Interfaith Leaders Meet in Texas
The Global Faith Forum was held at Northwood Church, Keller, Texas, on March 6-7, under the leadership of Bob Roberts Jr. (pastor, Northwood Church) in partnership with The North Texas Islamic Council (NTIC). This event was reported by Aboobaker Ebrahim, a founding member and former board member at Richardson’s Islamic Association of North Texas.
Also present were Mohammad Bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa (secretary general, Muslim World League), Imam Mohamed Magid and Azhar Azeez (past ISNA presidents), Rabbi David Saperstein (former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom), Rashad Hussain (former special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi (executive director, Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers), Shpendim Nadzaku (imam/resident scholar, Islamic Association of North Texas), Rabbi Charlie Cytron Walker (Beth Israel Congregation), Sam Brownback (former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom) and Dr. Yasir Qadhi (resident scholar, East Plano Islamic Center).
NTIC president Mujeeb Kazi presented his vision of “A Collaborative and Impactful Community of North Texas Muslim Organizations with a Mission to Facilitate Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation and Coordination Among Member Organizations.”
Al-Issa (former minister of justice; president, the International Islamic Halal Organization) spoke about the 2019 Makkah Declaration (The Charter of Makkah) that seeks to create a pan-Islamic set of principles that supports anti-extremism, religious and cultural diversity, as well as legislation against hate and violence. The document — approved by Islamic leaders of 139 countries and signed by around 1,200 prominent Muslim figures — was announced at the conclusion of the four-day MWL conference, an event that was described as promoting “moderate” Islam. He said that the charter has been endorsed by religious leaders representing 27 different doctrines and sects of Islam, praised by Western commentators and likened to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.
The diverse gathering at Northwood Church also endorsed it, stating, “A gathering of unlikely allies that venture down an unlikely path with the goal of building flourishing communities. We are moving from a conversation about other faiths to a conversation with other faiths. A conversation that allows us to hear from those of different faiths, different worldviews, and different ideas that shape the way we communicate. Whether you’re a religious leader like a Pastor, Imam or Rabbi, or a person of faith, this is your chance to understand the realities of faith in the 21st century. This event brings together distinct bodies of faith for greater understanding while facing our differences with grace and humility.”
The Sterling Heights (Mich.) planning commission unanimously granted the American Muslim Diversity Association (AMDA) a special use permit to build a gym, banquet hall and classrooms. According to 101.9 WDET on January 26, the association can also create a separate prayer space for women, who currently pray in the mosque’s main worship area.
“It’s kind of a big deal because we’ve seen, specifically in Sterling Heights, there’s been great animus towards any expansion or any inclusion of the Muslim community and their places of worship within the city,” says Amy Doukoure (staff attorney, CAIR-MI), who provided legal assistance to help it through the approval process. She added, “I also feel that after that lawsuit, some of the members of the community have lost their appetite for trying to discriminate against Muslims.”
In 2016, Sterling Heights had denied the American Islamic Community Center (AICC) permission to build a large mosque after community pushback. AICC and the U.S. Department of Justice sued Sterling Heights in response. Both lawsuits resulted in a settlement in the center’s favor.
The Islamic Center of Evansville, Ind., was runner-up in “Renewable Role Model” category for the Interfaith Power & Light’s (IPL) Cool Congregations Challenge 2022 .
In their remark, the judges said, “This small congregation is primarily immigrants including people of white and African American identities. Because of their faith, interest-bearing loans for their solar installation are not an option, so they relied on a successful congregational fundraising effort that exceeded their goal. They reduced their grid electricity use by 50%. They are an EPA Energy Star certified congregation, one of only four in Indiana.”
Every year IPL invites people of faith nationwide to explain how they’re responding to climate change by entering this challenge.
Illinois celebrated the first-ever Muslim American Heritage Month this January.
There wasn’t much fanfare because the nonprofit organization, the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA), which began celebrating Muslim American heritage in 2015, didn’t have much time to prepare after lobbying for the heritage month.
Governor JB Pritzker issued the proclamation last December to celebrate the contributions of the state’s Muslim Americans every January starting in 2022.
“I would say at the beginning it was a shock,” said Ahmed Flex Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somaliland [a self-proclaimed independent republic recognized by no country or international organization] when he was 19, adding, “Definitely going to be larger efforts next year, but we are very happy we have welcomed the new year with Muslim American Heritage Month.”
A new state law that came into effect this year requires schools to teach the contributions of Americans of different faith groups. In January, the state also observed its first Muhammad Ali Day.
