10 in 10

Who will be the face of American Islam in the coming years? We profile ten leaders in the American Muslim community.

Religious leadership has been at the forefront of many great social movements of our time – from the Civil Rights Movement in America to the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa to the Indian independence movement inspired by Gandhi. Religion moves people, and those who can explain it to them are often very influential. Islam in America is no different, as Muslim communities have produced charismatic religious leaders who have articulated a vision of Islam that allows Muslims to simultaneously feel comfortable with their Muslim-ness and American-ness.

These scholars have taken on a rock star-like quality, known and famous beyond America. Some have established institutions and others are local community known to the majority of Muslim Americans, they provide a well-meaning basis of spiritual and religious learning and they serve as guides to the community in times of national and international distress. They are the scholars whom many rely upon to find meaning in events that affect us all, from 9/11 to the Arab Spring and more.

Yet, as these scholars age, we wonder who will replace them in the coming years. In our special analysis, The Islamic Monthly highlights 10 young all-American scholars who are fast becoming leaders of the American Muslim community in their own right. Born, bred and raised in America, they are not only grounded in their religious education and were at one point successful students of Islam, they now teach and offer guidance to their immediate communities.

Out of dozens of young up and coming scholars in America, our editors selected these 10 for their charisma, knowledge, public persona, and their dedication to serve and guide their communities. We look for individuals who were under the age of 40, born in the United States, and understand the culture of America while embracing a traditional Islamic way of life. These scholars may have acquired knowledge and certifications in traditional, eastern, settings, but they all returned to their own homeland, in America, to service their fellow American Muslims and provide guidance and spiritual direction.

Usama Canon


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A The development of the necessary institutional fortitude to ensure the Muslim community’s sustainability and longevity in this country. The spiritual, political, financial and other challenges we face are simply insurmountable by individuals alone. Sincerity, sacrifice and a deep sense of urgency are some of the conditions for the success of this endeavor, and success only comes from Allah.

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A It’s important to look at this through the Prophetic lens of optimism and hope, lest we despair. From that lens I envision a community that is thriving on all levels, having established itself, and from that place, having met important milestones in the process of a calculated integration into the greater community.

CINCO DE MAYO HAS A SPECIAL PLACE IN Usama Canon’s memory. On May 5 of his junior year in high school, the daily school announcements neglected to mention the holiday. To make sure the school wouldn’t forget again, Usama and his classmates occupied the cafeteria.

Those who participated in the protest would organize into Unity Through Diversity, a group largely composed of disgruntled black and Hispanic students. As a 1990s high-school student during a period of resurging black consciousness, Usama remembers Public Enemy’s Fight The Power and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. His friends knew him as the light-skinned black nationalist on the homecoming court. Today, as a sought-after speaker and founder of Ta’leef Collective in Fremont, California, he is a popular young scholar with an uncanny ability to minimize distance and cross borders between people. To hear Usama talk is to know that he listens, not just to his community and those who seek his counsel, but perhaps most importantly, to younger versions of himself. To understand the growing importance of organizations like Ta’leef Collective, it pays to understand the founders’ background.

To say Usama has a mixed background is an understatement. When he talks about his ancestry, he mentions Baptist, black, Mormon, white, Italian, Irish, Oklahoma and Andrew Jackson. He says it best when stating: “A lot of my early experiences had to do with questions of race and identity particularly because I’m of lighter complexion. But my white family was very white and my black family was very black and I was exposed to both of those elements.” As a teenager, he identified himself as a Muslim before formally embracing the religion. His first exposure to Islam was through his older brother’s membership in the Nation of Islam, which inevitably became a point of contention in their biracial home. His brother later converted to orthodox Islam, setting the stage for Usama and his best friend from high school, John Rhodus, (today known as Shaykh Yahya Rhodus) to consider formally joining this new faith too. At the time, Usama’s process of conversion was driven more as a means toward social resistance and served as a response to his own questions related to identity and politics than to a sense of spirituality.

Although Usama loved his new community of Muslims, he struggled to connect with the brothers he was learning from. Shortly after converting, Yahya traveled abroad to study traditionally, leaving Usama behind in America in a sea of classically trained “uncles.” What struck Usama then became the driving force for the creation of Ta’leef Collective. He recognized that there was a gap between what he was learning and the ability to reconcile that with his own realities. Today, Ta’leef Collective attempts to fill the gap. Usama appreciates the depth an individual has before coming to Islam and has an intimate understanding of the courage and sacrifice necessary for spiritual growth after conversion.

