Category Archives: Inspiration/Motivation
Chicago Muslims Join Mass Protest in Chicago
With the full support of The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), Muslims are joining thousands in a rally and march from Chicago’s Federal Building to City Hall to call for an elected Civilian Accountability Council. Grassroots campaigns to address violence and criminalization of Black and Latino communities are significant in this movement. This is the city where our sister Ameenah Matthews and other Interrupters have courageously stood between rival gangs. According to Bill Chambers, CIOGC is a federation of organizations that represent over 400,000 Muslim Americans in the Chicago area. Activists have long been fighting to change police policies, from Stop and Frisk, police killings, and even torture. In the past eight years, 400 people have been shot by Chicago police and only one was ruled an unjustified shooting. Don Rose points out, Dante Servin, who was only the second Chicago police officer to be indicted in 20 years, but even he was recently acquitted of manslaughter for shooting Rekia Boyd. In the Homan Square police warehouse interrogation facility 200 suspects from 1972-1991 and Emanuel Rahm approved a reparations settlement for victims of torture. Anjum Ali explains, “I heard a WBEZ story about the Chicago review board, IPRA, made up of mostly law enforcement people, and how they almost never rule an officer-involved shooting to be unjustified.” Ali pointed out the connections between Human Rights violations against Muslims and the war on terror and Chicago. He notes, “Det. Richard Zuley who honed his torturing skills in Chicago and was sent to be an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay. Ali highlights,“The Muslim community and others have been outraged by the techniques used in the Guantanamo Bay facility, but it’s happening right here.”
In the video, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid affirms, “Black Lives Matter” and states that the historic march aims to do two things: Stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and ask for city council to pass a law to establish civilian oversight of Chicago’s police. On the CGOIC website, “this march coincides with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who used coalition building as a major strategy in his efforts for peace.” The Muslim efforts are largely coordinated by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Volunteer Chairman for Justice for All, an organization that “… has taken on the mandate of doing political advocacy for causes that do not get mainstream support.”
As of Saturday morning 201 have joined Muslim Join August 29 March the facebook page. Churches, mosques, temples, and labor unions are joining in the organized rally, which According to the facebook page, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago is providing water for 10,000 people.
On the Facebook Event page hosted by The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression states “We are uniting our shared experience fighting for justice in order to bring about a systemic change. We are empowering the people to hold the police accountable for the crimes they commit, and to decide and control how they are policed” As of early Saturday, 1263 people signed up on the facebook page. Buses are schedule to pick up participants from ten mosques including the Muslim Community Center (MCC). Muslim Education Center (MEC), Islamic Center of Wheaton (ICW), Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines, Islamic Foundation, Islamic Foundation North (IFN), MECCA Center, Mosque Foundation, Dar-us-Sunnah, and Masjid Al Farooq. The mass rally is utilizing the hashtags #ChiRisingAug29 , #StopPoliceCrimes, and #BlackLivesMatter
The Medina: Muslim Urban Justice
What does medina mean for Muslims in the United States? With major Muslim centers of population along the two coasts, in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit, Islam in the United States is an urban religion. In a recent Ramadan reflection, Hazel Gomez writes, “In the next 35 years, America will grow by 110 million people and nearly 100 percent of that growth will be in cities — not suburban or rural America.” She continues, “Our task, if we’re to remain relevant to society at large, is to create viable, urban, multi-ethnic, Muslim-led, values-based communities.” Shaykha Muslema Purmul extends the argument about the significance of Muslim institutions in urban spaces. A mosque shutting down in a suburban neighborhood may not impact the neighbors, she points out, but “… if an institution like IMAN or Islah LA or Ta’leef Collective is shut down, the neighborhood would certainly care.”
Reflecting on Malcolm X’s legacy, Rami Nashishibi calls on our faith community to deepen our commitment to the inner city for three reasons: 1) Our roots are in the ‘Hood; 2) We do a lot of “our” business in the ‘Hood; and 3) Our greatest contributions to America are in the ‘Hood. Nashishibi points out that the modern roots of Islam in America began in urban centers such as Detroit, Harlem, Cleveland, and Chicago. Many immigrant Muslim families have benefitted economically through gas stations, restaurants, corner stores, and services in the hood. And finally, as a community we can make the greatest contribution to addressing social and economic disparities in the inner city.