The Round Rock Independent School District Board of Trustees approved the academic calendars for 2022-23 and 2023-24 at its regular meeting on February17. These new calendars recognize Eid al-Fitr on April 21, 2023, and on April 10, 2024.
The district, located in southern Texas’ Williamson County and northwest Travis County, includes the cities of Round Rock and portions of Austin and Cedar Park.
Earlier this year, the community reviewed and provided feedback on potential calendars. The academic calendar committee, consisting of parents, teachers and administrators, reviewed the feedback and made their final recommendation to the trustees.
Weekend Schools Get WISER
Muslim educators announced the launch of WISER (Weekend Islamic Schools Educational Resources) to provide guidance, training, resources and accreditation to Weekend Islamic Schools, reports Susan Labadi (founder, Genius School, Inc.; board member, WISER).
Most Muslim youth, it was noted, are not enrolled in full-time Islamic schools. Parents’ options are typically weekend school, after-school programs, summer camp or homeschooling. Regrettably, some Muslim parents do nothing and wonder why their children don’t know their own religion.
Several concerned leaders of youth Islamic education working under Necva Ozgur (founder and executive director, MERIT; founding school head, New Horizons School, Pasadena, Calif.) discussed how they could help Muslim children and their parents learn about and practice the faith. This led to the formation of WISER, a national organization.
Besides Ozgur, the board includes Amal Sakr Elhoseiny (New Horizon School, Pasadena), Sufia Azmat (executive director, CISNA), Adita Arya (Afghan Literacy Foundation), Susan Labadi, Thouraya Boubetra (Aldeen Foundation), Shahida Alikhan (principal, New Horizon School – Los Angeles), Samar Ghannoum (Pasadena Language Center), Hanan Amaira (youth program coordinator, Rabata) and Dahlia Hamdi.
WISER arranged a full-day pre-conference on May 13, at the ISNA Education Forum in Chicago to connect and share with weekend schoolteachers and leaders. The sessions focused on critical elements of the relevant best practices. Participants received a Weekend School Playbook to help them review and verify critical elements of best practices for their schools.
CAMPUS CHAPLAINS SUPPORT
The statistic that only 150 Muslim chaplains are attached to 4,000 American colleges justifies Nora Zaki’s (http://www.mymuslimchaplain.com/) attempt to widen such services for Muslim students beyond Vassar College’s confines. The clear and concise message on her website, a welcoming and encouraging example for Muslim chaplains awaiting their formal appointment, pioneers a template for both Muslim care-seekers and caregivers.
The site’s intuitive navigation structure provides a smooth user experience and is aesthetically ensured by the simple design and visuals with light green shades emerging against a white canvas. Several testimonials, neatly presented on the homepage, harbor a sense of her services’ credibility. The “Frequently Asked Questions,” followed by a running Islamic calendar, is also very helpful.
The “Latest Updated News” section adds more relevancy to her services. However, although each of them builds her inability, creating a separate menu or submenus under other existing main menus could be more convenient. Using the same black font for all pages ensures consistency, which works seamlessly both in mobile and desktop platforms, offers easy ways to contact the chaplain. Zaki’s approach of sharing her background under “About Chaplain Nora” leaves a personal touch and conveys her qualifications in a range of core Islamic tenets.
The website, a lightweight digital brochure, loads quickly and informs the readers about its variegated chaplaincy services. An instant list of a few basic campus services, like halal dining, maintaining the Ramadan spirit, battling Islamophobia and engaging in cultural activities means that a deeper conversation is just clicks away. It also offers a more personalized services on an as-needed basis.
The brief service list and terse description aptly justify the site’s stated mission of “meeting the faith-based needs of institutions of higher education, providing professional and holistic chaplaincy consultancy, and supporting individuals in processes of meaning- making.” An offer of a 30-minute free consultation is also a risk-free try-out option for campus students. Overall, the website leaves a genuine invitation for Muslim students to explore.
M. Affan Badar was named a 2022 Industrial Engineering and Operation Management (IEOM) Fellow and will be announced as a new fellow at the IEOM Annual Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, during March 2022.
This distinction is the highest level of membership to recognize individual contributions to the industrial engineering and operations management profession. Fellows have distinguished themselves by conducting theoretical and applied research and implementing proven industrial engineering and operations management tools.
Badar, who is a certified professional in engineering management, is a tenured professor and former chair of Indiana State University’s Applied Engineering & Technology Management department.
