ALIMni Nora Zaki penned a wonderful article in ISNA’s Islamic Horizons magazine (January/February 2019 issue), titled: “Think, Push Back, Reject”; a reflection on the ALIM Summer Program and National Tour.
Nora was a student of ALIM in 2013, served as our female counselor during last year’s Summer Program, and is currently an administrative assistant with the organization. Read her article below to find out why she and so many others love the ALIM program and have continued to contribute to its ongoing success (by Allah’s Grace).
Think, Push Back, Reject
The American Learning Institute for Muslims grounds students in Islam while dealing with the contemporary realities of being AmericanIdentity politics is nothing new. And, according to one of the scholars during the summer 2018 American Learning Institute for Muslims’ (ALIM: https://www.alimprogram.org) three-week program, it should be engaged with full force and understood.
ALIM was started in 1998 by students and scholars who realized that for Muslim Americans to thrive in their unique communities and “American” culture, as opposed to only the cultures that came with first-generation immigrants, a scholastic program was necessary — one that would share Islam’s religious sciences while addressing on-theground living and being an American. Islam is about living fully and righteously, and ALIM’s intention is to educate Muslims about their faith while encouraging and guiding our communities to engage with American society and hold fast to our timeless principles when dealing with the challenges of the modern world.
The July 2018 ALIM program was held at Benedictine University, a Catholic university located in the Chicago suburb of Lisle. In addition to covering the Quran, hadith and the seerah, students discussed sexuality, gender politics, feminism, domestic violence, the history of slavery in the Americas, bigotry and racism with such visiting scholars as Imam Zaid Shakir, former ISNA presidents, Dr. Ingrid Mattson and Imam Mohamed Hagmagid. Nothing was off limits. In fact, Drs. Muneer Fareed and Sherman Jackson emphasized that the participants ask all the “taboo” questions because the ALIM program provided a safe environment in which they could be discussed, critiqued, debated and, ultimately, given an intellectual grounding.
During this summer’s program, students visited Chicago’s Islamic institutions, such as the Turkish American Cultural Alliance (http://www.tacaonline.org), the Ta’leef Collective (https://taleefcollective.org), the American Islamic College (www.aicusa.edu), the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN; https://www.imancentral.org) and Mosque Maryam (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mosque-Maryam/111137778938608), one of the earliest Nation of Islam temples founded by the late Elijah Muhammad.
Jose Acevedo, operations executive, said that his vision of ALIM and its success, namely, when ALIM has fulfilled its purpose and therefore is no longer needed, is “imagining a world where young, adult Muslims are firmly grounded in their religion and understand its relevance in its current cultural context.”
To celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary, ALIM scholars Muneer Fareed, Sherman Jackson and Ustadh Ubaydallah Evans are visiting major U.S. cities from October 2018 to April 2019 to address major issues facing the U.S. from a principled, Muslim American perspective. Their first stop was Charlotte, N.C., where Evans, ALIM’s scholar in residence, addressed identity politics in the community. During his speech at one mosque, he reminded the 200+ attendees that as Muslims, we need to remember the prophetic hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah: “Islam began strange and will end strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers” (cited in “Sahih Muslim,” hadith no. 145).
He talked about how Muslims (1) should participate in this country’s identity politics by injecting their own perspectives, being comfortable with themselves and reminding themselves of their greater human identity as servants of God; (2) should not worry about fitting in, no matter how hard it can be. This is not a call to be aloof from the greater American society, but rather to assert who they are in a beautiful and powerful way; and (3) need to do some internal housekeeping — work on our own issues of racism and colorism in mosques and community centers.
Furthermore, Evans used Moses, Yusuf and Pharaoh’s magicians to make character similarities to the Muslims living in the U.S. today. Moses was born to Canaanite immigrants who had moved to Egypt to make better lives for themselves, akin to many Muslims who immigrate to the U.S. Yusuf was wrongly imprisoned in Egypt, a land in which he had no desire to be, but later on was given the opportunity to serve as its treasurer, one of the highest offices in the land. This is akin to the enslaved Africans brought over to the Americas, some of whose descendants achieved high political office after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Finally, the magician were powerful and privileged individuals who eventually spoke out against Pharaoh and submitted to God. He compared them to white Muslim Americans or others who use what power and privilege they have to support the community.
We live in an identity-addicted society. As Muslims, ALIM gives us a breath of fresh (and relevant) air for dealing with such an addiction and helping us to engage with it. Visit www.alimprogram.org/news/national-tour-celebrating-20-years-of-alim to learn when the speakers will be in a city near you.
Article borrowed from Islamic Horizons, January-February 2019 issue. Nora Zaki, who has a Master of Divinity, is a chaplain and writing fellow for The Tempest, the women’s trailblazing digital media and technology company, and serves as an Arabic-English editor for the publishing company Fons Vitae.