It is easy to see how Usama’s own background provides an impetus to draw connections with young people who live during an important juncture in the American Muslim community. But it isn’t just his biography that makes him such an appealing organizer of projects like Ta’leef Collective. He doesn’t believe that converting to or re-engaging Islam means forgetting who you are nor does he project expectations onto those he works with. He asserts that Islam is not incompatible with an individual’s whole identity or one’s particular social realities. The driving force behind Usama’s work today is through recognition of his own past and responsibility to the community’s future. He doesn’t shy away from discussing issues such as sex, race or personal family problems: “It’s not even a question of culture. Not social versus religious. It’s a question of real versus fake.”

It is the willingness to address tough issues that sets Usama and Ta’leef Collective apart and is essential to his efforts to help develop a lasting American Muslim community.

Khalil Abdur-Rashid


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A I believe that the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years is the issue of reforming our masjids, which must accompany the reformation of the position of imam in response to the need for relevant and effective community leadership.

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A I envision a growth and transition from congregations to communities and the rise of educational institutions training the next generation of American Muslim community leaders and scholars, both men and women. Our challenge will not be the challenge of space, but the challenge of depth in the space – the realization that quantity is useless without quality.

KHALIL ABDUR-RASHID KNEW HE WAS IN serious trouble when he was being robbed one night in Atlanta, Georgia. His mugger pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. The martial arts that Khalil so avidly learned could not help him now. His life proverbially flashed before his eyes as he waited for the bullet to pierce his body. But nothing happened. By some miracle, his life was spared. Khalil was convinced that there was someone, or something, looking out for him.

It was no accident that Khalil was at the wrong place at the wrong time. In his late teens, he led a double life: college student by day and street thug by night. Although Khalil’s nocturnal life was filled with drug dealers and gangsters, he grew up in his native Atlanta surrounded by religious individuals. His parents, Muslim converts from the South, raised him and his five younger sisters as Muslims. His father, Chuck Burris, the first black mayor of Stone Mountain, Georgia, established the first – and still the largest – mosque in the state: the al-Farooq Mosque. Chuck studied at the Islamic University of Madinah in the early 1980s and continued studying Islam and Arabic when he returned to the United States. As a local politician, Chuck maintained a relationship with local church congregations and ministers and established warm relations between the Christians and Muslims of his town. Khalil’s parents knew from his birth that he would accomplish something special.

A few weeks after his near fatal mugging, a family friend asked Khalil to perform the funeral rites for an 18-year-old Muslim boy who died of AIDS. The experience of washing, wrapping and burying the body, and the haunting memories of his own near-death experience led Khalil to make a pact with God that, if given the opportunity, he would turn his life around.

Inspired by his parents’ religious convictions, Khalil enrolled in Arabic, Islamic theology and Islamic law classes with a group of Muslims in a rented-out space of a local library. Much like the legendary line in Excalibur, Khalil didn’t know how empty his soul was until he started formal study of the religion. Khalil left his interest in film and followed a new direction. With an almost desperate zeal, he attended classes in Islamic study week after week for years. His quest for knowledge expanded geographically and thematically. He commuted out of town every week for Quranic studies with notable scholars of Islam in the country.

At the same time, Khalil began his study at Georgia State University in social work and after he graduated, he became a social worker for child-abuse cases for the state of Georgia. It was through his social work that Khalil’s life path was made clear and he defined how to create harmony between his study of Islam and his practical work life. As Muslims started filtering through his practice, local judges were interested in finding solutions within the Islamic tradition to the problems of abuse and neglect. Khalil set out to comprehend the legalities of marriage, divorce and inheritance to apply them to his social work practice and better aid the Muslims in need.

This drew Khalil to consider formal study in Islamic law. Leaving the United States, he travelled to Syria, Yemen and finally Turkey, where he studied Turkish and Persian and achieved a full license in Islamic law and its related sciences. Along the way, he acquired certifications in Quranic recitation and principles of Islamic law.

He is now enrolled at Columbia University earning a P.h.D in Islamic law and bioethics, where he serves as the Muslim chaplain. He is also the Imam and executive director at Iqra Masjid in Brooklyn, New York.

Yasir Qadhi


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A Many challenges exist: Islamophobia, American foreign policy and the boundaries of assimilation, to name a few. Yet, time and time again, we’ve seen our youth rise to the challenges that they face and conquer them, and I feel confident that this decade will be no different, insha Allah!

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A I believe that, as this generation comes of age, the torch will pass from the founders and leaders of the previous generation to a new generation that is fully American and proud of its Islamic heritage.. The future looks brighter, and our religion tells us to be optimistic!

