IMAN (Inner City Action Network): Showing the Way:
(Editor’s note: As part of our effort to highlight dynamic, model programs, the last issue of Grassroots focused on Luqman Abdul Haqq’s Universal Companies as an example of community development. This issue we focus on IMAN as an example of community activism.
Standing to speak at a masjid fund-raiser to an audience of well-dressed, middle-aged immigrant Muslims, Rami Nashashibi, Executive Director of Chicago-based IMAN, looked somewhat out of place with his youthful face, rumpled jeans, heavy coat and kufi. His words too might have seemed out of place, but with passion and compassion Rami conveyed his tough message: “You want to build a mosque at the crossroads of the American dream, but you can’t afford to ignore the problems of society….I don’t want, and you shouldn’t want the American dream that is built on complacency. We must be engaged with the issues of America, the marginalized and oppressed; we must be engaged to transform society.” The crowd responded well—they respected the message and recognized that this was an important voice of Muslim youth.
Rami Nashashibi’s message of Muslim involvement in the social issues of America is the guiding principle of IMAN (Inner-City Muslim Action Network). Founded in 1995, IMAN has emerged as one of the shining examples of Muslim community activism. From its beginning as a group made up of largely college students, IMAN has grown to become a remarkably diverse group of young adult Muslims whose background spans the ethnic and class divides of American Muslim society. Beginning with its first summer youth program, IMAN has grown to encompass a broad array of programs that address a multitude of issues—all directed towards IMAN’s goal “to effect holistic change in the conditions and root causes of suffering in the inner city.”
From its store-front headquarters in a working class neighborhood of Hispanics, Arabs and African Americans, IMAN’s staff of 2 full-time workers (Rami Nashashibi and Jamil Wright) and 6 volunteers organize activities around three broad areas: (1) awareness and outreach, (2) organizing and networking, and (3) social services.
Awareness and Outreach. IMAN organizes many activities that focus on increasing an understanding of Islam, which is “part of a larger process to empower individuals and communities to aggressively work for the betterment of humanity.” One of the main activities in this area is Pillars of IMAN, which consists of four different youth programs, combining education, sports and community involvement. IMAN’s Jail Outreach concentrates on programming for Muslims in the county jail and assisting in a pre-release program. Bonds of Sisterhood/Brotherhood is another typical IMAN function which brings together Muslims from all over Chicago-land to meet once a month in a night-long program to grow in Islam and to transcend ethnic, economic and ideological barriers. IMAN also provides an number of cultural sensitivity Workshops/Seminars for inner-city high schools and other public agencies.
Organizing and Networking. In pursuit of its goal of bringing Muslims and non-Muslims together, IMAN’s touchstone activity is Takin’ it to the Streets. “Streets” is a day-long, community festival filled with conscious-raising talks, Islamic rappers and other entertainment, games, sports and food. This year “Streets” included lectures by a who’s who of American Muslim leaders, including Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Imam W. Deen Mohammed, Hamza Yusuf, Ilyasah Shabazz (daughter of Malcolm X) and many others. Entertainment had a strong hip hop flavor—as does most things IMAN organizes—with performances by nationally known groups, such as Rock Steady Crew, Napoleon, and Juaissic 5, as well as well-known Chicago artists like Capital D.
Other activities in this area include IMAN’s unique program called Community Café which is a spoken word forum where up to 200 Muslims and non-Muslims gather every month to hear a wide-range of artists. Two city-wide campaigns in which IMAN is active are Latino Day Laborers, which addresses the issue of working conditions of day laborers, and Expungement, which focuses on expunging the records of certain ex-offenders.
Social Services. One of IMAN’s main goals is to provide empowering, transformative social services to the inner city. In 2001, IMAN launched the IMAN Career Development Initiative, which provides inner-city residents with skills necessary to find dignified and gainful employment. Presently focused on the digital divide, IMAN’s store front is filled with computers that are used by a variety of groups for computer training. On any one day, classes will be held for Hispanic and Muslim women learning English or neighborhood youth learning computer basics.
Another ambitious program in this area is its Health Care Initiative, which presently holds free, comprehensive medical services for the underserved on every other Sunday. IMAN also runs a Food Pantry.
Recently IMAN purchased a near-by building to house a full-time community health clinic and career development center. The opening of this building will mark a significant new stage in IMAN’s development as a social service provider to the community.
Although IMAN is not masjid-based, it has taken over the operations of the Inner-City Islamic Center (ICIC), which is in the heart of a near-by African American community. ICIC serves as the site for many of IMAN’s programs such as the food pantry, Bonds of Sisterhood/Brotherhood and lecturers.