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An immigrant Muslim finds his mannequin of empowerment in Black American Islam

(RNS) — Rami Nashashibi, who based the Interior-Metropolis Muslim Motion Community on Chicago’s South Aspect 25 years in the past, is a neighborhood builder, a instructor and a recipient of a MacArthur Basis “Genius” award. Georgetown College has referred to as him one of many world’s 500 most-influential Muslims.

What he isn’t is an imam. He’s a part of a rising technology of lay leaders mixing historical custom with trendy activism to mobilize their religion communities. Leaders comparable to Nashashibi aren’t changing conventional establishments or homes of worship, however they create an immediacy to their faith-based work that’s re-energizing American faith. 

Born in Jordan to Palestinian dad and mom, Nashashibi based IMAN in 1997 along with his pal Abdul-Malik Ryan, a lawyer and Muslim convert, in Chicago Garden, a historically Black neighborhood that was quickly turning into a hub for Arab Individuals. The 2 had the aim of offering a spot the place first-, second- and third-generation Muslim Individuals, converts and non-Muslims would all really feel included.

However on the coronary heart of IMAN’s work is the Black Muslim expertise. “These second-generation immigrants, younger individuals and other people like myself — kids of refugees and immigrants — can be deploying the bigger African American narrative to claim our Americanness,” mentioned Nashashibi in a latest interview. “You already know, I — we — can be speaking about Muhammad Ali and Dave Chappelle (and other people would say), ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, you’re citing Black American Muslim after Black American Muslim. One thing’s mistaken with this image, and it’s popping out of the mouths of everybody besides Black American Muslims.’”


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Extra particularly, nevertheless, IMAN’s mannequin is customized from the empowering knowledge of Black Muslim girls, who for generations have constructed relationships with communities to arrange for social change. Black Muslim girls have been establishment builders who’ve created new templates for Muslim life in America. “It’s crucial to know that there wouldn’t be an American Muslim expertise with out Black American Muslim girls,” he mentioned.

That orientation may be seen in IMAN’s give attention to offering secure areas and well being care, but additionally emotional, religious and inventive sources to high-risk youth and others who battle most with social justice points. IMAN’s Green ReEntry greets these coming back from jail with housing.

Rami Nashashibi, middle, speaks with Interior-Metropolis Muslim Motion Community Inexperienced ReEntry members in Chicago in 2017. Photograph © John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Basis- used with permission.

Nashashibi credit, maybe counterintuitively, Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam from the Thirties till the Nineteen Seventies, with laying the bedrock for this bigger sense of Muslim neighborhood — “not the theology,” Nashashibi made clear, “which is problematic for a variety of causes, not the least due to the methods different non secular communities get mentioned.” The Nation of Islam is disavowed by orthodox Muslim leaders as a political motion greater than non secular and blatantly antisemitic.

However he equally credit Elijah Muhammad’s spouse, Clara, with founding the community of Clara Muhammad Faculties, a homeschool various to what had been typically substandard inner-city public faculties. “That legacy and custom is definitely what birthed the momentum that led to the Interior-Metropolis Muslim Motion Community being included,” he mentioned.

He additionally cites American Muslim leaders who’re tapping into Black Muslim historical past at this time. “Amongst our colleagues,” Nashashibi mentioned, “maybe one of the crucial vital on-line communities that’s being created to interact this subject is Sapelo Square and (its founder), Su’advert Abdul Khabeer,” which Nashashibi calls “an unapologetic celebration of that Black American Muslim narrative that has typically not been highlighted.”

However all Muslims and certainly all types of Individuals can discover which means within the Black Muslim narrative, he mentioned, which is “related in very significant methods to the granular expertise of youngsters of immigrants who, rising up in the identical neighborhoods, had been fighting most of the identical issues: poverty, violence, police brutality, financial disparity, legal disinvestment, stigmatizing … the entire trappings of layers of white supremacy and the way they embed themselves into city geography of a spot, just like the South Aspect of Chicago.”

Elijah Muhammad, leader of the American black Muslim organization the Nation of Islam, addresses the concluding session of the annual convention at Chicago Coliseum, Ill., on Feb. 28, 1966. He is flanked by bodyguards. (AP Photo)

Elijah Muhammad addresses the concluding session of the Nation of Islam annual conference at Chicago Coliseum in Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 28, 1966. (AP Photograph)

Elijah Muhammad, in addition to teams such because the Moorish Science Temple, strongly countered white hate of the primary half of the twentieth century with various actions that claimed Black dignity and even, within the case of the Nation of Islam, Black divinity. These concepts turned an embodied type of resistance to injustice and a path to like of self and neighborhood.

Nashashibi tailored this underlying ethos, whereas rigorously separating it with intention from the offensive beliefs now related to it.

“To have a motion that inverted that assertive form of Black divinity, if you’ll, and the concept (the white supremacists’ hate) was carried out by devilish individuals … that had loads of traction. It turned the bedrock that obtained filtered into Malcolm X’s speeches, which filtered into the (Black Nationalist) 5 P.c Nation, which filtered into hip-hop, which turned a robust early motion that introduced Black, brown, white, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu youngsters collectively to specific their discontent with the oppressive buildings that pit us towards each other, that segregated us in our personal ghettos in our personal city silos,” mentioned Nashashibi.

“For me that’s what raised the hip-hop form of sensibility and ultimately what impressed me and … helped me discover a related religious life,” he added.

Rami Nashashibi in 2017. Photo © John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation- used with permission.

Rami Nashashibi in 2017. Photograph © John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Basis- used with permission.

It’s via this utility of Black Muslim concepts to all who’re thought-about “different” in American society that Nashashibi views Islam as intrinsically related to non-Muslim teams, who’re served equally by IMAN.

“If you’re in areas with guys who don’t establish as Muslim, they usually’re a part of your applications as a result of they get a chance, you present the relevance of your identification and your religion. It’s up alongside individuals who get an opportunity to expertise it in their very own religion phrases … wherever their journey is.”

Certainly, Nashashibi notes that in his neighborhood, “it’s not simply responding to the pressing want, … (it’s) demonstrating that every one of these wants are our collective wants. In different phrases, it’s not ‘these of us.’ It’s us.”

Therein lies a path to a justice-forward, outward-facing, diversity-embracing type of Muslim American neighborhood.

Rami Nashashibi in 2017. Photo© John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation- used with permission.

Rami Nashashibi in Chicago in 2017. Photograph © John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Basis- used with permission.

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