BUILDING CULTURAL BRIDGES COMES naturally to Yasir Qadhi. Yasir’s parents emigrated from Karachi, Pakistan, to the United States in 1963. He was born more than a decade later in Houston, Texas, where his father founded the area’s first mosque. For various reasons, his father moved the family to Saudi Arabia.

From then on, Yasir split his life between the United States and Saudi Arabia. He completed his primary and secondary education in Jeddah, but spent his summers in Houston. Immersed in the Saudi and American cultures, he knew the cues of both societies; his upbringing rolled both worlds into one expansive experience.

Guided by the religious passion of his parents and his own spiritual inclinations, Yasir always took religion seriously. He attended numerous religious classes and memorized the entire Quran by the age of 15. His formal religious studies, however, came to an end when he pursued higher education. It was always implied in his family that he was going to become either an engineer or a doctor. His parents, after all, left Pakistan to ensure economic prosperity for their children. To that end, Yasir studied chemical engineering at the University of Houston. But it didn’t take him long in the workforce to realize that life was worth more than solving quadratic equations; it was worth seeking Islamic knowledge.

He returned to Saudi Arabia in 1996 and spent the next several years studying at the Islamic University of Madinah. It was on September 11, 2001, that Yasir’s two worlds collided in an unexpected and unfortunate way, revealing the extent of frustration and paranoia the East and West felt for each other. He was disappointed to see that the growing fear and anger after the attacks caused people to build more walls instead of bridges. At the same time, he recognized that the majority of the imams and clerics in the United States were imported, and many were disconnected from the lives of American Muslims and not trained to address culturally specific issues such as drugs, sexuality and atheism. He realized that he was needed most in the United States.

Yasir is currently working on his PhD in Islamic Studies at Yale University, where he was the first graduate of the Saudi educational system enrolled in the religious studies department. He is also an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs of the Al- Maghrib Institute, a weekend seminary on the Islamic sciences. The institute has educated thousands of students in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and boasts an all-star cast of scholars who, like Yasir, were either born or spent a significant portion of their lives in the West. He brought his scholarship to the blogosphere as the co-founder of Muslim Matters, a collaborative blog that addresses the implementation of orthodox Islam primarily for Muslims residing in the West. In 2010, more than 20,000 people signed up for Like A Garment, Yasir’s online seminar about sex in an Islamic marriage.

Yasir’s goal is to form an Islamic theological seminary in the U.S. designed specifically for American students taught by American scholars. He is part of a unique Orthodox movement that argues for an indigenized understanding of Islam, one that remains faithful to Islam’s historical legacy while carving out a pragmatic way forward within the American context. In a sociopolitical climate increasingly allergic to nuance and complexity, Yasir regularly challenges the status quo within Muslim circles as well as the broader discourse surrounding Islam in America.

In the meantime, Yasir is busy building more bridges. He realizes that the urgency isn’t just in connecting people to traditional Islam; it is also in connecting American Muslims to America.

He found that some American Muslims struggle with identifying themselves as Americans. In light of U.S. foreign policy issues in the Muslim world, American Muslims sense a contradiction between loyalties to the United States and the global Muslim community. But Yasir is unapologetically American. He asserts that Muslims belong in the United States as much as anyone else. He encourages them to practice their religion and to be fully functioning citizens of American society. After all, he says, there is no better place than the United States to be a Muslim.

Yayha Rhodus


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A The most pressing issue is how our community is going to access and transmit our 1,400- year plus tradition – the roots of the tree of Islam that have been firmly planted and bear the fruit of authentic knowledge, understanding, and a heart that is sound and alive.

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A I hope that in the next 10 years, the Muslim community will become enfranchised and that the level of engagement will increase at every level possible: from the street to politics, from humanitarian services to academic institutions, from organizations concerned with environmental issues to economic policies.

YAHYA RHODUS SENSED THAT HIS LIFE was simultaneously crammed and empty: crammed, ironically, with empty values and empty of meaning. In many ways, he had a typical Midwestern life. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in a loving, Anglo-Saxon family with two older sisters. Like most middle-class families, his was not immune to the constant stresses and tensions of everyday life. Bills, mortgages and the general anxieties of an uncertain material existence were common features of his family’s concerns.

Religion, though, offered a dose of spirituality to balance the omnipresence of the material world. Yahya considers himself blessed to have grown up in a religious household, which later intrigued him to search for spiritual fulfillment in all the unusual places. He developed a deep admiration for cultures and grew comfortable with different ways of life, particularly with the friends he kept in high school – people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. He and some friends, including Usama Canon of California, together learned the value of expanding one’s worldview and appreciating the wisdom of other cultures.

