Location: Columbia, MO, United States
- Issues Areas:
- Spiritual Resistance
Campus: University of Missouri at Columbia - Columbia, MO
Fellowship Class Year: 2009
Furqaan's Blueprint provided services to Muslim University of Missouri students, fellow alumni, and community members by creating a database of Muslim Alumni contact information as a way for students and alumni to keep in touch, setting up an Executive Board and Steering Committee that catered to these students, and organizing events and activities that were inclusive of the Muslim population.
Featured Fellow Spotlight
YP4: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be involved with Young People For.
I grew up primarily in small towns in America, and I was always pretty much the only Muslim kid in school. I was in high school in southeast Missouri on 9/11/2001, and the day’s events obviously hit home for me. 9/11 was a major catalyst in shaping my identity as an activist. Like many Muslims around the country, I was dealing with the surge of negative attention and focus on the Muslim American community. My identity as a Muslim was – not by my own choice – suddenly front and center. The media and public perceptions of my community were so skewed at that time that I felt like there was a real opportunity for me to present truths about the American Muslim community and the Islamic religion as a whole.
I was raised in a very socially and politically conscious family so I would say that was really my baseline for the work I do now. I grew up always engaging in community activities, interfaith groups, and local activism. I strongly felt that 19 hijackers should not be the spokespeople for 1.5 billion people, and I should do whatever I can to reclaim the faith.
YP4: What do you stand for?
I stand for equality, understanding and recognition. There’s no way to deny that ultimately everyone, no matter there race, religion or background, will have different perspectives and sometimes they may clash, but ultimately I believe it’s important for all people to recognize that every person’s viewpoint is valid. If people make efforts to engage with diverse communities they will quickly realize that there are far more similarities than differences between us. All it takes is being willing to engage in honest, informative dialogue.
YP4: How did you become involved with Young People For?
A good friend of mine knew someone who had been a YP4 fellow and that’s how I first learned about the program. What I appreciated most about YP4 is the multi-faceted approach to activism. Rather than asking fellows to work on single issues or with only specific groups, YP4 encouraged working together across issues with a variety of organizations and acknowledges that by combining forces we can all work together to achieve the common goal of social justice for all. After the Summit in February, I felt very empowered to use the skills and connections I’d earned and utilize them for the work I was doing.
YP4: So even before you started working with Young People For you were very active in the Muslim’s Speakers Bureau of Columbia, MO. Can you tell me a little bit about the MSB and your experiences?
Well, the Muslim’s Speakers Bureau was a fairly new organization when I started working there. The organization was founded right after 9/11 and when I started, there was no real established board and not a lot of structure. A few of us got together and started developing contacts within the university and started finding the spaces to give presentations about Islam and Muslims in America. We addressed a wide range of topics from everything to Women’s Rights in Islam, Civil Rights to terrorism and contemporary conflicts. . At first, we mostly did these presentations in classrooms and in the local mosque.
We then also started branching out and building relationships with local law enforcement. In addition to our usual presentations, we began conducting cultural competency trainings with local law enforcement and local FBI offices. We held discussions about how to interact with the local Muslim community and these eventually evolved into a conversation between law enforcement and local community members. We were able to bring both sides to the table and have honest discussions about law enforcement issues with American Muslims and vice versa in an effort to have these communities better understand each other and be able to coexist more peacefully, and most importantly with a greater understanding of each other’s perspective.
More recently, we’ve been branching out of Columbia and across the state. Two hours south of Columbia there is an Army Base, Fort Leonard Wood, where they also have a satellite campus of Drury University. A professor there found out about what we were doing and asked if we would come speak with military personnel about these issues. Some were former soldiers and others were currently active duty. We saw this as a great opportunity to branch out and connect with people in the military. It was especially interesting to hear from the soldiers about their experiences in predominantly Muslim countries and their perspectives on Islam.
The underlying theme that came out of all these conversations and presentations was that we had to differentiate between culture and religion. It is one thing to hear someone say what Islam says about an issue, it adds an entirely new level of engagement to actually talk with a Muslim about the same issue. I think we’ve had a lot of success and the overall impact has been that we are now the go to organization for people who have questions about Islam and Muslim Americans. We’rea free resource for university professors who want to teach their students, for community members who are trying educate themselves and anyone else who is willing to share and learn.
YP4: Tell me about your Blueprint for Social Justice: The Muslim Student Alumni Association at University of Missouri, Columbia
A group of students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and I wanted to work on creating an Alumni Association to connect Muslim student leaders so they have a chance to stay connected post college and can continue to work together wherever they may be. There has been interest in making the MSAA into an official organization recognized by the university for some time but it hasn’t yet come to fruition. Using the Blueprint for Social Justice manual, a small group of us have been able to set goals and clear pathways to making that happen. In just a few months, we have really come a long ways, we have goals, we have made contacts with other RPI organizations and their alumni association and have also made contacts with the Muslim Student Association National, this is the organization that most Muslim student associations are affiliated with in some way. What we’re working on now isusing RPI’s alumni association as pilot for a National Muslim Student Alumni Association. What MSAA plans to do is to give alumni the tools they need to stay connected to each other and their work.
The bulk of my work has been organizing people who have wanted to do this for a long time. What YP4 gave us was an outline of how to plan and go about doing it. We’ve developed all of our goals – although we’re on a little hiatus right now for month of Ramadan – and will start implementing our plans soon.