These disparities arise out of migration patterns and the economic disempowerment of inner city communities. With approximately 70% of Black and Latinos in cities or outer ring communities, urban justice is often linked to racial justice. Dawinder S. Sidhu writes:
Urban America is occupied by the ‘urban underclass”–the marginalized poor in America’s inner cities. Members of the urban underclass are, generally defined, those who are economically impoverished, spatially relegated to ghettos, disproportionately African-American, subjected to discriminatory policies, and lacking prospects for social or physical advancement.
Long historical processes and profound structural economic shifts, that include the decline of industry in urban America, in addition to the legacy of housing discrimination have segregated poor and minority populations in U.S. cities. Inner city poverty is a racial justice issue because of the persistence of racial and gender discrimination in employment, criminal justice system, and education disparities, which prevent communities of color in urban areas from achieving their full potential. These factors also led to complex interactions between various groups, including tensions between South Asian and Arab corner storeowners and predominantly Black and Latino communities.
On the other hand, faith based initiatives and individual Muslims inspired by Islam and their hopes for bringing power to underserved communities have led to developments such as Kenny Luqman Gamble’s Universal Companies. It is important for us to know what Muslim community leaders are doing in terms of Urban Justice. They can inspire us, while providing important models to follow. But we also need to think more about how we can mobilize the broader Muslim community to support these efforts.
When it comes to Urban Justice, what are Muslim community leaders with strong organizing experiences on the ground doing? What models can we follow? How can the broader Muslim community support community leaders who are addressing Urban Justice?
Join this important conversation by viewing the livestream and tweeting your questions and reflections on the panel using the hashtag #MuslimUrbanJustice Thursday August 13 at 3:15 pm PST/ 6:15pm ESTTo address these issues, MuslimARC is very excited to organize a live streamed online panel highlighting the work that organizations like IMAN, Dream of Detroit, LA-Voice, and Sahaba Initiative are doing to advance Urban Justice.
We hope you’ll join us at 6:15pm ET this Thursday to discuss some of these important questions. Click here to join the event on Facebook and be sure to share it with friends.
A Ramadan Plea to Overcome Muslim Stereotypes in America
A multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges
As we honor Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, it’s important to look back at the history of Muslims in America to guide the context of fighting increased anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. today.
Anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times more common today than they were before 9/11. In 2014, we saw the chilling murder of 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, who was run down outside his mosque in Kansas City, Mo., by a man who had expressed his hatred for Muslims. In February 2015, the Chapel Hill shooting took the lives of three American-Muslim college students and shook the entire Muslim community. Last month there was an armed protest in Arizona outside of a mosque, and a Muslim community in New York was targeted by a man who plotted to burn down a school and mosque. The media is also filled with negative stereotypes about Muslims.
My concerns mirror those of so many Americans: As a parent to a rambunctious 3-year-old girl, I am concerned with her getting a quality education in a safe school, and I want her to live to her fullest potential and to have a positive self-identity. Yet when I taught an anti-racism workshop to 11-year-old girls last fall and asked about stereotypes, almost all of them answered that they faced some level of anti-Muslim bias. This reflects a recent survey from Muslim ARC, an organization that I co-founded, in which 82% of respondents said that they experienced racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination from society at large.
American Muslims with roots in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia face anti-Muslim bias mixed with a heavy dose of xenophobia. African American Muslims are often judged on two fronts: on the basis of religion and on the basis of race. But this native Muslim population has historical roots that go back hundreds of years. Around the time of the American Revolution, a large community of Moroccan Muslims lived and thrived in Charleston, S.C.Slaves in the Antebellum United States—nearly 15% to 30% of whom were Muslim—celebrated Ramadan in the South. From Thomas Jefferson owning a Quran to the mass adoration of Muhammad Ali to the reverberating social impact of Malcolm X, African American Muslims have always been a part of the American tapestry. The latest spate of hate crimes—both from white supremacists and from Islamophobes—belies this history.