What defined Yahya’s academic pursuit in his teenage years was a belief that infinite wisdom and knowledge existed beyond one’s immediate environment. Yahya dived into the literary world to search for – what he retrospectively recognizes as – his fitrah, or his innate disposition, to God. He now recalls that one book that particularly shaped him, Mutant Message Down Under, is of an American woman’s account of her time with a nomadic Aboriginal tribe in Australia. Her journey commences when the Aborigines burn all her belongings – clothing, jewelry and credit cards – so she could easily slip into their rustic world of simplicity. Ultimately, she goes through a dramatic personal transformation after the Aborigines teach her how to return to the basics of life, reconnect with nature and replace her materialistic values with “Divine Oneness.” Yahya says his journey into embracing Islam in 1996 was similar. By the time he was 19 and living in Santa Clara, California, a chance encounter with a visiting Mauritanian scholar so moved him that he decided to follow the scholar to the mostly desert country the next summer. Although enrolled at the University of California, Berkley, with his education paid for in full by his parents, Yahya dropped out after only one week of classes.

The journey changed his life. Yahya set out to replace his materialistic values with spirituality and started pursuing a formal education in Islamic studies with the Mauritanians. With no running water or electricity, Yahya was forced to return to the basics of life and rely on nature for subsistence while learning to connect to the nature of his humanity. On a daily basis, he spent his time engaging with scholars who were helping him reconnect to his natural spiritual state.

From Mauritania, he traveled to Syria and Yemen to continue his traditional education, and returned to the United States a decade later. It was only in his own homeland, America, that Yahya saw a growing demand for spiritual awakening and guiding his co-religionists. He became a lecturer at Zaytuna College, founded by Hamza Yusuf and other notable scholars of Islam, and the Ta’leef Collective, founded by his high-school classmate, Usama Canon.

Yahya completed his bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and is pursuing a master’s in Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Despite his spiritual transformation and role as a teacher, learning remains an essential feature of Yahya’s life, one he’s not quite ready to give up.

Tariq al Jamil


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A It is essential that Muslims begin to confront the complex issues of race and gender that exist within our increasingly heterogeneous and diverse communities. Though at the same time, I recognize the barriers to progress coming from those members of the community resistant to critical introspection and the state of social and political siege imposed from non-Muslims on the outside.

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A I imagine that 10 years from now, more young Muslims will be wrestling with the rich and complex nature of the Islamic intellectual tradition. I feel like I am witnessing an increase in the numbers of young Muslims taking Islamic education seriously and that they tend to be more selective about choosing their sources for the transmission of knowledge.

TARIQ AL-JAMIL WANTED TO BE AN economics major, but he also didn’t want his grades to tank. So he did what many Muslim college students do when needing a GPA boost: He signed up for an Islamic Studies class.

He now laughs at how wrong he was. “I thought I knew everything about Islam before college. At Sunday School, we would sit in a circle, go around and repeat things.” Humbled by how much he had overestimated his knowledge, his interest in economics was rivaled by a growing academic interest in Islam.

His mentors at Oberlin College saw talent that Tariq himself didn’t recognize and they felt he could contribute to the field of Islamic Studies. He brought a willingness to rethink status quo notions about Islam, even his own ideas, which was a refreshing change of pace for his professors. They appreciated that he did not approach his studies in an ideologically fixed way and was open to soaking in all the knowledge he could. Tariq was still unsure of his career trajectory when one professor sat him down and bluntly reminded him that the world didn’t need another economist.

Tariq credits his professors for his confidence in moving forward in the field of Islamic Studies. But he was also driven by a noticeable lack of Muslims in the Western academic study of Islam and by the shortage of African Americans who were trained both traditionally and in a Western academic context. He wasn’t comfortable that the academics who engaged in the important debates about Islam, including his professors, were from outside the tradition. “I felt I needed to take some responsibility for gaining knowledge of Islam and transmitting it.”

Since that first Islamic Studies course at Oberlin College, Tariq has completed his graduate work at Harvard and Princeton universities, completed his dissertation on Sunni-Shia relations in medieval Baghdad, and is currently assistant professor of Religion and a program coordinator of Islamic Studies at Swarthmore College, where he is well-respected among colleagues for his overall grasp of religion and brings his strong language skills to bear while advising original student theses in Arabic. In his work, Tariq asserts an independence that can be traced back to his upbringing as the only child of divorced parents. Having split his childhood in cities as different as Kansas City and Los Angeles, he often balked at questions like “Where are you from,” because he genuinely did not know how to answer.

