This article first appeared on the EngageMN.com blog at http://www.engagemn.com
At the Islamic Center of Minnesota in a northern suburb of Minneapolis, Sundays are one of the busiest days. Community members fill the hallways and classrooms of the busy weekend school. The center, or ICM, is one of several Muslim organizations in Minnesota that serve multiple aspects of their members’ lives.
In addition to providing Islamic education to children of all ages, the ICM also has extended services for adults learning Arabic, Islamic Studies and Qur’an. On Sundays, the ICM opens a library and bookstore, and the ICM Women’s Society runs a popular lunch kitchen that is used to raise funds for other charitable projects. The Al-Shifa clinic provides free health care to families without access to affordable medical care. Every third Sunday of the month, the ICM opens its food shelf providing free food to families in need, and an interfaith dialogue takes place on the same day.
On Sunday, December 16, one more event took place to pack the already full community center: Community members turned out to cast their votes for the ICM officers.
Communications Director Dr. Shah Khan, a scientist from New Brighton, said, “This is the first and biggest Muslim organization in Minnesota where board and council members are elected by the members.”
Voters selected who would sit on the board of directors and council of trustees that run the organization. Election results were announced the next day.
Owais Bayunus of Cottage Grove, a retired senior manager with the oil industry, won the ICM presidency to serve a three-year term, winning 77 percent of the votes. Members chose Nasir Mohammed of Woodbury, a technology and manufacturing industry manager, for a three-year term as Board Secretary. Mahtab Khan, a financial analyst from Plymouth, ran uncontested for another three-year term as Education Director, and Sister Nuzhat Qureshi of Robinsdale, vice president of an engineering consulting firm, received 65 percent of the votes to win a five-year term on the Council of Trustees.
A week prior, the Muslim community had a chance to hear the candidates speak at an ICM-sponsored “Meet the Candidates” event where attendees came to listen and ask questions. The meeting was open to the public.
Issues that surfaced during the event were loss of participation and lack of diversity within the ICM. Some of the election candidates noted and explained these trends, stating that many masjids and schools have surfaced that now provide services in people’s local areas, which means that people no longer need to commute as far to be part of a Muslim community.
“In diversity, there is strength,” Owais Bayunus said at the Meet the Candidates event. “I will do my best to bring the community together.” He continued that he would support the youth movement. He added, “It is pivotal for Muslims to be politically active.” As President, one of his goals is to spread accurate information about Islam to non-Muslims (called dawah) because, he says, that this is crucial in post-9/11 America. Bayunus studied Islamic Jurisprudence and Islamic Law at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. Now retired, he would like to devote his time serving Islam and Muslims.
Nasir Mohammed, the winning candidate for Board Secretary, is also the developer of the ICM’s membership-tracking and weekend school computer systems. His priorities as Board Secretary include revitalizing the Membership Committee and leveraging more community participation. “We absolutely must have volunteers, or we will not be successful. It gives people a sense of community and belonging,” Mohammed said at the Meet the Candidates event.
The unopposed Educational Director, Mahtab Khan, noted that the ICM has the potential to become the Islamic vocal chord of Minnesota, especially if it harnesses community diversity, provides more community services and improves participation. “The community expects more than just a running weekend school.” Khan stated that the fact that the ICM is democratic, transparent and open distinguishes it as one of the most effective models of Islamic community life in Minnesota. He also noted, “The teachers’ roster is very diverse. Almost all Arabic classes are currently taught by native Arabic speakers.” Other staff, teachers and volunteers include Muslims with Indo-Pakistani, Somali and European heritage.
Newly elected Council of Trustees member Nuzhat Qureshi said that she would like to implement social services for the elderly and plan revitalization projects. In her candidacy speech, she stated, “What this place needs is a leader who will provide a platform for people to be involved and be a part of the ICM.” Mrs. Qureshi sees teamwork as integral to drawing in more of the community and mentioned the importance of addressing grievances to gain feedback and resolve issues.
The ICM, established in 1969, is one of the oldest Muslim organizations in Minnesota. It is located at 1401 Gardenia Ave. N.E. in Fridley, and in 1978 the center purchased a masjid (mosque) in Columbia Heights to allow a space for community prayers. According to office estimates, the ICM has more than 350 paying members, but has approximately 2,000 community members who, in on way or another, use facilities and services on a regular basis. The organization serves all Muslims beyond its paying membership base living in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs.
“Every quarter we distribute more 2,000 ICM newsletters to the community and beyond,” says Dr. Shah Khan. “Many non-Muslim organizations and media use our newsletter to educate their staff about Islam and Muslim issues.”
The ICM’s mission is to develop and empower Muslim individuals and families, maintain a sense of community, and establish healthy relationships with communities of other faiths.
Ayesha Eemaan-Sayles, a Minnetonka retiree who has worked at the ICM for five years as a bookkeeper and administrative assistant, said, “When there’s a disaster in the world somewhere, we (ICM) are right there with fundraisers and donations to give our help. That’s what we’re in the world for because we should be concerned with all humanity. That’s the reason why I became Muslim.” Sayles, a native Minnesotan whose family migrated to the state from the south after the civil war, reverted to Islam in 1992 and remembers her initial search for community. “I had finally found an Islamic center with an open door,” she says, speaking of the ICM.