Muslim Americans in America are a diverse group. The American Mosque Study breaks down the ethnicities of mosque participants in 2011 to 33% South Asian, 27% Arab, 24% African American, 9% Sub-Saharan African, 2% European (i.e. Bosnian), and about 1% each for white, Southeast Asian, Caribbean, Turkish, and Latino. This multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges.
This Ramadan, I abstain from drinking and eating during daylight hours and break fast at sun down with people from all walks of life. I have celebrated with Muslim Americans from Vietnam, Albania, Bangladesh, Morocco, and Mexico, and each exchange has helped me develop greater understanding of myself and empathy for others. As part of the African Diaspora, I feel a connection to African Diasporic communities in India, Brazil, Haiti, and Europe. As a Muslim, I have felt a closeness to Muslims from Eastern Europe, Yemen, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan. By celebrating our plurality, we demonstrate that there is no one single narrative for what it means to be Muslim and to be American.
Original article in Time.
Heartbreak, Detachment and Hope
Foregoing Community for Authentic Relationships
I came home from a community iftar on Saturday and tweeted this:
When asked what happened, I answered, “I’m breaking up with my community.” Anybody who has been through a divorce can tell you that ending a relationship can be a long process. It begins with knowing that things aren’t working.
So, I’m in the process of breaking up with my community.
Two months ago, the reality of it being over hit home. I was in a New York hotel, on the first over night trip away from my three-year-old daughter. As my husband told me about the latest development in our Muslim community, I burst into tears. The masjid board was dissolved the month before, and the waqf took over, deciding not to institute elections for the foreseeable future.
I was losing the dream of an inclusive community, one where my daughter could belong to and one in which the 18-year-old version of me could prosper, rather than spiritually and economically flounder. I felt so hollowed out. What had I been working towards for over a decade?
Read the rest on AltMuslim
Strategies for Coping with Islamophobia
Muslims in the West face a barrage of negative images in the media, Islamophobia, anti-Black, anti-Arab, anti-South Asian racism, and xenophobia. Muslims in Canada and the United States are grieving after the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan on Tuesday and the lesser known murder of Mustafa Mattan. Some members of Muslim communities have faced increased intimidation, and others fear copycat crimes and further backlash. In the aftermath, Muslims across the country are experiencing psychological trauma, which adds to the environmental stress that Muslims have been facing. Whether in their work places, schools, public places, or neighborhoods, Muslims feel pressured to defend their identity, be exemplary citizens, and counter negative images of Muslims. Although Islamophobia is a form of religious discrimination, Muslims are a racialized group subject to interpersonal and structural racism in society. Thus, individuals with Arabic names, those who are identifiably Muslim, or appear non-white can be subject to racial stress.
The forms of racism and Islamophobia can be subtle and overt. Nadal, Griffin, Hamit, Leon, Tobio and Rivera (2012) list six major themes of microaggressions:
1) Endorsing Religious Stereotypes of Muslims as Terrorists,
2) Pathology of the Muslim Religion,
3) Assumption of Religious Homogeneity,
5) Islamophobic and Mocking Language,
6) Alien in Own Land.
The toxic climate of these microagressions, negative media representation, employment discrimination, and law enforcement surveillance has implications on the mental health of many Muslim Americans. According to the Counseling Center of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, race related stress causes has the following negative outcomes:
Intense emotional reactions:
- Substance Use
- Heart Disease
- Muscle Tension
How to deal with Islamophobia? Many people do not know take action because they do not know how to respond when they witness someone telling an anti-Muslim joke. Studies have shown that bystander anti-racism does have an affect. Perpetrators of racism are less likely to perpetuate racism after confronted.