In addition to being a member of ISNA’s Board of Directors, he has served on the ISNA board (2014-18) and election committee (2014-17), as well as the immediate past president of Association of Muslim Scientists, Engineers and Technological Professionals (AMSET).
The Connecticut House of Representatives Gets Its First Muslim Member
Maryam Khan (D) won a special election to the 5th House District of Windsor and Hartford on March 2, becoming its first elected Muslim member.
She won nearly 75% of the votes in a three-way race to succeed former Rep. Brandon McGee Jr. (D). The election gave Democrats a 97-54 majority in the House.
Khan has been a member of the Windsor (Conn.) board of election since 2017 and currently serves as its vice president. She resigned as a special education teacher, citing inequity in education, which was one of the issues driving her campaign.
Emigrating from Pakistan as a young child in 1994, she is also the second Muslim elected to the General Assembly. The first was Sen. Saud Anwar (D), a pulmonologist.
With an estimated population of more than 100,000, Muslims are a small but growing community in Connecticut.
Hamse Warfa took charge in January as senior adviser to the State Department on civilian security, democracy and human rights. He is the first Somali American presidential appointee in U.S. history.
Warfa’s family fled Somalia after the civil war started in 1991. Living in various Kenyan refugee camps, he arrived as a teenager in 1994 with his family. After being recruited by the state’s largest philanthropic foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, he moved to Minnesota in 2012.
The 2016 election season inspired him to become more active in civic engagement.
In 2019, the Minnesota governor’s office appointed Warfa deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, making him the highest-ranking Somali American official in the state’s executive branch.
Warfa’s list of accomplishments includes being the co-founder of BanQu, Inc., a blockchain service created to broaden economic opportunities for low-income people worldwide, as well as being the recipient of a Bush Fellowship (2016), which is granted to help develop leadership skills, and an Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurs.
He served as an economic adviser to the Biden campaign, helping develop the administration’s plans to reverse the Muslim ban and increase refugee admission numbers.
Pakistani-American Dr. Mark Salman Humayun was inducted as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellow. The council confers this distinction of members whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science, or its applications, are scientifically or socially distinguished.”
Humayun, who serves in many capacities in his professional field, is a former president of the American Society of Retinal Specialists, received the 2021 AAAS fellow distinction “for distinguished contributions to ophthalmology and to engineering, particularly in the invention of devices that can restore sight to the nearly blind.”
His innovative research in ophthalmology and bioengineering led to the development of the Argus II retinal implant, an artificial retina that allows an unprecedented degree of sight to those with complete retinal blindness. Approved by the FDA in 2013, that year’s Time magazine named it one of the top 10 inventions. He has more than 100 patents and patent applications.
Among his other accomplishments are the receipt of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2016) for his development of the Argus II; induction into the National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Inventors; and being named among the top 1% of ophthalmologists by the U.S. News & World Report.
After his confirmation, Ahsan Chugtai took charge as senior advisor to New York City mayor Eric Adams for South Asian and Muslim affairs.
A civic and political leader for more than 20 years, he has helped elected officials create policies for all levels of government, founding non-profit charity organizations and liaising between community agencies and diverse communities in the city.
Among the organizations he set up is the Pakistani American Youth Society (PAYS), which has been praised by community members.
Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D.) named Hira Shaikh as her chief of staff on January 1. Shaikh, who previously served as the deputy director for AAPI and faith-based outreach for Murphy for Governor, was a principal at a New Jersey public affairs firm.
Shaikh becomes the first Muslima to serve as a chief of staff in the State legislature, and Jaffer is the first Muslima and first Asian American woman to be sworn into the State legislature.
Assemblywoman Jaffer’s office quoted her as saying. “[Shaikh] brings leadership experience, a wealth of knowledge in strategic communications, and a passion for policies that serve under-represented communities.”
Jaffer, who teaches at Princeton University, has served two terms as mayor of Montgomery Township and is the first South Asian American woman elected mayor in New Jersey.
“It is a privilege to work with someone who is not only a trailblazer, but amplifies the voices of those around her,” the statement quoted Shaikh, who also serves as the co-chair for the New Jersey Young Democrats South Asian Caucus.
Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a Springfield, Mass. attorney, started as executive director of CAIR-Massachusetts on February 10.
Amatul-Wadud, who has more than 16 years of experience in corporate, family and civil rights law, is a former staff attorney with Western Massachusetts Community Legal Aid. She also served as commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women (2014-20).
In 2016, she rose to national prominence while serving as the principal attorney on behalf of the residents of Islamberg, N.Y., against Robert Doggart, an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist who had planned a violent attack against the community.