YP4: Can you talk a little bit more about the importance of Muslim student leaders staying connected post-graduation?
The university chapters of the Muslim Student Associations have cultivated some of the most active and influential Muslim leaders in America since the early 1960’s. However, once these young leaders leave their college campuses, there are limited ways to remain connected to the work they leave behind and potential projects they can be involved in. In an effort to provide the vital network to sustain active leadership amongst these individuals, a Muslim Student Alumni Association could provide the platform for these individuals to not only work on bigger projects, but also can provide a way for alumni to mentor and connect with current student leaders.
YP4: So, you recently graduated…congratulations! What are you up to next and how do you think it will affect the work you’re doing with the MSAA?
Firstly, I know that even though I am off campus, I will always be active in any community I find myself in. Right now I am living in St. Louis and have a BJ in Journalism. I’m planning on going to Pakistan soon and I’llll be staying with family and freelancing for two English publications, Dawn and Daily Times.
With regard to the MSAA, most of our work to date has actually been remote. Not one of us live in the same location, and we communicate through email, chat and Google Docs. We also have some people on campus who help us with some of the logistics (getting forms submitted, etc) but since we’ve been working on this project remotely anyway I know I’ll be able to continue the work from wherever I am.
YP4: What is your broader vision and the impact you’re hoping for with all the work that you do?
I want to engage American Muslims in their local communities more and vice versa. On a basic level my work is encouraging more interaction but also more meaningful engagement and the ability to give back to the communities we live in and have benefited from, whether it was through education or a community away from home. I hope to strengthen bonds within communities through understanding shared values. Such engagements at a local level build the foundation for national and international social policies that have much more of a broader impact in the world.
YP4: What has been your greatest achievement in your work so far?
I think the greatest achievement has been how far the Muslim’s Speakers Bureau has come. It started off with us catering mainly to students groups to give presentations, but now we have a lot of professors who reach out to us and ask us to come speak with their students. We’ve developed strong relationships in the community and have really been able to break the barriers and open the door to dialogue. We also have speaker training sessions where people who want to give presentations and engage with the program can get trained to do so, so we’re growing in numbers and in credentials.
YP4: Impressive! What do you think contributed most to that growth?
We had to be persistent at first to get people involved and also had to be almost perfect at what we did. We worked hard to really refine and develop our presentations to make them more engaging and incorporating different topics. At first we didn’t have a presentation on issues like Women in Islam, but after seeing that people had a lot of questions, we adapted and created presentations around that and other issues. Constant revisions and reflection helped us develop a really comprehensive bureau of speakers and set us up to be sought after. We’ve gotten to the point where our presentations are known to be professional and accurate, something that one can really take as fact and not just our opinions.
YP4: Is there someone you’ve met or worked with that’s really inspired you?
A close friend of mine, Carolina Escalera, was the person who taught me about organizing. She started the National Association of Hispanic Journalists chapter on our campus. She was really active as a journalism student on my campus and now is going to DC to work with Al Jazeera English. Actually, she was the first person to tell me about YP4. I’ve learned so much from her about how to get things started from scratch – when she lost funding for her paper she just started a radio show. She’s a mentor for me and for the work I am doing.
YP4: What is a struggle that you’ve faced or are facing in your work? Do you have advice for people dealing with similar struggles?
In building the Muslim Student Alumni Association, we have been working virtually from different locations so it’s been a very long process which has been a little challenging. What’s lucky about our efforts though is that all the people involved are deeply committed to making the MSAA a reality. I think it’s important to bring together a group of people who you can fully rely on to make a sincere effort. It’s important to keep communication clear and consistent to keep everyone on the same page and things will move forward.
With the Muslim Speakers Bureau there have been long stretches of time with no speaking engagements and nothing going on. At first we didn’t really know what to do with this time and were just waiting to book the next engagement. Then it was hard to get back into the swing of things after a long lull. What we learned from this is that if there is downtime the best thing to do is reflect on your work, refine the work and get better at what you’re doing. Use downtime as an opportunity to really examine what you do and if you are doing it in the best way. That’s how we ended up having such great material when things picked up again.
YP4: What are your long term goals and how do you see your work with YP4 aiding in the pursuit to those goals?
As a recent graduate I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; what does this all amount to in the end? I’ve come to realize that all the work I do has allowed me to develop a deep appreciation for organizing. I feel like through working with YP4 and my Blueprint I’ve developed a skill set that will be useful no matter what I end up doing with my life, career, etc. I’m more dedicated to my career goals than ever, and I know even given the rough industry and economy, I know what I need to do – work hard find every opportunity I can and to take it. Organizing can be difficult but it has trained me to be persistent and seeing that the work gets done. I think that’s really the difference between people who are successful and not: have clear goals and taking the necessary steps to get there. But at the same time, I’ve also learned that it’s always important to keep your options open even while you’re focusing on a specific goal or project.
YP4: How can other fellows get involved in or find more information about the work you are doing?
I am more than happy for people to personally contact me. The Muslim Speakers Bureau of Columbia’s website provides information about the presentations we have given and a list of the current topics we most often give. http://msbcolumbia.org
As of right now, the Muslim Student Alumni Association is still working on a website, but I’ll be sure to keep everything updated on YP4’s blog.