Individuals who experience racism and Islamophobia, as well as those who have observed it, often feel powerless when they do not know how to respond. Students may not know who to turn to or what recourse that they have. Knowing strategies for addressing Islamophobia can feel empowering. There is evidence that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the use of stereotypes, they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards (This study ). However, it is not the job of the victims of prejudice and discrimination to call out the perpetrators or make every Islamophobic incident a teachable moment.
First, draw on your faith for strength and direction. Check your intentions in responding to Islamophobia. You will have a range of emotions. Keeping your connection and communication with Allah (swt), both will help bring ease and guidance to any situation. Second, find colleagues who will help by supporting you or by becoming advocates for addressing the situation. Organizations such as CAIR, Muslim Advocates, Take On Hate, NAACP, and SAALT advocate for and assist individuals facing racism and Islamophobia. If you are going to a mental health professional, be sure that the he/she is multicultural competent and has understanding of micro aggressions and racial battle fatigue. There is no one right way to respond to Islamophobia. The following are a few suggestions that can help empower everyday Muslims.
Recommendations for Coping with Islamophobic-Related Stress
You are not alone. You are part of the ummah. Although Islamophobia can cause feelings of isolation and depression, know that there are Muslims all over the country who share your experiences, who will validate the reality that you are facing and who are open to provide you a sense of support and solidarity.
Find your Roots
Developing a positive cultural and religious identity will help combat the invalidating experience of Islamophobia. Knowing your religion and your heritage will help bolster you against the dehumanizing experience of racism and Islamophobia. Take a history course, watch a documentary, read the Qur’an, the seerah, or historical non-fiction. Even Muslim literature may uplift your spirit and help you feel connected. Celebrate being Muslim and contributions Muslims have made all over the world.
Have a little faith
Center yourself by building your Iman. Find hope in the Qur’an and sunnah and strength and in the early Muslim community who faced oppression. Focus on the power of dua and remembrance of Allah (swt) we must also be careful not to unwittingly convey the message that crying and feeling sad is unacceptable. We should absolutely trust in Allah’s wisdom and mercy, while also acknowledging how painful this is for so many Muslims.
Take Care of You
You can empower yourself with healthy habit. Taking care of your spiritual, mental, and physical health will help you cope with the stress of discrimination.
Take a Stand
Pushing back against anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination is one one to empower yourself. Although this may look different depending on the situation, there are many ways that you can take a stand. (Adapted heavily from Coping with Discrimination)
Report any hatecrimes, Call law enforcement if you see anything threatening. If this is happening in your workplace or school, report it to HR or student affairs.
Kevin L. Nadal, Katie E. Griffin, Sahran Hamit, Jayleen Leon, Michael Tobio, and David P. Rivera . Subtle and Overt Forms of Islamophobia: Microaggressions toward Muslim America. Journal of Muslim Mental Health Volume VI, Issue 2, 2012 http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.10381607.0006.203 http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jmmh/10381607.0006.203?rgn=main;view=fulltext
Do you have any more resources or suggestions? Put them in the comments below. jazak Allah kheir!
This evening, I attended a preview course on Healing and Reconciliation. One thing that the instructor brought up was that when we are hurting, it is very difficult to hear the grievances of others. Knowing that I’ve hurt others and pray that they can forgive me and move past the pain is important. By keeping this in mind, I’m more likely to forgive others. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteousWho spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good (Surah Imran: 132-134
Last week’s Khutbah by Marc Manley was on humility. He reminded us about letting things go even when they chafe us. There are things that stand in the way of humility, from well intentioned peopled like myself. Sometimes I interact with people and feel deep anger over real and perceived slights and insults. It is fight or flight. The anxiety is real, the visceral reaction is so real and tangible for me. I’m left exhausted after the verbal battles. My first response is to guard myself. But these shields are something that keep me from asking for forgiveness when I wrong Allah and when I wrong His creation. Making amends with people is one of the most humbling things.