What Tariq does know is the impact he’d like to have on Islamic Studies. “I have spent the last three years working on trying to oversee studies in Shi’ism as a discipline in Islamic Studies.” Throughout his studies, which included time spent in Iran and Syria, Tariq saw that he was operating in an academic context that had normalized Sunni orthodoxy. “What came to be perceived as Western Islamic studies had consciously or unconsciously participated in doctrinal debates or historical debates that assumed Sunnism over Shi’ism. It’s not fair to people who are looking for a more nuanced understanding of Islam. I wanted to respond to that.”

Tariq’s research interests include the struggle for identity and power in the early centuries of Islam. His scholarship on religious dissimulation challenges normative assumptions to produce a more sophisticated view of how Islam manifested itself over the last millennium.

“What Tariq does is very important because he disentangles what it meant to be Shia at a time when things are very muddled, where people had to hide who they were for fear of persecution,” says Najam Haider, assistant professor at Columbia’s Department of Religion. “His research examines how the early Muslim communities contested and constructed their own identities, sometimes in competition with each other and sometimes in cooperation with each other.”

Tariq knows there is a long haul ahead of him, particularly with community resistance to discussing specific intra-Islamic differences. But his experience and dedication are set to deliver continued success.

Faisal Matadar


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A Perhaps the most pressing issue is one of aspiration. Will we, as a community, aspire to form the sort of communal life to which our faith calls: a sincere integration into American society, active concern for the marginalized, the preservation of the family, and a rich, authentic spirituality?

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A Considering the projected demographic changes in America, I imagine our community will be well-positioned to take full advantage of what promises to be an unparalleled opportunity in U.S. history. If we are sincere to ourselves and those around us, and have put in the institutional groundwork, I expect, with God’s grace, wonderful things from all of us.

FAISAL MATADAR’S LIFE STARTED OUT AS conventional, and soon became anything but.

His parents migrated from India in the 1970s and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was born and grew up. Faisal wasn’t particularly religious growing up: he spent little time at the local mosque and was more concerned with Pittsburgh sports and favorite bands then spirituality. With a strong academic record, Faisal set out to pursue medicine, eventually receiving an early acceptance to the George Washington University medical program. Partly to help finance his education, and partly on a whim, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps., eventually graduating at the top of his class from Infantry Combat School.

Faisal was always more studious than social, and had no intention of being so with religious folks. But a chance encounter with the president of the Muslim student group on campus intrigued him, and he cautiously began attending their activities. Faisal quickly debunked his own stereotypes about religiously minded people and started forming deep-seated friendships with like-minded Muslim students on campus. Through this camaraderie, Faisal and fellow college student sought to learn their religion and incorporate its practice into their daily lives. By his senior year, he led the Muslim student group as its president.

Abiding by the requirement of the medical program to graduate with a degree in the humanities, Faisal majored in Religion and filled his courses with anything related to religion, introducing him to its formal study. Out of curiosity, Faisal traveled to Egypt, where he began more serious study of Arabic and Islam. Before long, he knew he’d found his calling.

Faisal recognized a large void in the spiritual and intellectual needs of the Muslim community, and he felt that through his study of religion, he could serve by helping to educate his co-religionists. By his senior year, Faisal resigned from the medical program, and shortly after, was honorably discharged from the Marines after formally objecting to the Iraq War.

Since then, Faisal has studied and lived throughout the Muslim world, from West Africa to Yemen, following a traditional course of study. Recognizing the need for formal institutions serving the community, he co-founded the Qasid Institute for Arabic Studies in Amman, Jordan, where students from around the globe study every year. He has also served as a chaplain for Harvard’s Muslim community, where his classes on Islam have drawn students from throughout New England. From Pittsburgh to Parris Island and Mauritania to Cambridge, he hopes the next stage of his journey will find him giving back to the community that made his story possible.

Rania Awaad


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A Perhaps the most pressing issue we will face as a community over the next decade is in building institutions and educational programs to teach the classical Islamic sacred sciences in America.Without local opportunities to educate up-and-coming scholars, our communities will surely suffer from the lack of their much-needed guidance.

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A We are missing a sufficient number of well-trained, well-rounded and credentialed leaders as heads of our communities. leaders who are trained and licensed (granted ijaza) in the classical Islamic sciences first and foremost and can then balance this body of knowledge with both modern renditions of Islamic studies and current issues facing American Muslims. With the dedicated efforts of up-and-coming leaders to sound scholarship, I envision that this gap will, inshaAllah, be sufficiently filled over the next decade.

