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The History of America’s Largest Muslim Organization

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Having never been involved with the Islamic Society of North America before joining as the Secretary General in 2014, I am interested in the history of the organization I head and the direction it is heading in. Here is what I have learned.

On April 22, 1964 the late Dr. Ahmad Sakr, then secretary of the year-old Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada (MSA) wrote a letter to the members of MSA, about 200 in number. He reminded them that Eid al Adha was around the corner and wrote: “If you do not have an Islamic center in your city, pray in the basement of someone’s home. If there are not enough Muslims in your area, go to a nearby town to pray.” That was then. Now, thousands of Muslims pray on the Eid at perhaps a thousand places in this vast land. How did we get from then to now?

A small group of student visionaries who founded the ‘mother MSA’ in 1963 crisscrossed North America, seeking out and mobilizing Muslim students on university campuses until they had established campus chapters in most of the major colleges in the United States and Canada. Through frequent visits, publications, and numerous regional conferences, and the annual convention, the MSA prospered. So did the graduating students, who settled into jobs and began to raise families.

By mid-seventies MSA had fostered the founding of professional societies of scholars and practitioners in medicine, in social sciences and in science an engineering, established Islamic Teaching Center to train imams and distribute Islamic literature, and organized North American Trust (NAIT) to hold in trust local mosque properties and manage MSA’s funds and services such as the Islamic Book Service, the leading sources of Islamic publications at that time.

As local Muslim communities grew in numbers and strength, time had come in the late seventies to restructure the Muslim presence in North America. After much deliberation, consultation and planning, community leaders decided that MSA should evolve in two directions – a new organization that will act as an umbrella and eventually as a national association with its focus on off-campus community development, and a student organization that will focus on the important work needed on American college campuses. In 1983, twenty years after the founders first met to lay the foundations of their historic undertaking, a duly elected Majlis ash Shura of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) met to initiate the new phase and face of Islamic activism in North America. After a few organizational hiccups, the MSA (now better known as MSA National) has become an effective organization on college campuses across the land.

From the start, ISNA’s leadership recognized the new challenges that confronted them: education for the children of a growing community, training for the leadership of emerging mosques and other community institutions, fostering relationships with other faith-based and civic segments of the society at large. At the same time, ISNA would need to weave together a network of local community organizations into an effective representative group that would play its legitimate role in American society.

Bringing together Muslims across the land to educate, motivate and inspire them became ISNA’s highest priority. The annual convention continued to grow as the Muslim event of the year in North America, bringing together tens of thousands of Muslims from around the continent with literally hundreds of prominent scholars and activists.

But the convention was and remains more than a mere gathering; it is the culmination of ISNA’s efforts and accomplishments during the year past, and represents the depth and breadth of ISNA’s role and responsibilities in developing a vibrant Muslim presence across the continent. Regional conferences enable ISNA to bring its message and its services closer to local issues and concerns, further strengthening Muslim identity and presence.

ISNA’s volunteer elected leaders and its full-time professional staff team up to accomplish a busy agenda.

Meaningful relationships with other faith communities, with governments at all levels and with civic society are the hallmark of ISNA’s outreach and engagement with fellow citizens. ISNA’s Washington, D.C. office actively fosters strong relationships with U.S. congressional staff and federal government officials, serves as an outreach resource to the American Muslim community and helps ISNA promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims to the nation’s political and faith leaders. ISNA partners with numerous faith-based and policy groups, such as the inter-faith Shoulder to Shoulder project, to establish a platform to advocate for social justice for all. Such efforts allow ISNA to promote a better understanding of Islam’s place in the multi-faith public sphere.

ISNA’s award-winning premier bi-monthly Muslim magazine Islamic Horizons links the Muslim community through reporting and writing on issues of concern and interest, and offers American society at large a window into who Muslims are and what they stand for. A weekly e-newsletter and periodical news articles, press releases and news briefs augment this effort.

Education at all levels has been among ISNA’s highest priorities. ISNA supports children’s education by bringing together teachers, administrators and board members at highly successful annual educations forums in Chicago and in California. Its affiliate, the Council of Islamic Schools in North America, helps Islamic schools attain accreditation and professional excellence. Similarly, the annual masjid forum offers learning and coordinating opportunities to masjid leadership.

The Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA), a long-standing program of ISNA, helps young Muslims improve their Islamic knowledge, deepen their Islamic commitment and develop their leadership potential through hands-on governance and operation of MYNA. This program of youth development is supplemented with several regional youth camps as well as parenting workshops for families to help them nurture the next generation of confident young Muslims, and build harmony within the home.

Through the generosity of donors, ISNA offers scholarships in certain critical fields of study for young American Muslims, helping develop the community’s future scholars and professionals.

Now at the cusp of its 54th year, the Islamic society of North is a venerable organization that has well deserved its reputation as the largest and most effective representative of Muslims in this land. With its leadership consistently elected through open elections, ISNA prides itself on the stability, transparency, and inclusiveness it has enjoyed since its seeds were sown in the womb of the ‘mother MSA’.

As for my personal involvement and inspiration, I am involved in this line of work because I am concerned about my kids, my wife and the larger community. I want all Muslims to love Allah, practice Islam and have a sense of community. I don’t see that happening everywhere and that’s a problem. If my generation does not step up and address these problems then who will? Working with ISNA is a way that I have found to address these issues.

Hazem Bata, Secretary General of ISNA, is a lawyer and activist. He holds a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from West Virginia University School of Law and a Master of Laws (LL.M) from Washington University in Saint Louis. He practiced law in Florida and was a partner in Bata & Associates, P.A. working in real estate development and business law. Prior to joining ISNA, he served as Operations Manager for Bank of America where he managed the Mortgage Resolution Team (MRT).

 

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    like us all...a wannabe bukhari...wheres al fihri?

    December 7, 2016 at 9:12 PM

    Salaam alaikom,

    May i make a suggestion to the muslim communities, especially those involved in propagation of the deen…etc.

    Would it be possible or is it even feasable if “ask the sheik days ” or surgeries could be set up like some mosques do… in our localities…etc.

    And also, if when our beloved respected ulema are touring cities and if they happen to have some extra time in sha Allah, that surgeries too be set up, so lay people whether bakers sweepers or from any walk of life can have the opportunity to meet our beloved’s hiers…etc, and most definitly benefit manifold from their presence.

    Subhan Allah w al-hamdullah.

    Well it was just a suggestion and glad to offer it.

    It can possibly be a subtle form of mulazima that we can aspire to be or do?!

    P.s (apologies if a little out of context and also addressing issues, just wanted to get this out there)

    May Allah accept in sha Allah. And may He preserve our ulema and islamic organisations and protect them and the ummah.ameen.

    Peace and blessings on al muqafi.

  2. Avatar

    like us all...a wannabe bukhari...wheres al fihri?

    December 7, 2016 at 9:21 PM

    Dear ustaz Hazem,

    Asalam alaikom, barak Allah feek for the above article, may ISNA continue to grow and bring much benefit to the world in sha Allah.

    As america seems always to be the trend setter, may we ask why other counter parts in the world, lets say,european western and eastern blocs have not followed the ISNA model as of yet? And how can we learn or what steps could other umbrella organisations do to implement the model too?

    and what can we all do in order to help?

    Jazakom Allah kul khair

    • Avatar

      so much of a bukhari...:) :(

      December 8, 2016 at 9:10 AM

      Salaam alaikom,

      Apologies for the tone. Got some issues, may Allah releave, forgive and help all. Ameen.

  3. Avatar

    Aafia

    December 19, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    Thiis was a wonderful read.JazakAllah khair .

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#Life

How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.

While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.

Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!

  1. Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.

In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.

  1. Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
  2. Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.

A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.

Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!

In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.

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Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #2: Do Women Desire Sex?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Loving Muslim Marriage

In this episode, we ask an obvious question with what seems like an obvious answer – do women need sex? Obviously, yes.

If that’s the case though, then why is expressing a sexual need, or seeking help for sexual issues such a taboo in Muslim cultures?

Watch episode 1 here.

 

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Loving Muslim Marriage | Is it Haraam to Talk About Sex?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Loving Muslim Marriage

Female sexual nature and female sexual desires are often misunderstood, especially among Muslims. There are some classes and seminars by Muslim speakers that offer advice to Muslim couples about intimacy but unfortunately, the advice is not exactly aligned with correct female sexual nature.