Making amends can be frightening. Unprepared, it can turn into a downward cycle. Recently, I unknowingly did something deeply offensive. When it was brought to my attention, I apologized. But my apology wasn’t accepted. Instead, it brought an onslaught of anger, grievances, and judgments about my essential self. At the time, I was not in a place where I could accept the grievances. My life was in upheaval, I had just been dealt with another emotional blow the day before, and I was blindsided. Sometimes I still think about that moment with a broken heart, with unresolved feelings. But then again, I hadn’t done much to find the space or time to resolve it. Instead, the judgment and derision I have faced still echo in my head. I let them shape how I see myself. And I wallow in this pit listening to those voices who tell me I am not worthy, I am not lovable, I need to go, I don’t belong, I’m not good enough. The over achiever in me tries to battle those voices by doing things to prove my worthiness, my cleverness, my lovability, my noble contribution to the world. But those efforts often fall short. It is time for real self work
I’ve done a number of crummy things and things I’m not proud of. I can’t even chalk them up to my youth as I did them when I was a supposedly mature woman. Still, I am learning to be more kind and forgive myself. Part of forgiving myself is letting those voices die out, as they are untruths about me. And as long as I let them define me, I will be sad and angry. Forgiveness for me is self care. I have been very unkind to myself as I have internalized much of the judgment and derision I have experienced in my life. I know it will be a process, but carrying on this way is doing me much more harm emotionally and spiritually. I know I have a lot of people to make amends to. I am working on becoming prepared to listen to others with empathy, from a place where I am whole.
Mobilizing Black-American Muslims
How a rally in Philadelphia could be an effective model for the future
The “Make It Plain-Philly” rally that took place on December 27th, 2014 was as much about the present day circumstances of race in America as it was about the long-term mobilization of black Muslims in America.
Philadelphia is one of the oldest and most established indigenous American Muslim communities. According to the the Association of Religion Data Archives, in 2010 Muslims made up about 2.6% Philadelphia County’s population, totaling about 40,000. It is the fourth largest Muslim population center, with at least 63 registered mosques. Islam is so normalized in Philadelphia that it is not an uncommon sight to see a hijab-clad black American Muslim driving the city bus or niqab-wearing women in scrubs at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Islam has become deeply embedded in the local vernacular, so much so that many non-Muslims use the term “ock” (derived from the Arabic term akhi which means brother) to refer to Muslims. Even Muslim modes of dress and grooming are adopted by the broader community. It is not uncommon for a non-Muslim to request a “sunni beard” trim from his local barber. Muslims have played an important role in the city’s institutions, a noteworthy example is Kenny Luqman Gamble’s redevelopment project in South Philadelphia.
Given this cultural and institutional presence in the city, black Muslims in Philadelphia have an opportunity to establish two important precedents:
First, Muslims should have a lot to say about racism in America, drawing from the history of black Muslims who have repeatedly articulated powerful critiques of racist social, cultural, political and economic structures. Taking a leadership role in addressing issues of race and racism in America is an important step Muslims in America must undertake that aligns with the moral and ethical impulses of Islam. In other words, Islam has something meaningfully important to add to the conversation, and so participation is both morally obligated and politically necessary.
Second, the black Muslim community must take this opportunity to assume a leadership role within the broader Muslim community on an issue important to America. Muslims in general must take an active role in addressing issues of racism and bigotry and black Muslims have unique insights into these issues given its history and experience of Islam in America.
In 1985, Philadelphia became the only US city in which a police department bombed civilians, killing 11 people. The Justice Department recently intervened to curb abuses in Philadelphia Police Department. The cases of misconduct included corruption, excessive use of force, sexual misconduct, false arrest, and homicide. Philadelphia Muslims are no strangers to structural racism, over policing and surveillance. The NYPD’s spy program includes surveillance of UPenn MSA students. A few years back, an APB was issued by police for my husband, Marc Manley, for taking a picture of train tracks while wearing a fez.
Likewise, black Muslims are not immune to the vulnerability of black Life, as the Philadelphia community was reminded of at the janazah of Aisha Abdul Rahman. Black Muslims are all too often victims of gun violence.
With the intersection of race, Muslim identity and policing in Philadelphia, the spontaneous efforts Philadelphia Muslims to organize “Make It Plain” was a necessary response by a community that needs to make it presence known.
