American Muslim leaders work to address social issues that impact their own communities and a much broader cross-section of Americans. They advocate for the protection of civil liberties; the need for fair housing, healthcare for all and immigration reform; racial and economic justice; and more. These leaders have demonstrated that partnerships enrich Muslim communities and add essential voices to the American democratic process.
AMCLI believes that American Muslim civic leaders—when fully invested in, nurtured and supported—will transform their organizations into highly innovative and effective partners in social change for the betterment of all Americans.
Muslim civic leaders of a new generation are leading, despite a challenging environment and lack of tools necessary for effective leadership.
American Muslim leaders face struggles on several fronts. Leaders cope with the demands from their constituencies and simultaneously negotiate complex relationships in the broader civic landscape. Many feel overwhelmed in the face of islamophobia and scrutiny in the public spotlight.
Many young Muslim civic leaders lack mentors and a reliable support systems to sustain their efforts. Prior to AMCLI’s inception in 2006, leadership training programs and a cohesive network among American Muslim civic leaders did not exist. The creation of new organizations and programs is a testament to the continued demand for leadership training.
These developments highlight the importance of investing in a generation of Muslim leaders who possess a unique ability to navigate secular and non-secular worlds, build partnerships and consensus within the Muslim community (across different ethnicities, schools of thought and socio-economic strata), and work with non-Muslim organizations to address social and economic policies that effect all Americans.
The idea for the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute emerged in the mid-2000s from a conversation among four women. Edina Lekovic, then-communications director at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), arrived late for a dinner date with Sumaya Abubaker (who would become AMCLI’s program manager) and AMCLI’s future co-founders Brie Loskota and Nadia Roumani. Brie was then-managing director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) and Nadia was working as a research associate at CRCC.
Edina describes that fateful meeting as “AMCLI’s patient zero moment.” She decided to let her guard down and share what her friends were already hearing from countless other young Muslim leaders: She felt isolated, burned out, overwhelmed and exhausted. They all agreed that the culture of Muslim American leadership did not need to be that way—a new strategy for cultivating leaders was possible.
In her role as a research associate at CRCC, Nadia was leading a series of projects focused on American Muslim young adults and Muslim organizations engaged in domestic and foreign policy issues. Her 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 and Edina 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 deeper sense of common purpose 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 shared challenges and 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.
To develop this concept further, a steering committee emerged:
- 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 studied 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 and best practices;
- Case studies of American Muslim civic leaders to be shared with the broader American Muslim community;
- A deeper understanding of policy issues and potential organizational partners at the local, regional and national levels;
- Access to resources and assistance in developing relationships with foundations that are interested in engaging with the Muslim community; and
- Skills to assess and address the needs and sensitivities of an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse American public.
AMCLI 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.
Since 2008, AMCLI has offered its training programs in different formats—national, regional, virtual and hybrid. These goals remain at the heart of its work:
- 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; and
- Sustaining the learning with ongoing opportunities for fellows to interact with each other.
Feelings of isolation and burnout continue for many young American Muslim leaders, but AMCLI is now an established program that is reshaping the landscape of civic activism and building communities of trust and cooperation among American Muslim leaders. AMCLI supports a new generation of leaders who are able to fully engage co-religionists 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