So we decided to come together to clarify these misunderstandings and explain the sexual nature of women and their desires, so we can help build healthy intimacy within Muslim marriages leading to happier Muslim marriages.

This is going to be a series of videos that we will release every week, inshaAllah.

What should be expected out of these videos?

Each video will address a specific myth or misconception about either female sexuality, or Muslim marriage to help men better understand women. We will also explore male sexuality and other subjects.

We hope

– to help better quality marriage
– to help couples- both men and women- get a more satisfying intimate life
– to help women navigate intimate life in a manner where they are fulfilled, paving the way for involvement and desiring of intimacy; breaking the cycle of unsatisfying intimate lives for both husband and wife

Disclaimer:
Please keep in mind that these videos are for people with normal sexual desires — they are not meant to address asexuality.

The content of these videos is a mean to provide marital advice based on mainstream orthodoxy as well as best practices and relationships.

Some experts joined us in these videos to offer their expertise from an Islamic and professional perspective:

Shaikh AbdulNasir Jangda: He was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and at the age of 10 began the road to knowledge by moving to Karachi, Pakistan, and memorizing the entire Qur’an in less than one year. After graduating from high school, he continued his studies abroad at the renowned Jamia Binoria and graduated from its demanding seven-year program in 2002 at the top of his class with numerous licenses to teach in various Islamic Sciences. Along with the Alim Course he concurrently completed a B.A. and M.A. in Arabic from Karachi University. He also obtained a Masters in Islamic Studies from the University of Sindh. He taught Arabic at the University of Texas at Arlington from 2005 to 2007. He served as the Imam at the Colleyville Masjid in the Dallas area for three years. He is a founding member and chairman of Mansfield Islamic Center.

He is the founder of Qalam Institute and he has served as an instructor and curriculum advisor to various Islamic schools. His latest projects include Quran Intensive (a summer program focusing on Arabic grammar and Tafsir), Quranic analysis lectures, Khateeb Training, chronicling of the Prophetic Biography, and personally mentoring and teaching his students at the Qalam Seminary.

In these videos, Sh. Jangda helped present the Islamic rulings and corrections of various misconceptions regarding intimacy and female sexuality.

Dr. Basheer Ahmed: He is a Board Certified Psychiatrist with 18 years of teaching experience at various medical schools. He started off his career by teaching at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York as a Psychiatrist in 1971. Then he started his own private practice in 1984 till the present time. Meanwhile, he continued to teach at various universities around the U.S.
He is also the Chairman of MCC Human Services in North Texas.

In these videos, Dr. Basheer explained several psychological conditions that women may suffer through when they are sexually dissatisfied in a marriage.

Zeba Khan: She is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate.

She helped address the uncomfortable myths and misconceptions throughout these videos and helped provide the correct perspective of female and marital intimacy for Muslim couples to enjoy a better marriage.

Usman Mughni: He is a Marriage & Family Therapist and holds a Master’s of Science degree
Northern Illinois University and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, along with a degree in diagnostic medical imaging. He worked as a therapist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in the Center for Addiction Medicine. Usman has experience providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families at Northern Illinois University’s Family Therapy Clinic along with experience working with individuals, couples, and families struggling with chemical dependency and mental health diagnoses and running psychoeducational group therapy at Centegra Specialty Hospital’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.

Since Usman enjoys working with couples to help bring tranquility back into the marriage and providing premarital counseling to couples who hope to have a successful marriage at a time when divorce seems to be on the rise, he especially joined us in this series to offer his expertise. He highlighted the most common intimacy issues in Muslim marriages that he has observed throughout the years of his experience as a therapist. His insights and knowledge has helped us clarify many misconceptions not only regarding female sexual nature but also about men and marital intimacy.

Ustadha Saba Syed: She has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language and Literature at Qatar University and at the Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.

She’s been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage, family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas. SHe also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

She took the initiative of putting together these videos because through her pastoral counseling experience she realized that there are many marital intimacy problems in Muslim marriages, mainly due to the misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding female sexuality and female sexual nature.

Hence, with the speakers above, and with these videos we hope to clarify and explain as many myths and misconceptions that we believe have become a hindrance to happiness and success in Muslim marriages. We welcome your comments and suggestions in order to make this series more successful.

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