Ramadan & Remembering Ali

Ramadan Mubarak! I sincerely pray that the tremendous blessings and beauty of Ramadan be with you and your loved ones during every minute of this sacred month.

Muslims across the globe greeted this blessed month while in the midst of a bittersweet moment: the passing of perhaps the most inspirational and well-known American Muslim, Muhammad Ali.

As a kid growing up in Jamaica, Ali’s fierce resolve and courage grabbed my attention. As a young man entangled within the criminal justice system, the spiritual redemption and discipline of the teachings that Ali followed led me to embrace a new faith and a new way of life. My love for being Muslim and commitment to justice emerged out of such courageous and unwavering convictions.

More than any other opportunity, serving on IMAN’s board has enabled me to remain true to that commitment and, with the passing of this legend right on the heels of this blessed month, I feel more compelled than ever to dedicate my efforts to the success of this organization and the larger community.

Throughout this month, you will be learning about all the phenomenal ways IMAN continues to impact those most directly affected by urban poverty, racism and blight. I pray that you will join me in making the most generous zakat-eligible donation possible, as IMAN works to meet and exceed its $500,000 Ramadan Drive goal.

One of the most poignant reflections I’ve read regarding Ali’s passing was by American Muslim scholar and longtime IMAN supporter, Dr. Sherman Abdul Hakim Jackson, in which he writes:

It is my hope that the passing of Muhammad Ali will not mark the end of an era in the United States, an era in which Islam in America is represented not by the deeds or misdeeds of actors in far off places but by the accomplishments and contributions, the resolve and courage of American Muslims themselves.

Ali championed the voices of those that IMAN aspires to touch every day through its many programs and efforts. I pray that this type of work can continue to help all Americans learn to champion the courage, resolve and great contributions of our community beyond the larger-than-life legacy of our beloved Champ.

Umar Carter
IMAN Board President

IMAN Leader Spotlight: Harun McGraw

Longtime leader Harun McGraw recently sat down with Communications Coordinator Dallas Wright to reflect on his tenure at IMAN, his long-term aspirations, and how his experience as an organizer has led to growth in various aspects of his life.

Harun, how did you first get involved with IMAN?

HM: I began working with IMAN in 2008. After the Friday prayer at a local mosque, I ran into Rami Nashashibi and Shamar Hemphill. After introductions, they shared with me IMAN’s mission, vision and the programs they offered at the time. They said they were headed downtown to a rally, and they invited me to tag along. So, I went with them…I had just met these guys [laughs], I was so open-minded.

MarchAfter the rally, we all went to grab lunch and then they told me even more about IMAN. I was really struck by how active and engaged Rami and Shamar were. So many times, I’d walked past neighborhood organizations and it looks like nothing is going on inside. But this felt different. The very first impression I got from IMAN was one of action.

What have been some highlights of your time as an IMAN leader?

HM: Something that I’ll always remember is the Pillars of IMAN program. This was back in the summer of 2009, and we had a group of young guys that grew really close to each other. That was my first experience at IMAN doing serious relationship building. What was most impactful was being able to be my authentic self around the other guys in the program. Out in the neighborhood, you feel a big pressure to front and act tough. To be able to genuinely open up with brothers like Gemali Ibrahim and LaRon Hood was powerful for me, and those guys are my good friends to this day.

HarunI also really enjoyed working on the backyard garden at the Green ReEntry house at 6210 S. Fairfield. The high point of that experience was taking the green tomatoes that we [the youth interns] had harvested to the Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers’ Market to sell them. It was like we’d proven ourselves, because we produced something tangible without much oversight from our elders. That summer was also special because we got paid to do the work. Spiritual and networking benefits are definitely important, but so is putting money in our pocket. So many young people in the community don’t get many opportunities to do that in a dignified way, but we were fortunate to enjoy that success.

What sort of skills have you sharpened during your years with IMAN?

HM: A couple of things really stand out. Firstly, I know how to grow food now. That includes the physical planting of the seeds, but also the budgeting and other planning things that go into a productive garden. I was able to implement statistical knowledge I gained in school and apply it in a really interactive way.

I’ve become a much better public speaker too. Shamar has sent me to places like the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, to conferences, and to other places to present IMAN’s work. Through experiences like those, I really found a voice.

What advice do you have for young people looking to make an impact in their communities

HM: First of all, come to IMAN [laughs]. Then, ask yourself why you want to get involved. Actions are according to intentions, so, if you don’t know what is motivating you to do the work, you will burn yourself out. Look for something bigger than yourself to get grounded in, and that will help you flourish. Dream about what your community could be in 30-40 years, because the way it is now doesn’t have to be the way that will end up. Then, it’s time to get to work.

Congratulations on graduating from DePaul! What are your long-term plans?

HM: Well my Bachelor’s Degree is in Sociology, so my goal is to earn a PhD and focus my research on more effective gang prevention efforts. I would want my research to be used at the grassroots level though, so I want to collaborate with local organizations to develop programs around that research.

Sisters Circle Strengthens Bonds

With a post-Ramadan spiritual boost last year, an inspired group of IMAN staff, board members and leaders established a collaborative safe space called “Sisters Circle.” Rooted in a passion to nurture and uplift all participants, Sisters Circle has quickly grown into a strong network of female leaders committed to mutual support.

Sisters CircleMuslim Run Campaign Manager Sara Hamdan has been instrumental to the Sisters Circle, and she greatly values the group’s unique intergenerational dynamics. “It’s extremely important to be able to recognize the contributions of the women who preceded us, the younger generation,” said Hamdan. “We can connect movements and align the goals of different generations when we have a space to learn from one another.”

Sisters Circle participants have also built strong relationships through exploring the diverse faith traditions that they bring into the space, using those perspectives to enrich dialogue about common experiences. During a recent meeting, a discussion on power and agency was enhanced by both the Biblical and Qur’anic narratives about Sarah and Hagar.

The gatherings happen each month at IMAN. For more information about Sisters Circle, please contact Sara Hamdan at sara@imancentral.org.

Executive Director Rami Nashashibi at President Obama’s First Visit to a US Mosque

rami obama 16President Barack Obama visited the Islamic Center of Baltimore on February 3, his first visit to a mosque in the United States. Before addressing the congregation in Baltimore, and the nation at large, President Obama met privately with a dozen prominent Muslim Americans. Executive Director Rami Nashashibi was at the table, sharing updates and reflections about IMAN and highlighting Muslim Americans’ contributions to the betterment of society.

The following day at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., the President related another story that Rami had shared with him; a story about courage, faith and conviction. President Obama also mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s impact on Marquette Park, a legacy which, God wiling, will be enshrined this summer as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Living Memorial.

Check out more from President Obama’s final National Prayer Breakfast below.