ATHLETICS HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN important part of Rania Awaad’s family. Her father was an Olympian for Egypt and Rania followed close behind as a competitive athlete in New Jersey and Michigan, where she grew up. A love for sports was not the only thing Rania inherited. A focus on religious education was a cornerstone of the Awaad household; both her parents attended one of the most prestigious and oldest academic institutions in the Middle East – Al-Azhar University – for study. Her father received a medical degree and her mother a degree in languages and translations. Rania’s upbringing instilled in her a natural inclination toward studying Islam, even at a young age. At 14, she and her parents agreed that she would excel in her religious pursuits if she went to Syria – a place with unique opportunities to train female scholars.

Among the youngest in her classes abroad, Rania faced the challenge of a gruelling schedule and keeping up with her older classmates. Her classes started at dawn and lasted well into the evening. But it was Rania’s love for religious learning and the pedagogical approach of her teachers that kept her driven and motivated. Rania excelled in her courses and found something inexplicably gratifying in the formality of learning Islam and exploring the nuances and complexities of the religion. After years of intensive studentship, Rania became a well-rounded scholar capable of teaching a variety of topics, including several branches of Islamic jurisprudence and Quranic recitation. She earned her certifications for teaching Sacred Sciences and returned to America to focus on sharing the knowledge with other women. Recognizing the need for stronger institutions in the U.S. catered to women, and to safeguard Islam from extremism, Rania co-founded, and now serves as the director of, The Rahmah Foundation. The organization today reaches thousands of women from all parts of the country.

At the same time, Rania understood her ability to satisfy the demands of her religious life within her social life as an Arab American Muslim. Inspired by many of her female teachers who also held medical degrees, Rania recognized another means by which she could work for women. With an already strong academic record from her undergraduate years, Rania was admitted to medical school and set out to pursue her medical degree in psychiatry. She currently works at Stanford University and has made her education and career a balance of understanding the human psyche and pathology through her Islamic tradition and its holistic approach to evaluating health. Many of her patients include women in her community.

Returning to her roots of athletics and religious education, Rania demonstrates an equilibrium between the physical and the spiritual in all that she sets out to do. Her work is just beginning. As The Rahmah Foundation continues to grow, so too does Rania’s influence in the American Muslim community.

Hussein Kamani


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A I believe that some of the most pressing issues that will face the American Muslim community are: 1) the lack of established Islamic educational institutes, 2) degeneration of scholars’ relationship and ability to relate with the youth, and 3) disregard of attention and importance given to spiritual development.

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A I hope and pray that in the 10 years to come, we can establish a solid foundation of Islam, with masaajid, imams and Islamic scholarship in even the smaller areas, inshaAllah. The only way this will be possible is if we endeavor towards this mission today by understanding the importance of learning, preserving and passing on this deen.

MUFTI HUSSAIN KAMANI WAS BORN TO A Hindu-turned-Muslim mother and a hardworking father in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a city home to barely ten Muslim families at that time. Hussain’s father was neither classically trained in the Islamic sciences nor was he a hafiz, but he longed for his children to attain these goals. With the guidance of Hussain’s parents and support of the community, he and his brother departed from home at the age of 6 to attend religious schools in South Asia.

A few years later, Hussain fell extremely ill and was sent back to the United States for treatment. Hoping to continue his educational pursuits, he and his family set out to find strong institutions within the country but found few. When they came across the Darul Uloom Madania in Buffalo, New York, Hussain jumped at the opportunity. A long way from Pakistan and India, his teachers in Buffalo embodied a sense of compassionate teaching and spirituality, developing in Hussain a deep love not only for the riches of Islamic knowledge but also for his teachers who opened his heart and mind to such wealth. Inspired by the spirit of the teaching evident in Darul Uloom Madania, within a year Hussain completed the memorization of the Quran and excelled in his other studies.

After completing his intense studies in Buffalo, Hussain traveled to England and studied with renowned scholars at the Darul Uloom Bury seminary where for almost nine years he worked at earning certifications in numerous classical religious subjects.

Hussain’s journey in pursuit of religious education taught him the value of a good teacher and instilled a strong desire for learning one’s religion. What Buffalo and England taught him was that the spirit of Islam was as important for a Muslim as the knowledge of Islam. It was through compassionate learning that Hussain excelled in his coursework and paved his path as a scholar and emerging leader. He has traveled many countries studying traditionally at the knees of his teachers. With their wisdom imparted to him, coupled with his young age, he has been able to serve the youth as a relatable and practical portal for knowledge and counsel.