One of the most powerful statements of the rally was the presence of black American Muslim leadership. The organizers have decades of experience fundraising, community building, writing, and supporting the community. We are witnessing increased solidarity within the Muslim community. We are hopeful that discussions about race happening in Muslim circles across the country. But we have many hurdles to overcome in order to make long term and sustainable changes. Some black American Muslim leaders from the Black Power movement have expressed skepticism about the efficacy of our actions. Some traditional Muslims don’t believe that protest even has a place in Islam. We have to be vigilant about exercises of privilege from our non-black allies within the Muslim community, which can derail important conversations or deflate the momentum. It is absolutely necessary that we train our non-black Muslim allies in privilege and anti-racism in order to prevent patterns of paternalism or speaking over inner-city black Muslims. We also need to develop trainings for marginalized groups and youth so that they can have the tools and vocabulary to challenge attempts to silence them.
Kameelah Mu’min Rashad, a prominent Muslim activist in Philadelphia, spoke of this rally as a call to action for Muslim community leaders and members to unite and take a stand for police accountability and racial justice. “We must put faith into action and take a stand against oppression, whether by seeking to remove it with our hands, speaking against it, or by hating it in our hearts. We are calling on our brothers and sisters to stand, speak and act!
Donna Auston stated, “it was wonderful to see our community, predominantly black Muslims, standing up for #blacklivesmatter. Both identities should speak to this moment.”
When I asked Kameelah what stood out most, she replied by pointing to a picture of a young boy holding a megaphone during the march, referring to the participation of our children. “Bring our children with us so that they will be part of this legacy. It is an ongoing struggle, a generational struggle.” She continued, ” this is not just talk. This is their inheritance as Muslims as black people as Americans”.
The rally was held at LOVE park at 15th and JFK Boulevard at 12pm. The line up included, Tanya Dickerson, Brandon Tate-Brown’s mother, author and poet Seff Al-Afriqi, author and poet, writer Shahidah Mohammad, and keynote speaker Imam Abdul Malik. All faiths are welcome.
Make it Plain is a group of concerned Muslims who are working to raise awareness to encourage, inspire, and support the mobilization of the Muslim community to respond to police brutality and the conditions that bring about the over policing of the Black/African American community. We are kicking off this movement in Philadelphia. For more information, visit the site muslimsmakeitplain.com. You can also visit the Facebook Event page.
Originally published at Islamic Monthly.
This short video below outlines one of the major motivation for doing this work, my work in an Islamic school. I am committed to supporting healthy environments for Muslim children to thrive and prosper. I found that many of our children were ill equipped with the skills necessary to challenge the racism they faced, whether it came from their peers or from the broader society.
I don’t want people to think that the experience was all negative. I saw many wonderful examples of students and families who embodied Islam. I have a young daughter and I constantly pray that my daughter grows up to be like many of the girls and young women I came to know. Empowering our youth with healthy self-identities and with a sense that they can help create a better world are two of my greatest motivations. Those two years teaching secondary school left a lasting impact on me. Those students taught me much more than I could have ever taught them. I still see those beautiful young children, although most of my students are adults, in college, starting their own families, and taking on leadership roles themselves.
Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in many ways represents the beauty of Islam. Although I felt those deep bonds of sisterhood with individuals over the years, I had struggled calling my co-religionists brothers and sisters. Sometimes it was because of some of the socio-economic, gendered, and racial power dynamic that dehumanized us. Other times, it was because I felt in the end our futures were not intertwined. But this past year, the tireless work Namira Islam, Bangladeshi American woman who lived thousands of miles away, Laura Poyneer, a white American Muslim who at the time lived on the other side of the country, and over forty volunteers who gave their precious time showed me the depth of our bond. Our shared visions, frustrations, hopes, and struggles bind us together.
I am asking you to join us in this movement. We are need your input to know a bit more about MuslimARC’s reach. Please take a moment to complete this short survey.
If you checked any of these than, YOU are part of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.
