In Their Words: IMAN Youth Leaders Reflect
IMAN dedicates much time and energy to developing leaders, those individuals who are invested and affected by issues, and who have the ability to mobilize people around them to act constructively. Youth leaders Harun Ali Abdullah and Hussein Rahmah recently sat down to reflect on their experience at IMAN, and to discuss how their leadership abilities have developed as a result of their committed work.
Harun Abdullah: I was born and raised on the Southwest Side of Chicago, and I currently live in the Ashburn neighborhood. I attend Depaul University where I’m studying sociology.
Hussein Rahmah: I’m from the Southeast side of Chicago, but I currently live in the West Loop. I’m a student at the City Colleges, but, God willing, soon I will be transferring to UIC to study engineering.
When did you first get involved at IMAN?
HA: I got started in 2008, the year that I entered Islam. At the Friday prayer at the mosque nearest to IMAN, I met Rami and Shamar. There was a Gaza rally that day going on downtown, and so they took me along with them. They were really hospitable and friendly, and they told me all about IMAN’s work and mission. What impressed me was that, the first day I met Rami and Shamar, they were active, they were out doing things. Some community organizations talk a lot, yet there’s not much action. As soon as I met people at IMAN though, they were involved and acting. I wanted to be a part of that.
HR: I just recently got involved at IMAN through the Summer Youth Program, working on building the community garden and doing voter registration. Shamar had gotten my cousins and uncles to help out at IMAN in the past, so it was like that torch being passed on to me.
What sort of roles have you played at IMAN?
HA: Right now I’m a leader in the Youth Department, and I also serve on the Board of Directors representing the youth. I started out working with Pillars of IMAN, which was a mentorship program where young people got matched with older leaders. I’ve also been a part of the Muslim Run corner store campaign for about 3 years.
HR: I’m a part of the Youth Council. Shamar has done a great job teaching us about issues we can address and helping get us in the mindset of wanting to make real changes in our community. I’ve also worked with the Muslim Run campaign. It has been an amazing experience organizing with people who are trying to bring healthier foods to the community, because that’s something that’s extremely important. Also, doing voter registration developed new social skills in me, to where I was able to approach people I didn’t know and discuss issues with them. To do that in areas like Englewood, where residents aren’t usually approached with positivity, it shows you the power of treating people with humanity and dignity.
How has IMAN helped you become a stronger leader?
HA: Before IMAN, my perception of a leader was someone who had control over others, whether positive or negative. They gave speeches to 1000 people, or had 1000 people on MySpace. Remember this was 2008 [laughs]. IMAN helped me realize that a Leader is someone invested in an issue with the ability to mobilize people around that issue. So that led me to consider myself in a whole different light, as a Leader. It opened my eyes because, living in communities like mine, I’d become apathetic and just accepted the conditions for what they were. Being at IMAN has made me reflect on my own self-interest and see the things around me that I have the ability to fix. It’s about empowerment. I want to be one of those people, now and in the future, who mobilizes people.
HR: I never really thought about myself as a leader, but this past year I’ve done a few teaching programs and served as a leader in the classroom. As an engineering student, I always wanted to solve global crises. But this work has shown me work to be done locally, work with people on the margins of society. I never saw myself, say, approaching random people on the street asking for their support or to help them help themselves. It’s opened me up to the possibilities at the community level.