She has served as vice-president of the CAIR-Massachusetts board (2016-18) and as its president since 2018. During her tenure, she has overseen the organization’s restructuring and rapid growth.
CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said: “We are honored to welcome Sr. Tahirah Amatul-Wadud as executive director of our Massachusetts chapter. She has done incredible work as an attorney and activist, and we are excited to see all the things she will achieve in this new role, God willing.”
The U.S. State Department has appointed Dilawar Syed as special representative for commercial and business affairs. An entrepreneur for the past 20 years, Syed has run several software, artificial intelligence and health care companies.
During the Obama administration, he actively promoted the State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program and connected Silicon Valley innovators with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems. As the founding chair of the California Entrepreneurship Task Force, he bridged coastal regions with the state’s rural heartland. He also worked to help small businesses impacted by Covid-19.
In his new role, Syed is responsible for advancing trade, commercial and economic policies for U.S. workers and the middle-class and helping create well-paying jobs.
Ajmel A. Quereshi was sworn in as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Maryland on April 18.
In between his clerkships, Quereshi has served as a Skadden Fellow at ACLU of Maryland, where he was recognized by the Maryland Daily Record as a member of its inaugural “Maryland VIP List,” which recognizes Maryland business and legal leaders.
He served as a visiting assistant professor and director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Howard University School of Law during the 2000s. In 2016, Harvard Law School awarded him a Wasserstein Fellowship, which recognizes lawyers who have committed to mentoring junior lawyers who commit themselves to public service.
Additionally, Boston College Law School awarded him a Rappaport Fellowship, which recognizes lawyers who have developed an expertise in the intersection of law and public policy. After leaving Howard, Quereshi served as staff counsel at the ACLU’s National Prison Project and, in 2015, joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as senior counsel.
Marquette University’s alumni association awarded him and his wife, Jill Rauh Quereshi, the Spirit of Marquette Award.
U.S. magistrate judges are appointed for eight-year terms by district judges and are eligible for reappointment to successive terms.
Ithar Hassaballa, a health equity evaluation project manager at the University of Kansas Medical Center, seeks to improve conditions for peoples’ health and well-being. She focuses on community health project management, evaluation, quantitative and qualitative interdisciplinary research, as well as university teaching.
Her primary research focuses on improving social and built environments to promote healthy behaviors and reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases within communities. Having experience with monitoring and evaluating community interventions, she has provided consultation, training, and evaluation to 10+ organizations and universities through a nationwide type 2 diabetes initiative directed toward vulnerable populations, as well as over seven years of the same services to WHO’s African Regional Office in Brazzaville, Congo, including evaluation of the 2014 Ebola response effort in Liberia.
She has worked in the U.S., Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, the broader African region and in other countries.
The 1000 Shades Of Women International Movement presented Dr. Sarah Sayeed with its Excellence Platinum Leadership Award in recognition of her outstanding work to support a cancer hospital for women and children in Senegal.
During June 2015, former mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Sayeed a senior advisor in New York City government’s community affairs unit responsible for expanding outreach to Muslim communities across the city’s five boroughs.
Before this, she had been a trailblazer in interfaith work and activism, which included being a board member of Women in Islam Inc. Sayeed has been instrumental in uniting religious leaders from diverse backgrounds in NYC and helping them cooperate on solving prescient social problems. She previously worked as a professor in public affairs at Baruch College in New York City.
Sulayman Abdirahman, 12, won the 14th annual Boston Centers for Youth & Families Citywide Spelling Bee, correctly spelling the word “apres.”
He lasted 12 normal rounds and 29 final rounds against 18 other students.
In May, Abdirahman will compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., where he might become the first Massachusetts student to win the national competition since 1939.
Abdirahman also received the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a 2022 U.S. Mint Proof Set donated by Jay Sugarman in honor of his father, and one-year subscriptions to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online, Encyclopedia Britannica Online Premium and a trophy.
He is among the 3,000+ student competitors from Boston public and parochial schools who qualified for this Boston Bruins Foundation-sponsored event.
Abdirahman will compete at the national spelling bee against 200+ regional winners during Bee Week. Finalists will face off in a spelling bee hosted by LaVar Burton and aired live on ION on June 2.
We apologize for our typo that identified Abir Catovic (principal, Pillars Academy) as the principal at Noor-Ul-Iman School in the Community News section of IH March/April 2022, p.12.
She had previously served at Noor Ul Iman as head of the religious department.
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