Sister Intisar Shah: QAAMS
Intisar Shah is one of the most recognisable and respected members of the Philadelphia Muslim community. Born and raised in North Philadelphia, she accepted Islam in 1973. Some people have described Intisar Shah as a rock of the community, but she is more than that; she’s a gemstone who has been polished through perseverance, faith, and dedication to her community.
While small in stature, sister Intisar has a calm and commanding presence that is respected by everyone. Qasim Rashad highlights Intisar’s positive attitude, explaining, “She has an ability to make you feel the world cares about you while at the same time she is as candid and truthful as they come.” Perhaps it’s her mid-Atlantic dialect, with traces of Southern warmth, or that Philly swagger, which transcends age, that makes it so easy for people of all ages to relate to her. She acknowledges, “I work with both ends, the youth and elders, and the adults in between.”
For over 40 years, sister Intisar has worked with inner city youth. Keziah Ridgeway, educator, writer, and Philly fashionista, relates, “I still remember her work with the youth back when I was in high school and it doesn’t seem that she’s slowed down one bit as she grows older.” Intisar lives just one block from United Muslim Masjid in South Philadelphia, one of the city’s most active Muslim communities. Qasim Rashad, Amir of United Muslim Masjid, notes, “Everyone that knows sister Intisar knows she loves her community, her people and the youth.” She considers the Muslim community her family and the masajid across Philadelphia home. Intisar recounted her youth, “I came from a family of very motivated leaders. My mother fought for community rights and a clean neighbourhood. She always had an extra plate at the table for a stranger, for anyone that may drop by.” Intisar’s most meaningful work is linked to turning personal tragedy into blessings for the youth and Philadelphia Muslim community as a whole.
One of the great testaments to her faith and dedication to Islamic education is the life of her son, Qa’id Ameer Abdul-Majeed Staten. Like his mother and father, Sam Staten Sr., Qa’id devoted much of his time to volunteering in the community. Despite his youth, Qa’id inspired others around him and even began his own organisation. When I asked her what the key was to raising such a devout, thoughtful, and inspirational young man, Intisar stated that every child needs discipline and order. She said, “I am a believer in being firm, but first and foremost, I always tried to put Allah I in the front of our life.” Intisar, like her mother, opened her home to others and almost every night three to a half dozen of her son’s friends spent the night. She said, “Everything I did with our son and his friends was to always let them know the role that they played as men in our community. They should be God-fearing, make prayer, and call their families to prayer.” She also stressed the importance of her son’s Islamic education in shaping his character. Intisar highlighted how Clara Muhammad School was a safe haven compared to many public schools in Philadelphia, which are plagued by drugs and violence.
Qa’id had plans to attend Howard University on scholarship but on April 27, 2003, just a few weeks short of his graduation, he was fatally shot by a robber. During Qa’id’s funeral, a group of young adults who knew him decided to create an organisation that honoured his generosity and service to the community by also giving back to the community through a hajj fund. Intisar said, “My son and two of his friends made intention to make hajj the same year that he graduated. I went to perform the rites for my son and those two young men were the first recipients to hajj scholarship.” The youth formed The Qa’id Ameer Abdul- Majeed Staten (QAAMS) Hajj Foundation.
Sister Intisar Shah has been an integral part of QAAMS since its inception. This year, QAAMS celebrated its 10th anniversary and now has a youth council and senior council. The organisation seeks to preserve our youth through spirituality, education and recreation. Qasim Rashad says that there are over a dozen youth actively involved in the QAAMS youth council, which provides a healthy alternative to children who have outgrown the Jawaala (for boys 7 to 17) and Muslimah Scouts (for girls 6 to 16). QAAMS organises ski trips, hosts iftars during Ramadan and feeds the hungry with organisations, such as Feeding Philly. QAAMS also organises and sponsors Family Night at United Muslim Masjid and collaborates with the Muslim Students Associations in Philadelphia through events aimed at the youth, such as open mic poetry. QAAMS continues to sponsor hajj tours. About 11 members have performed hajj to this date. Many of the youth council members are currently starting college and are looking forward to performing hajj.