By the time he turned 21, Hussain positioned himself as a mentor to youth in America, incorporating both Eastern wisdom and understanding of Western culture and lifestyle. He is now one of the youngest imams in the country at the Islamic Center of Chicago where he leads daily prayers and teaches hundreds of students a week.

But his commitment to the community does not stop with his religious training or teaching. After earning a post-graduate degree in business management and strategy at Coventry University in England, Hussain tapped into his creative side and recognized the untapped Muslim consumer market in America by launching an online clothing store called KamaniOnline. com. Having his own clothing line goes a long way towards breaking down the typical barriers an imam might face with his younger congregants. His new business captures the breadth of his learning and passions – it represents his knowledge of Islamic principles and his goals of applying those principles to American Muslim youth in a hip and spiritual way. That, along with having won a Bronze Medal in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, gives Hussain the ability to connect with the young American Muslims he speaks to regularly on the lecture circuit.

Hussain’s unique talents as an imam help to create a lasting image in the minds of his students and many listeners, which in turn facilitates an appreciation of sacred learning among the younger segments of the American Muslim population.

Abdullah bin Hamid Ali


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years?

A The question of reconciling national with religious identity. The spread of democratic thinking in Muslim societies, the threat of war with Iran and other geopolitical challenges in the Muslim world will remain significant factors that pressure Muslims living in America to seriously consider the pros and cons of the pursuit of further integration and acceptance by the mainstream culture. This is in addition to the internal pressures that are moving Muslims toward greater egalitarian dialogue in our own circles regarding matters of race, gender and class.

Q How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A I imagine a Muslim community that is much more integrated politically and economically with the mainstream; but a community still at the receiving end of great antagonism, demonization and marginalization. I imagine that there will be a much higher number of Muslim educational institutions, public officials, businesses and religious organizations. But unless some things in American politics drastically change over the next decade, most if not all of those achievements will be threatened with immediate loss, reduction and/or interdiction. This is largely because America remains on a path toward totalitarianism.

ABDULLAH BIN HAMID WAS INSTANTLY moved the first time he saw Quranic script as a teenager. In between break dancing and producing a record (which he confessed he hoped would become popular), his natural curiosity pushed him to learn what the text said. It was through his own independent study that Abdullah learned Arabic, meticulously writing each letter out one by one until he could write it on his own.

Growing up, Abdullah was never indoctrinated into any particular brand of Islam, and he credits his parents, both of which were Muslims, for providing him the freedom to pursue his own objective lens of the religion, something he carries with him in his work with Lamppost Productions and as resident scholar at Zaytuna Institute.

But at the time, Abdullah had wanted to learn more of the Arabic, and was curious about the religion itself. He asked those around him if they knew of any teacher of traditional Islamic studies. As luck would have it, Shaykh Nafea Muhaimin lived and taught in “Philly”, near Abdullah. Abdullah reached out and requested tutelage. After months of studying with Shayk Muhaimin, his closest friends gifted Abdullah with a ticket to Egypt to study at the renowned Al-Azhar University. Abdullah started packing.

But the night before his flight, one of his friends begged him not to go. Abdullah was confused. Was this the right decision for him, to travel so far away and be away from where he grew up? Convinced by his friends, he stayed. Maybe there would be something else in store for him if he went to Temple and studied computer science. And to help finance his education, he worked as a barber and a security guard at a hospital. But it wouldn’t be that long into his degree before he was back at his Arabic, and during an early morning shift, Abdullah realized that all this time, he was longing for religious studies abroad. Advised by Khaled Blankenship, Abdullah set out for Morocco.

Four years later, Abdullah became the first American to graduate from the renowned University of Qarawiyyin of Fez with a degree in Islamic law. And then he returned home to teach what he learned.

Today, Abdullah is part of a larger effort to bring greater intercultural exchange between Muslims. He has a strong appreciation for the diversity within the community, and the geographic differences across the country, and thus asserts that legal positions within America must also change based on circumstances and locations. Abdullah’s objective is to bring Muslims closer together while shunning groupthink that limits the potential of the many thinkers in the community. Specifically, he strives to empower the convert community with an ownership of Islam that gives it an equal voice with the greater American Muslim community. Much of the development of his own reflections on the American Muslim community took place while he worked as a chaplain at the State Correctional Institution in Chester, Pennsylvania.

