Shaping Islam in America: 10 Young Muslim Visionaries – Rami Nashashibi – The Activist
From Islamica Magazine
By ISRA BHATTYIt’s 6 a.m. and a chartered bus waits outside the office of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). A troupe of sleepy-eyed Chicagoans spanning all ages and ethnicities file onto the bus and are welcomed by an energetic voice. The journey is to Springfield, Illinois. The reason: alternative sentencing for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. It is part of a greater effort led by IMAN to make activism and the plight of America’s poor a natural concern of American Muslims.
And the voice belongs to IMAN’s intrepid executive director, Rami Nashashibi.
Nashashibi exudes charisma, which is rooted in his vibrant and visible passion for his faith. Nashashibi came to Chicago for college, receiving his undergraduate degree from DePaul University. There, he saw parallels in unlikely places: between the African American civil rights movement and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, between Islamic imperatives and activism, and between the priorities of the immigrant and indigenous Muslim communities of America.
Nashashibi and a dedicated team founded IMAN in 1995. He helped shape IMAN’s vision through his study of the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. In particular he reflected on how the Prophet’s service to the poor could be emulated in downtown Chicago.
From its headquarters on Chicago’s South Side, IMAN began serving the inner-city community with a series of projects funded by private donations, including a food pantry, GED classes and a free health clinic. These efforts have since expanded to include campaigns for legal reforms, regular outreach and awareness events, and issue-based community mobilization. These projects bring IMAN’s passion for social justice and mutual understanding to places as diverse as jails, churches, courthouses and coalition meetings. IMAN also works in the struggle for immigrant and day laborer rights, coalition building and has created public forums. Called Community Cafés, these forums are one of IMAN’s most popular endeavors and unite artists, activists and religious scholars.
IMAN celebrated its 10th anniversary with a festival “Takin’ it to the Streets,” that brought thousands of people from the greater Chicagoland area to the South Side for a day of service, learning and entertainment. For inner-city residents, the event was a chance to break down social, cultural and religious barriers. For Nashashibi, it was another milestone in his efforts to reshape how we think about the intersection of race, religion, culture and service. By inextricably and successfully linking local community service and activism with Muslim identity, IMAN is treading a path few other Muslim organizations have treaded.
Credit Nashashibi for launching such a novelty and for blazing a path for similar aspiring Muslim organizations. Credit him also for another blueprint—that of a Muslim leader, social justice entrepreneur and inner-city advocate. He is a role model for aspiring activists of any religion whose passion never ceases to amaze.