Award-winning Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg recently wrote a column about his reflections on IMAN’s Green ReEntry program saying:
“Many Americans seem to form their impression of Islam solely from terrorist acts abroad. But if they spoke to the men at Green ReEntry, they’d see an opposite image: of the faith as a force leading away from violence.”
We have all spent the last week reeling after one of the worst mass shootings in our recent history. The unfortunate but unsurprising rush to connect this horrific act of terrorism with the larger American Muslim community dominated the news cycle.
Many of our Muslim organizations and leaders (IMAN included) naturally responded with unequivocal condemnations of the shooting and heartfelt condolences for the victims and their families. Yet, it often feels that such statements fall on deaf ears. The fact is that most of us would prefer to be shown rather than told what the “real” expression of our faith looks like in action.
For me, that was the power in the Steinberg quote listed above. Nothing speaks more to the redemptive, life-giving and violence-reducing power of our faith than programs like IMAN’s Green ReEntry. I wish I had the ability to show more of my friends, family and colleagues across the country the power of IMAN’s work in some of our hardest-hit neighborhoods in Chicago.
For now I’m asking you to help us deepen and expand our impact by making your zakat-eligible, tax-deductible donation to our Ramadan Drive and help us reach our $500,000 goal before Eid. Together we can make this work speak to all those in need of seeing a real model of our community’s commitment to stemming the tide of violence, poverty and injustice in our inner cities.
Director of Community Relations
On behalf of IMAN’s staff, leaders, and board of directors, we want to thank the IMAN community in Chicago and across the country for helping us to meet and exceed our 2014 Ramadan Drive goal! We witnessed an outpouring of prayers and support from hundreds of people this month, from Virginia to California, Naperville to Marquette Park, and we are humbled and grateful for every dollar given and every du’a made. Part of what makes IMAN supporters unique is that they understand not only that they contribute their funds to this organization, but that they serve and are served by IMAN’s work.
They recognize their investment in a model that has the ability to transform both the inner-city communities and themselves. Whether it’s passing out free fruit smoothies in front of Muslim owned corner stores, digging holes for our community garden, teaching local high school students how to use video editing software, planning a family arts festival in the park, or prescribing blood pressure medication to under-insured patients, the people who give to this organization are not only donors but leaders without whom none of this work would be possible.
We cannot thank you enough for your commitment to this effort. We understand and appreciate, deeply, the fact that your hard-earned dollars and heartfelt prayers could go elsewhere every year, and we do not underestimate the great amana—sacred trust—that your contributions are to us. Our supporters across the globe are the mainstay of this organization and we pray that the Most High continues to bless and protect your families and to make us worthy of your support.
Last week, IMAN hosted a student group from the University of Michigan for a week-long Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Chicago. The group, called MuJew, is a student-led organization of Muslim and Jewish students who are committed to building meaningful relationships between the two communities on the Ann Arbor campus. Preparations for the ASB trip with IMAN began last winter and several months later, a robust and diverse agenda was laid out for the group’s week in Chicago.
At the heart of the trip was the direct service project the group did with IMAN’s newest Green ReEntry home. The group worked closely with the Green ReEntry crew to learn the skills necessary to add finishing touches to the home and to build a shed in the backyard that will serve as a storage place for the various tools and supplies necessary to keep the home “green” in the coming years. In addition to the service, the group had the opportunity to meet with a number of community partners and to participate in discussions and workshops at institutions across Chicago’s South Side, focusing on practical interfaith engagement, personal and social identity, community organizing, and faith-driven approaches to social justice work.
One of the pillars of IMAN’s work over the last 15 years has been to connect disconnected communities–to give members of different communities the opportunity to learn from and grow with one another. According to each and every MuJew participant, the experience that was most valuable to them this week was the opportunity to work with and learn directly from the brothers of IMAN’s Green ReEntry program. Said one MuJew participant, “I am forever in the debt of the [Green ReEntry] brothers. They not only have taught me so much, but allowed me to believe in myself”. Another stated that, “Getting to know the brothers exceeded all my expectations. They are some of the smartest people I’ve met and [they] continuously shattered preconceived notions I had in my head.” Some of the informal discussion topics the group engaged in revolved around the broken criminal justice and education systems that lead to astronomical incarceration rates for African American and Latino men.
This is the first time IMAN has hosted a week-long service trip, and staff, participants and leaders were very pleased with the outcome. IMAN hopes that these types of exchanges lead to a deeper understanding of the type of change IMAN aspires to create in the inner-city, and serve as a model for how other faith communities can organize, build alliances based on mutual trust and shared values, and work together to restore dignity and strength to their neighborhoods and institutions. Throughout the course of the year, IMAN aims to continue developing meaningful ways to engage volunteers and supporters in its work in more substantive and sustainable ways.
IMAN wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their generous and much appreciated participation in this week’s ASB trip: Rabbi Ariana Silverma; Ms. Hind Makki; Chicago Theological Seminary; Jewish Council on Urban Affairs; University of Chicago’s Spiritual Life Office, Hillel Center, and Muslim Students Association; KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation; Mosque Maryam; Muhammad University of Islam; and Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation.
Every year, IMAN commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by honoring the larger civil rights legacy of working for social justice and racial equity, particularly in neighborhoods like the one in which IMAN is based. This year, on Monday, January 20, IMAN marked the day by officially launching a community-wide and historic initiative to create an MLK Memorial Project in Marquette Park, and by holding a free community luncheon in its new and partially rehabilitated IMAN Youth and Arts Wellness Center.
The MLK Memorial Project will be a two-year effort to construct a memorial that commemorates Dr. King’s march through Chicago’s Marquette Park on August 5, 1966. The Memorial will also celebrate the struggles and commitment of diverse local communities that have, since that day, continued to work together toward realizing a dignified quality of life for all community residents. By connecting community organizations, public schools, religious institutions and neighborhood families with artists, local historians and participants in the 1966 walk, IMAN intends to build a dynamic and expansive team of people who are eager to establish a Marquette Park memorial that will bring enthusiasm, vitality and community spirit back to the neighborhood. IMAN is partnering with the Chicago Public Art Group to construct the memorial, while funding from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development was made possible by the leadership of State Senator Jacqueline Collins.
IMAN leaders and volunteers were also honored to hold a free community luncheon that day. Individuals and families from IMAN’s larger Chicagoland base of supporters and leaders, such as families from the Hyde Park River Garden School, teamed with local leaders from the Chicago Lawn community to hold a restaurant-style luncheon for local residents. Volunteers as young as four years old helped to serve homemade turkey, rice, vegetables and chocolate cake to local parents, educators, construction workers, store clerks, retired couples and children off of school that day. IMAN staff also used the opportunity to inform new faces about IMAN’s services and to formally announce the launch of the MLK Memorial Project.