It was his work in prisons that really changed his life. But he didn’t come to the work easily. In fact, he had resisted the work for a long time, buying into the disdain that many in his community had for the incarcerated. When he finally accepted the job, he came to the key realizations that those he mentored and counseled in the prisons weren’t that different from people on the outside and they helped him to develop greater insight into the human soul as well as understanding himself. To help spread his writings, he started Lamppost Productions, a name he thought of to honor the African American nightly tradition of gathering under lamp posts to discuss important ideas and pray together.

His writings gained enough attention that he was invited by Zaytuna College to serve as a full time lecturer where he now works. Lamp Post productions is now a resource website – a scholar’s guild – where people in his community and across the country could find answers to difficult questions.

Shamira Chothia Ahmed


Q What is the most pressing issue facing the American Muslim community in the next 10 years? How do you envision the American Muslim community 10 years from now?

A The most pressing issue for American Muslims is to create our own homegrown, indigenous scholars who are learned and balanced in the major components of our religion, namely: Islam, Iman & Ihsan. I am very optimistic that in 10 years we will see the fruits of the efforts of institutes such as Zaytuna College. These efforts will hopefully produce a tidal wave of young, dynamic leaders and scholars who will build and strengthen our American Islamic identity. American Muslim youth will feel more connected to such scholars and become more inspired and active, promoting a positive & balanced view of Islam. This will affect all aspects of socialization and integration by allowing us to root ourselves firmly in the soil of American society and dispel the “otherness” that marginalizes us. Lastly, contextualized and indigenous scholarship will reduce the emphasis on doctrinal differences and allow a “big tent” approach to our faith where everyone, Muslim and non, will feel welcome and truly at home.

SHAMIRA CHOTHIA AHMED’S LIFE IS marked by movement. She was born in Northern California, but her parents were from South Africa and her grandparents and great grandparents were from India. These generational movements across three continents provided the foundation for her outlook as a Muslim and ultimately drove her beyond the borders of the United States in search of a deeper spiritual knowledge.

As a child, Shamira admired her mother’s active role in the community. Her mother often visited local schools to give lectures about Islam to the students. Illustrating the importance of education, her mother taught at a Montessori when Shamira was a child and obtained her Master’s degree in counseling while Shamira was in High School. Shamira felt that her mother, as a South African Muslim, offered a unique expression of Islam for the American public, and this inspired Shamira’s own understanding about the religion.

Shamira kept an active profile as a student. She joined various campus organizations including Student Council and Speech and Debate. Articulate and proud, Shamira won several awards for her skills in oratory and logic. She also created a Muslim student group in high school and quickly became its spokesperson, oftentimes finding herself needing to articulate Islam to fellow classmates. Her academic excellence brought her to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and set her on a path toward medicine. Yet Georgetown was only one piece of a larger movement; in the process, she felt that God opened a path for her to pursue Islamic Studies in her parents’ birthplace. She dropped her studies in medicine and moved to South Africa.

Shamira was struck by the deeply rooted religious learning within her extended family, including many who memorized the Quran at an early age. Inspired, she enrolled in Johannesburg’s women’s seminary, Mu’eenal Islam, and realized that her speaking and academic skills would be of greatest value as a scholar of Islam. She continued her studies in the U.K. and Syria, where she experienced the universality of Islam as a woman in ways she could never have imagined in America, where, at that time, Islamic institutions had yet to fully blossom. Recognizing the gap in female scholarship and the need to create opportunities for women to deepen their knowledge of their religion, Shamira made an important discovery: In her own experience and from what she learned had existed throughout Islamic history, female scholarship was vital to any society.

Shamira recognized the purpose of all her travels, and once she returned to America, she joined Zaytuna as one of its few female scholars. She also partnered with two female scholars and founded the Rahmah Foundation, an empowering American-based women-to-women organization dedicated to providing qualified scholars to spread Islamic knowledge.

She also pursued a master’s degree in demographics and social analysis, and that, combined with her Islamic education, has allowed her to focus on researching Muslims’ experiences to help challenge the negative perception of Islam and Muslims as part of the American milieu.

With the birth of her two daughters, she further refined her understanding of education geared toward Muslim women. Shamira began teaching classes on natural childbirth but with a deeply spiritual dimension, one that reflected the traditions of Islam. Shamira is now a certified instructor in lactation and teaches classes on the subject with a distinctly Islamic approach.

Throughout her life, Shamira has traveled in search of knowledge and experience. The movements have been many, yet all reflect her hope for a more profound understanding of Islam. Shamira hopes her experiences will inspire others to seek the depth of Islam in order to ground themselves within the United States. Muslims have traveled the world throughout history creating rich and meaningful heritages in the process. Shamira believes that the United States should be no different.

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