ISNA’s Ongoing Quest to Serve Muslim Americans 

Identifying and dealing with the causes of our community’s problems

By Syed Imtiaz Ahmad

May/June 2023

On Sept. 28, 2022, ISNA’s management board established a Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) to formulate a plan for serving the Muslim American community over the next 5-7 years. The committee comprises Dr. Syed Imtiaz Ahmad (chair), Azhar Azeez (treasurer, ISNA), Basharat Saleem (ISNA, executive director), Salwa Syed (president, MYNA) and Malika Khan and Magda Elkadi Saleh (board members). 

Strategic planning is a process that determines where the organization is now, where it wants to be in the future and how it intends to get there. This undertaking involves constructing goals and services based on community inputs and gathering data from the stakeholders — members, management boards, staff and field experts involved in delivering services — via opinion surveys, interviews and publications.

Seeking guidance from contributors to earlier strategic planning rounds, we contacted Rafik Beekun (professor, University of Nevada) and Dr. Ihsan Bagby (professor, University of Kentucky), both of whom provided helpful advice and offered to assist the SPC in the current round. 

A cursory environmental scan revealed the following problems facing Muslims in the U.S.: 

  • Mental health issues related to Muslim family problems
  • Ideological, social, religious and political forces shaping the Muslim family structure and function; lack of awareness about Islam as a way of life
  • Muslim family identity, values and practices; moral and psychological decay
  • Pornography, extramarital affairs and prostitution; teenage pregnancy
  • Rising rates of divorce, separation, single-parent families and common-law relationships
  • Same-sex couples, childless couples, both parents working outside the home
  • Increasing rates of depression, suicide and homicide; clinical anxiety disorder
  • Domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse and intergenerational conflict. 

Considering the widespread public discourse about mental health, we contacted Dr. Saadia Ahmad (clinical neuropsychologist, Toronto) and Dr. Sameera Ahmed (clinical psychologist; executive director, Family and Youth Institute, Michigan). Both provided valuable insight into the significant presence of mental health problems among Muslim families and stated that its level is similar to or even higher than that of the general population.  


Ahmed has fond memories of MYNA and ISNA vibrance. Salma Abugideiri, a licensed professional counselor, feels likewise. More than their professional advice, I sensed in them the longing that ISNA could realize their higher expectations.  

A great American historian Dr. Patrick Fagan wrote on May 15, 1997, that “[o]ur future as a country depends on the strength of our families. Such strength is waning, which should give every American pause for concern and motivation for action.” 

Starting with a cursory environmental scan, we contacted several organizations and institutes doing work of interest to ISNA. The Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) was most welcoming. Petra Alsoofy (outreach & partnerships manager, ISPU) provided valuable input to prevent mental health problems based on ISPU’s survey of Muslim community issues, among them the following:

  • Helping parents nurture their children
  • Protecting children from trauma
  • Educating young people to understand and manage their emotions
  • Supporting people under a lot of stress at work and
  • Reducing loneliness for older people. 

ISPU also provided a link identifying ten areas of need:

  • Remedying Islamophobia
  • Creating a supportive environment for Muslim youth
  • Creating awareness regarding substance abuse and addiction and de-stigmatizing seeking help
  • Creating a standardized introductory curriculum for new converts
  • Creating educational and support programs related to marriage and family matters in Muslim spaces and addressing issues related to divorce and racism
  • Establishing community-driven measures for alleviating poverty
  • Creating more inclusive mosques and welcoming spaces for young adults, women and new converts
  • Gathering demographic data about weekend Islamic schools, sharing best practices, and making improvements in the curriculum
  • Making Muslim spaces more welcoming and inclusive for Black Muslims and addressing intra-Muslim racism and
  • Increasing Muslim voter registration, voting and increasing Muslim representation in higher levels of government. 

Magda Elkadi Saleh (administrator, Florida Islamic Schools) helped make some valuable contacts: Imam Hassan Sultan (The Muslim Connection), Mahmoud Hassan (licensed mental health counselor, Tampa Bay), Necva Ozgur (head, Weekend Islamic Schools Educational Resources [WISER]), Rose Munoz (community advocate and cofounder, Muslim Volunteer Program) and Samer Salhab (head, Muslims for Democracy and Fairness). 

Imam Hassan identified various needs for Muslims, such as making copies of the Quran and learning materials on Islam more widely available, creating mentor/mentee contacts and facilitating mental health assistance. Mahmoud Hassan pointed out the need to deal with family problems ranging from pornography to alcohol and drug addiction. Ozgur cited the need to nurture spiritual growth and a Muslim-American identity, as well as developing God consciousness through the teachings of Islam, the Quran and the Sunna. Munoz mentioned the need to offer welcome bags and Islam 101 classes to converts. Salhab pointed out the need for supporting voter registration and political/civic engagement.

The University of Miami’s Muslim American Project (MAP), which has conducted surveys on Muslim mental health, helps some Muslim communities deliver mental health services to Muslims. Amy Weisman de Mamani (professor, University of Miami; licensed clinical psychologist) heads this project. We also talked with Salman Shaheen Ahmad and Merranda McLaughlin, members of the MAP team and University of Miami doctoral candidates. Their fieldwork experiences will provide insight into how ISNA could respond to the community’s needs. Salman also offered to help process data from ISNA’s surveys.

Rania Awaad (professor of psychiatry, Stanford University School of Medicine), a frequent speaker at ISNA events, has shown an interest in working with us. In addition to her academic affiliation, she is the director of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab and its community nonprofit.

ISNA’s SPC reviewed all the input it received through cursory environmental scans during its meeting in December. Keeping in mind the strategic planning process’ national scope and the processing of all ISNA stakeholders’ data collected from surveys, the SPC recommended and received approval to engage data science specialist Dr. Besheer Mohamed as a consultant. On his request, ISNA assigned Haroon Imtiaz (director of communications, ISNA) to coordinate with him on the design, its launching, and subsequent processing of the data from the national opinion survey. This survey is accessible at People say your vote counts. ISNA says your opinion matters. Weigh in. It will only take a few minutes of your time. 

A strategic plan for ISNA will produce outcomes to guide it on changes in its vision, mission, desired objectives and services, which are responsive to and effective in serving the community’s needs.  

In 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, all organizations possess a basic and empowering essence — a “soul” — that continues to exist throughout the changes, although outwardly they may look different. This fact makes change a complex endeavor. Sarah Deady, director of Australia’s specialist advisory and restructuring company McGrathNicol, provides valuable advice on managing change, namely, that positive human dynamics are crucial to success in this endeavor. 

The completed strategic planning document consists of, among other things, a set of goals or targets to be achieved. Each stated goal is described in terms of the identified objectives, as are the specific steps that will lead to its realization. Each step is expected to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. 

Strategy is a plan for achieving a goal. While its objectives remain the same, the strategy adopted depends on the target audience. Tactics are the methods used to achieve results in a particular situation. The overall framework for description is the GOST model: Goals, Objectives, Strategy and Tactics. 

Using both strategic as well as operational planning keeps an organization on track. Success doesn’t happen by accident. Adopting the right plan allows one to measure the progress made and introduce changes, when necessary, both of which help the organization stay competitive and effective. 

Dr. Syed Imtiaz Ahmad, emeritus professor at Eastern Michigan University, has served as both ISNA’s vice president and president and ISNA Canada’s vice president and president, as well as president of the Computer Science Association of Canada, the Association of Pakistani Scientists and Engineers of North America, the Pakistan Canada Association of the Windsor Islamic Association, and chair of ISNA Canada’s School Board. 

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