This surge in new Muslim institutions, led by a nationwide network of young activists, “is the most important story in Islam in America right now,” said Eboo Patel, founder of the college campus-based Interfaith Youth Core.
Young Muslims “are going about the process of institution building in concretely American ways,” said Kambiz GhaneaBassiri of Reed College, author of “A History of Islam in America,” adding that the 9/11 terrorist attacks shaped a generation of young Muslim activists.
“The sheer numbers are absolutely new and the funding available for these organizations is absolutely new.”
Chicago may be ground zero of this trend: The city’s 15-year-old IMAN is one of several young Muslim organizations inspiring young Muslims to connect with their faith.
“Charity is an important part of our religion,” said Dr. Adiba Khan, an IMAN staff member.
Other organizations include CAMP, the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals; the city’s umbrella Muslim federation, which organizes the nation’s largest political gathering of young Muslims at the Illinois State Capitol each spring; and the Webb Foundation, a five-year-old organization dedicated to shaping a new model of diverse, indigenous American Islam.
A new campaign known as ‥MyJihad, in which American Muslims describe their personal faith struggles in advertisements on buses and in transit stations got its start in Chicago before expanding to San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
“There are good things happening in many places, but Chicago seems to me to kind of have it all,” said Jane I. Smith, who recently retired as a dean at Harvard Divinity School. “It’s got all different backgrounds represented, and different ways of approaching Islam.”
Chicago’s Muslim community is among the nation’s largest and most diverse. About 400,000 Muslims live here, and the 15 new mosques built in the last decade are just one indication of wealth, growth and political connectedness. Smith sees signs of a kind of Muslim reformation here, not in any single watershed moment but in myriad significant movements that are utterly new.
Nashashibi enjoys near celebrity status among ethnically diverse cadres of young Muslims from California to London. IMAN’s budget topped $2.1 million last year, 10 times what it was a decade ago.
“I think Rami is the most impressive Muslim of my generation,” said Interfaith Youth Core founder Patel.
Nashashibi’s reputation extends far beyond the Windy City. Inspired by IMAN’s successes, young activists in cities including Detroit, Atlanta, New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have created similar ventures and turned to IMAN’s staff for help.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison — a Democratic congressman from Minnesota and an African-American convert to Islam — is a Rami fan.
“Quite honestly, the Muslims are very fragmented,” Ellison said. “Rami doesn’t care what color you are or what cultures you are from. He wants to work with you.”
But it may be outside Muslim circles where IMAN’s impact may be most pronounced.
Yolanda Voss sat in the clinic’s modest waiting room on a recent morning, waiting to see a doctor for a follow-up visit about her high blood pressure. A member of an evangelical Christian church, Voss said she has been impressed by the clinic’s services.
“The quality of the care is excellent,” she said, adding, “the doctor is very understanding.”
Published in The Washington Post