy of Tara Sreekrishnan and the Santa Clara County Office of Education)

The Santa Clara County Board of Education swore in its first Muslim American members, Maimona Afzal Berta and Raeena Lari, on Dec. 12, 2022. Both faced Islamophobic comments on social media during their campaigns.

Berta, a special education teacher, said she hopes her win will foster self-empowerment and leadership among students of color. The former Franklin-McKinley School District board member said that representation for South Asians and Muslim Americans was scarce growing up.

“For young people, it’s hard to imagine what’s possible, or even specific pathways of leadership if you’ve never seen it done before,” Berta, who is of Kashmiri heritage, told The San Jose Spotlight on Dec. 26, 2022. “As a working mom navigating issues like affordable childcare, [being a] hijabi and public-school teacher, the perspective I bring makes this win that much more significant.”

Board of Education members represent different parts of the county, working with the county’s Office of Education to oversee academic and financial programs at 30+ school districts.

Lari, a research economist, said her new position is an extension of the work her family has done for generations. For example, her grandfather pushed for education to be codified as a basic human right in India’s constitution.

The Fairfield (Conn.) Board of Education approved the addition of Eid al-Fitr holiday from school next year, reported The CT Examiner, Dec. 14, 2022. 

This year, the holiday will fall on April 10, and the district added an extra day in June to make up for this off day. 

Muslim students, parents and teachers spoke at a Board of Education meeting on Nov. 15, 2022, to press acceptance of the holiday. 

The Hamtramck City Council voted 3-2, on Jan. 10 that residents of this Detroit-area community with a large Muslim population can sacrifice animals at home for Eid al-Adha.

This is another step in recognizing a cultural shift in a city, whose 20th-century history was shaped by Polish immigrants.

Last December, the council had voted to continue the ban; however, it reversed course, at least for religious reasons, after legal advice and objections from Muslims, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“If somebody wants to do it, they have a right to do their practice,” council member Mohammed Hassan said.

Dawud Walid, director of CAIR-Michigan, said, “It’s not something new or novel.”

The Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association received a conditional use permit in June to develop burial plots and a funeral home on the land it had purchased in 2014 — after eight years of vandalism and legal battles over land use. The 72-acre plot in Castle Rock, Minn., is expected to offer nearly 50,000 burial plots and will serve the Twin Cities’ and suburban metro area’s Muslims, reported The Sahan Journal, Nov. 22, 2022. The first stage of excavation will clear about five acres of land to accommodate approximately 5,000 burial plots, a parking lot, walking paths and a facility for a simple funeral home and funeral prayers. The approximately $4.3 million first stage of development is expected to start in March 2023 and finish by August.


Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, a leading economist whose career has focused on public policy and academia, will become the 20th president of Columbia University on July 1, 2023. Her election concludes a wide-ranging and intensive search launched after Lee C. Bollinger announced that he would step down as Columbia’s president at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

Shafik, who has led the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) since 2017, has edited, co-authored or authored numerous articles and books, including, most recently, “What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract” (Princeton University Press, 2021).

The Alexandria, Egypt-born Shafik (B.A., University of Massachusetts-Amherst; M.S. in economics, LSE; and Ph.D. in economics, St Antony’s College, Oxford University) began her career at the World Bank and, aged 36, became its youngest-ever vice president. She later served as Permanent Secretary of the U.K.’s Department for International Development, the IMF’s deputy managing director, and as deputy governor of the Bank of England.

The DeKalb County (Ga.) Superior Court judges appointed Judge Fatima A. El-Amin chief judge of the DeKalb County Juvenile Court, effective Jan. 1. The Atlanta native attended W.D. Mohammed High School in DeKalb County, graduating as co-valedictorian, and completed her collegiate studies at Harvard University (‘97). She received her J.D. from Emory University School of Law (2000), where she was the recipient of the Dean’s public service award. 

El-Amin has worked as a full juvenile court judge since 2014. She presides over dependency, delinquent and traffic cases, as well as the DeKalb County Juvenile Drug Treatment Court, Rebound. By designation, she sits in the DeKalb County Superior Court.

