Reflecting on Pakistan

In the beginning of April, I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Pakistan and meet with artists shortlisted for the Center Stage program. Center Stage, supported by the U.S. State Department, is an exciting program that utilizes the power of the performing arts to connect cultures through a public-private partnership. The trip, however, played an even more significant role for me because of my personal connection and heritage. My last trip to Pakistan was in 2003 for my sister’s wedding and up until that point, my many trips to Pakistan consisted mostly of meeting with family in Karachi. Although I was familiar with Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage and a thriving music scene, it didn’t move me much in my teens or early twenties.

Asad Presenting in PakistanHowever, through my work with IMAN, I have developed a deep interest in the music, art, culture, and philosophy that has developed over centuries in South Asia. I also realize the impact that art and music in particular has had on social change in the region. I knew that this trip would be important and profound and that I would get a renewed sense of appreciation for the rich culture of this land. Yet, I was not prepared for the completely life-changing impact the trip has had on me.

From the moment we landed, we were exposed to the thriving youth culture in Islamabad, a constructed capital city that until recently was known for being a sleepy town with no culture of its own. From the independent music scene we witnessed at “The Rock” to meetings with the band Noori to the young people at “Kuch Khaas – Center for Art, Culture, and Dialogue”, I felt the energy and connection to young people fighting for change, while still trying hard to hold on to their identity.

Our visit to Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, magnified this feeling as we were served healthy doses of traditional and contemporary culture. In a meeting with comedian Saad Haroon at the Peace Niche and T2F (The Second Floor), I made the realization that the parallels of art, culture, and social change truly are universal. The mission and goals of the Peace Niche sounded almost too familiar. I felt like I had walked into a parallel vision of IMAN… except in an entirely different continent. However, it was later that week when it all came full circle. We were treated to dinner by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, Sufi Qawwals who have an authentic lineage going back to the beginning of the genre. Fareed Ayaz in clear and simple words, and almost flawlessly, connected spirituality and music in the context of modern Karachi, with all its deep social issues and its tremendous potential. At that moment, I realized what we really mean at IMAN when we say connecting the local to the global. The collective desire to change our reality for the better is greater than any individual, organization, or community.

Healthy Eats, Conscious Beats

IMAN’s Muslim Run Campaign for Health, Wellness and Healing aims to help solve the crisis of food deserts in Chicago to develop healthier communities. While we work with both state legislature and local business owners for solutions, a critical aspect of the campaign involves directly engaging community members in our targeted neighborhood. As one of their contributions to the campaign, the One Chicago, One Nation Community Ambassadors spent the last several months preparing for a Community Café-esque event at Chicago Lawn’s own Garifuna Flava restaurant. Their planning came to fruition Saturday, April 16th with an event called “Healthy Eats, Conscious Beats” which was a health symposium that used artistic expression to educate residents about health issues. Local painters, poets, and singers graced the stage, bringing a certain creative expression to the shared angst among the community over health problems and disparities. Enthused by the melody of tunes, passersby came in for free food and entertainment and left with tools to ensure their own personal health; not the least of which were recipes to the freshly made fruit smoothies given away during the event.

Healthy Eats, Conscious Beats A distinguishing aspect of the program was an engaging discussion on healthy food choices and personal health questions led by local nutritionist Dr. Angela Odom. She masterfully maintained the energy and excitement brought by the artists to convey a most important message of personal accountability. While we continue to address this issue at an institutional level, such reminders of personal responsibility are incredibly valuable. The culmination of the evening was an exercise workshop led by IMAN Director of Arts and Culture, Asad Jafri. The entire crowd pushed chairs aside and joined in as Asad led the group in aerobics and spiritually healing chants. The program was a most holistic affair. Attendees ate healthy food, learned about personal health, and lost a couple of calories along the way.

The efforts by IMAN’s Community Ambassadors to plan such an event were definitely worthwhile. Creative ideas like “Healthy Eats, Conscious Beats” are desperately needed in communities like Chicago Lawn and we are confident and hopeful that other community leaders will continue to find crafty ways of positively impacting the community.

Continued Growth at IMAN’s Health Clinic

Health Clinic Growth A little over a month ago, IMAN announced a major milestone in the evolution of our free Health Clinic; with support from Islamic Relief USA the Clinic now has expanded hours that will allow us to serve 50% more patients on a regular basis. Since that time, while adjusting to our increased hours, we have also continued to invest in the infrastructure of our Clinic such that future expansion efforts are matched with the capacity to serve and help more community members.

There are currently four doctors volunteering their services, each hailing from a different hospital across the city. In the coming weeks, we anticipate engaging at least four more whom we expect will commit to regular, consistent volunteer hours at our facility. Currently operating with the capacity to see over 40 patients per week, we expect that the efforts to expand the Clinic to five full days of service will be bolstered by the increased efforts of our current and new volunteer physicians. Furthermore, a new clinic management database and the return of our Lab Technician, Mohammed Hussain, after an extended family visit in India, are all healthy indicators for the Clinic’s continued growth.

In May, IMAN will begin hosting a nutrition and exercise class with the help of Heath Education, Advocacy, Research and Training (H.E.A.R.T.). This class is made possible with the help of American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP), which has also enlisted IMAN’s support in promoting First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy living program, “Let’s Move.” Bolstered by the gracious support of Islamic Relief USA, a growing number of partnerships only aids in our clinic’s ability to touch an ever-increasing number of under- and uninsured patients and ultimately meet the mission of providing high-quality, comprehensive, accessible and culturally competent health care to a diverse patient population.

The Skill and Art of Storytelling and Drumming

IMAN began hosting its Drumming and Storytelling class at the beginning of April, the first of three six-week sessions being offered this year. Infused with the knowledge and experience of Sekou Conde, founding member of the Seneke Ensemble and a seasoned drummer of over 35 years, students are learning the musical art of percussion as well as coming to understand the history and culture from which the art originates. Like many of IMAN’s skill-building opportunities for youth, there is a critical knowledge component to this class that makes it more than a simple lesson in drumming.

Drumming and Storytelling Sekou shares that opportunities for youth to engage in the arts are “crucial to the development of young minds and encourages discipline, wisdom and unity of people.” His point resonates with IMAN’s continuous efforts to use art as a tool to bring together people of different backgrounds, ultimately with the intention of inspiring social change. This latest effort to provide a safe and healthy space for young people to develop as future leaders is beginning with a diverse group of 15 students, whose racial, religious and geographic make-up very much resemble IMAN’s broader service and organizing base.

Sekou says that while his classes often draw a diverse representation, “IMAN is a great tool for bringing together different ethnicities to promote harmony and unity.” From Drumming and Storytelling to Muslim Run, IMAN is making a concerted effort to increase cultural awareness and racial healing among the communities it engages. While there is no single solution to the myriad of issues that might stunt the development of a healthy and stable community, providing multiple outlets to address health, wellness and healing is an organization-wide goal at IMAN. Programs that cater to youth and allow them to broaden their ability to positively engage their community are yet another way of providing them a clear path of engagement with the rest of IMAN’s work and ensuring that our efforts remain intergenerational.