Emerging American Muslim leaders have demonstrated that creating partnerships can empower Muslims and provide a constructive voice in the democratic process in America. They have pushed their respective communities to work with others to address social issues such as the protection of civil liberties, fair housing, healthcare for all, immigration reform, and rising rates of criminal recidivism. These issues impact segments of the Muslim community and a much broader cross-section of Americans. It is imperative to empower and increase the visibility of the emerging generation of American-Muslim leaders, both as a model for American-Muslim communities and as a source of education for non-Muslim Americans.
Despite these positive movements, American Muslim leaders face struggles on several fronts. Leaders must cope with the increasing demands from their constituencies and simultaneously negotiate complex partnerships in the broader community. Young Muslim civic leaders lack adequate mentors, training programs, and cohesive support systems that will support their collective efforts. Additionally, ongoing programs for increasing capacity and building structured and effective networks simply do not exist. Therefore, it is important to invest in a generation of Muslim leaders who possess a unique ability to navigate the secular and non-secular worlds, and effectively build partnerships and consensus within the Muslim community (especially across different ethnicities, schools of thought, and socio-economic communities), and with non-Muslim organizations addressing similar social and economic policy concerns.
How AMCLI Emerged
AMCLI emerged from identifying this opportunity and realizing that it met a clearly defined need. Nadia Roumani, then a research associate at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, conducted a series of research projects addressing American Muslim young adults, and Muslim organizations engaged in domestic and foreign policy issues. The research identified two dominant trends:
- Muslim organizations lack capacity and are overburdened and, thus, unable to engage effectively in partnerships on regional/national policy issues, and
- Emerging Muslim leaders feel that they lack sufficient mentors, resources, and training to lead effectively.
In the summer of 2006 Nadia worked with colleagues Brie Loskota, managing director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and Edina Lekovic, communications director at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, to convene a three-day meeting of 22 civic leaders from across the country at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pocantico Conference Center in New York. (View the list of attendees below.) The women and men around the table had been carefully selected through a nomination process and represented the ethnic, social and geographical diversity of the Muslim communities of America. As the participants shared ideas, stories, disappointments, and triumphs, they developed a renewed sense of community and cultivated a shared belief that their civic work, if strategically nurtured, could lead to a vibrant and civically engaged Muslim community in America. At this meeting, the group discussed common challenges, and by consensus prioritized the most pressing need: to develop a national leadership program to invest in an emerging generation of leaders, provide them with learning tools, and help them connect with their peers across the country.
A Steering Committee emerged to develop this concept further, and thus AMCLI was born that included:
- Muneer Aliuddin, a community activist
- Gibran Bouayad, an interfaith leader
- Tannaz Haddadi, a mediator
- Dalia Hashad, a human rights attorney
- Edina Lekovic, a communications professional
- Brie Loskota, a religion researcher
- Nadia Roumani, a non-profit and philanthropic consultant
- Khadijah Fatinah Sharif-Drinkard, a corporate attorney
Between 2006 and the program launch in 2008, Nadia, Brie, and a team at USC spent time studying several well-established training programs that sought to increase civic engagement among faith-based and ethnic communities around the country. The team identified the following needs of Muslim civic leaders:
- Leadership and non-profit management skills;
- A better grounding in the tenets of social justice in an Islamic framework;
- A formal network of American-Muslim civic leaders that can exchange ideas, programs, campaigns, and best practices;
- A critical mass of case studies of American Muslim civic leaders that can be shared with the broader American Muslim community;
- A more in-depth understanding of current civic policy issues, campaigns, and potential community and organizational partners (at the local, regional, and national level);
- Access to resources and assistance in developing relationships with foundations that are interested in engaging with the Muslim community; and
- Increased ability to assess and address the needs and sensitivities of an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse American public
AMCLI soon found a home at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and created a partnership with Georgetown University’s Bin Talal Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding. With grant support from the Ford Foundation, the program launched in 2008 with the first AMCLI cohort of 20 fellows from across the United States. Several funders also supported this effort in its first year, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation and One Nation for All.
Nadia and Brie worked to build a leadership development program with the following goals:
- Identifying leadership needs, human capital gaps, organizational best practices and theological resources on civic engagement in Islam
- Equipping leaders with practical skills in communication, community mobilization, leadership, policy analysis, advocacy, and organizational management
- Connecting to a network of civic leaders (Muslim and non- Muslim) across the country and facilitating a forum for constructive intra-Muslim dialogue
- Guiding the development of projects, partnerships, and resources
- Sustaining the learning with ongoing opportunities to interact with fellows and alumni.
The feelings of isolation and burnout continue for many young leaders, but now AMCLI is an established program that is reshaping the landscape and building communities of trust and cooperation among American Muslim leaders. AMCLI is actively supporting a new generation of leaders who are able to fully engage co-religionists, constituents, and fellow citizens in the work of building better communities for all.
List of Attendees at First Retreat
The following individuals attended the “Muslim-American Leaders Retreat: Young Adults Defining the Future” retreat, July 28-30, 2006 in Pocantico Hills, New York.
- Su’ad Abdul-Khabeer
- Firas Ahmad
- Muneer Aliuddin
- Mehrdad Azemun
- Gibran Bouayad
- Babak Darvish
- Mohammed Elbiary
- Tannaz Haddadi
- Dalia Hashad
- Jim Jouney
- Farhana Khera
- Edina Lekovic
- Brie Loskota
- Aliya Mawani
- Rami Nashashibi
- Mohammad Ali Naquvi
- Saafir Rabb
- Nadia Roumani
- Fateen Seifullah
- Khadijah Fatinah Sharif-Drinkard
- Shirin Sinnar
- Ahmed Younis