A former supervising child advocate attorney, Judge El-Amin started her legal career as an assistant district attorney in DeKalb County. The recipient of the NAACP DeKalb Thurgood Marshall Award and the DeKalb County Schools Living Legend Award, she is a graduate of Leadership Georgia, Leadership DeKalb and a member of the Gate City Bar Association, the DeKalb Bar Association, the Council for Juvenile Court Judges, the DeKalb Lawyers Association and the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys.

Zera Abid, founder and director of the Columbus-based MY Project USA, was recognized by the Pillar Award as Philanthropist of the Year, on January 18 at the Ohio State House.

Since 1998, The Medical Mutual Pillar Award for Community Service presented by the Cleveland-based “Smart Business” magazine, honors businesses of all types and sizes that make outstanding contributions to their communities. Its purpose is to encourage a charitable environment, recognize creative efforts that make a difference and demonstrate the ties between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds.

Muslims in Forbes 30 Under 30

  • Raafe Khan (B.S., Manipal University; M.S., Carnegie Mellon University), director of energy storage, Pine Gate Renewables, Houston, was inspired to work in clean energy after spending his summers with his grandparents in rural India, where frequent rolling power outages forced his family to use diesel generators and deal with harmful exhaust fumes. Since joining Pine Gate Renewables, he has helped build one of the largest project pipelines in the country: over 25 GWh across 28 states. He has brought domestically manufactured non-Lithium solutions out of stealth mode after identifying risks in the Lithium supply chain. Last September, he received a USPTO design patent for a novel approach toward designing renewable power plants, which has been used on several wind projects across six U.S. states to generate safe and efficient project designs. 
  • Aadil Ali (B.S., McMaster University; Ph.D., University of Toronto), clinical scientist, Traferox Technologies, Toronto, is a postdoctoral fellow and clinical scientist whose research led to the development of a novel organ transplantation device by Traferox Technologies, a biomedical device company. Lung transplantation requires the organ to be kept in optimal conditions to ensure a successful surgery. Ali’s device widened the time window for transplantation.
  • Samer Abu Farha (founder, Rare Munchiez, Ann Arbor, Mich.) is a University of Michigan drop out who imports rare snacks from around the world and sells them online. He opened a storefront in Detroit this fall. Sales are expected to hit $5 million in 2022.
  • Rakan Al-Shawaf (B.S., Queen’s University) cofounded Makeship to help small and medium-sized influencers create plushies and other merchandise to sell to their fans. For example, it worked with one Instagram-famous feline named Panko A. Cat to market and sell a lookalike plush keychain to its 350,000 social media followers. Makeship, which gives influencers a cut of sales, expects revenue to nearly double to $16 million in 2022.
  • During his weight loss journey, Amir Bahari struggled with having cravings for donuts. So, he decided to create a donut that would satisfy his sweet tooth while being keto-friendly and containing less sugar. Along with twin brother Amin, they founded Elite Sweets in 2018 and, since then, their donut has become the best-selling donut on Amazon. So far, they have secured $2.6 million in funding from Siddi Capital, Constellation Capital and Capital Factory and have an $8.1 million valuation.
  • Ahmed Elsayyad cofounded Ostro, whose software connects consumers directly with physicians via customized apps and websites in collaboration with its pharmaceutical company customers. Ostro has raised $56 million from investors, including Founders Fund, Greycroft and Bling Capital. AstraZeneca and Bausch Health are among its enterprise customers.
  • After a stint at Kraft Heinz, Rashad Hossain (B.S., Harvard) left to create his line of mushroom-infused coffee that serves as a healthier, low-caffeine alternative to the traditional cup of coffee in 2020. Today, Ryze has more than 30,000 customers who buy subscriptions of their coffee and matcha. The company will end 2022 with nearly $18 million in revenue and $2 million in funding from PS27 Ventures and 11 Tribes.

Tell us what you thought by joining our Facebook community. You can also send comments and story pitches to Islamic Horizons does not publish unsolicited material.