Most of the original members of QAAMS are now in their late 20s and have been involved with the organisation for about a decade. Intisar said that many are active in the community and restructuring the organisation. The youth who started QAAMS, she says, “ Are now married, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, Bachelors, Masters, entrepreneurs, working in a variety of fields from health to social services.”
Organisations like QAAMS are so important for our community because they nurture and empower our youth, creating safe environments for them to flourish spiritually. Both Keziah Ridgeway and Qasim Rashad highlight how many of QAAMS’ members continue to give back to the community. At the QAAMS 10th anniversary gala, they didn’t need big name speakers. Instead, members inspired attendees by speaking about how their lives have been impacted by QAAMS and hajj. Intisar related that QAAMS is working on obtaining a building. She said, with a physical location “we can create safe quarters for the Muslim youth. So people can come and be educated about Islam, have social programs and be safe.” By working through QAAMS, Intisar is committed to building the Islamic community and creating opportunities for the youth, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
This past May, Intisar received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual Sister’s Recognition Luncheon and Fashion Show, which is sponsored by United Muslim Masjid. Intisar was acknowledged for her work; she has given over 40 years of service to the private and public sectors. She is the Executive Director of QAAMS Hajj Foundation, active in Jewels of Islam (a comprehensive program and support network for women 50 years and older), a Board Member of Islamic Heritage Foundation, and Committee Member for the City-Wide Eid. In addition to her work with QAAMS, she has also coordinated countless youth and adult activities for the Philadelphia Muslim community. Keziah Ridgeway highlights Intisar’s involvement and abilities as a facilitator, explaining, “When I participated in the Islamic Heritage Foundation Youth Committee and attended related events I always remember how involved Sis. Intisar was with participating and being the glue to hold it all together.”
Sister Intisar’s community building is not limited to the Muslim community; she also works in the broader public sector as an active member of Mothers In Charge (for women who lost family and loved ones due to violence), Support Community Outreach Program, and the Equal Partners in Charge, Department of Human Services Community Prevention Services. She also researches and writes with a joint effort for the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program in the Department of Health and Human Services promoting abstinence programs.
Women like Intisar are the backbone of our community. It is clear that she does her work out of love and to please her Lord. Qasim Rashad notes, “I think the most important lesson that any person can learn from Intisar is consistency. Her undying love and commitment to our community has not permitted her to waiver one bit. “Through her dedication, she has become an effective and influential leader. Keziah Ridgeway explains, “As a result of seeing her hard work and dedication, it inspired me to continue to give back to my community in whatever way that I can whether that be through the students that I teach, the girls I mentor through Alimah Scouts or online through my website and social media!”
Intisar’s community work following her son’s tragic death is a perfect example of how we can find strength through hardship. We often go to lectures and hear about how we should be steadfast and not despair. In the past, I have often asked myself ‘how?’ We have so many inspiring reminders in the Qur’an, such as the following verse where Allah I tells us: “Oh you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful” (Al Imraan: 200)
Looking to Intisar’s life and hearing accounts of how she remained steadfast, I am reminded of the follow verse: “But give glad tidings to the patient. Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly, to Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.” (Al-Baqarah: 155-156)
Some recounted the strength Intisar demonstrated during her son’s funeral, and she continues to have so much patience and grace when faced with hardship or struggle. Intisar says, “I am thankful to Allah I to be His servant. I am thankful that my son accepted Islam as a way of life. And I pray that Allah I is pleased with him. I really want to please Allah I. So I pray that I can meet him in Jannat al Firdous.” Sister Intisar has shown me how I can better embody the Qur’an and Sunnah in my life; how I can turn whatever hardship I face into a lifetime of meaningful work.
You can find more information about Intisar Shah’s work by visiting QAAMS’ Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/QAAMS2003, or their website, http://www.qaamshajjfoundation.blogspot.com.
Margari Aziza Hill is an adjunct professor, blogger, and writer who lives just outside of Philadelphia.
You can read the full article at SISTERS magazine, along with many other fabulous and thoughtful contributions from Muslim women across the globe.