The Foundation organizes the annual Engage Conference for center and organization leaders and stakeholders of the community to meet and discuss the most pertinent issues their communities face. Our goal is to bring centers and organizations together to connect and work with one another on common initiatives. These organizations have a platform to exchange ideas and learn from the experiences of their colleagues. The experience of leaders in Kansas City, MO can be a source of inspiration for the community in Pomona, CA, and vice versa. But these communities need a platform to network with one another and share the wealth of experience and knowledge they’ve accumulated. We facilitate these meetings for the benefit of the organizations so that they may strengthen their networks and connect with individuals they would otherwise not have an opportunity to.
In these meetings we also focus on providing organizations and centers with training and development where appropriate. The Foundation wants all organizations and institutions serving the community to be successful. There is a lot of great work being done by these organizations and they need to be supported to help serve their constituents more effectively. That is where we come in. We partner with organizations across the country in providing training and development for organizations and their leaders to better serve their communities. Through organizational best practices, standard operating procedures, and tapping into expert resources we assist organizations in their planning, programming, and growth.
CHALLENGES FACING AMERICAN SHIA MUSLIM CENTERS IN THE U.S.
THE ENGAGE 2016 CONFERENCE – 07/30/2016 | DEARBORN, MI.
As part of its Organizational Development, the Mainstay Foundation hosted a national conference for Shia Islamic centers on Saturday, July 30, at the Edward Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The conference was attended by directors and executives from over 30 Shia Islamic centers in the United States
The objective of the conference was two-fold. In the morning session, as part of the Engage 2016 initiative, the conference aimed to solicit buy in from the Islamic centers to join the initiative by actively pushing out the products for education and engagement through their organizations. In the afternoon session, the conference aimed to facilitate a discussion on the major challenges that Islamic centers face and their root causes in the areas of leadership and administration, programs and services, and community outreach.
MORNING SESSION: ENGAGE 2016
The goal of the Engage 2016 initiative is to proactively identify through research, the challenges American Shia-Muslims face, in an effort to facilitate initiatives that collectively protect their constitutional rights. The conference commenced phase II of Engage 2016. Ms. Laya Behbahani moderated the morning session, which featured five presentations themed around election education, voter engagement, community educational outreach, ad campaigns, and strategic communication plan.
Mr. Rachid Elabed, Community Outreach Director for ACCESS and representative from Nonprofit VOTE, spoke on election education, particularly the extent Islamic centers can legally engage and participate in the electoral process. He stressed that Islamic centers play an indispensable role in educating their congregations about the importance of election participation.
Ms. Fayrouz Saad, Director of Immigrant Affairs for the City of Detroit and a representative from Emerge USA, followed with a presentation on voter engagement, explaining how Islamic centers can mobilize their communities to register to vote via registration campaigns. She touched on GOTV (get out to vote) campaigns and identified various resources available for Islamic centers to engage in grassroots campaigns.
COMMUNITY EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH
After a short break, Mr. Abed Ayoub, Legal and Policy Director at Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, spoke on community educational outreach, focusing his presentation on the role Islamic centers can play in educating their congregations about their constitutional rights and liberties. Mr. Ayoub dispensed useful knowledge on how Islamic centers can educate their congregations on how to procedurally respond to hate crimes, a sentiment that was well received.
Hajj Wissam Bazzi, Director of Piximotion L.L.C., followed with a presentation on ad campaigns, explaining how we can utilize cable television to craft our own narrative to dispel the distorted image of Islam and Muslims that permeates current discourse in the United States. He outlined the process for developing ad campaigns and asserted Islamic centers have great means to support such an endeavor.
STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION PLANS (SCP)
Mrs. Mahdis Keshavarz, founder of The Make Agency, concluded the morning session with a presentation on Strategic Communication Plans (SCP). She explained that developing a SCP is invaluable for the Shia Muslim Community if they wish to create and disseminate their own narrative.
The conveners listened attentively to the presentations and benefited immensely from the invaluable resources that the presenters and their respected organizations offer. They asked questions, exchanged ideas, and made a commitment to implement some of these products in their centers. Whether it is setting a voting registration campaign, hosting a candidate forum, holding a workshop on rights and liberties, or raising money for ad campaigns and a strategic communications plan, the conveners agreed that their centers should be at the forefront to engage and mobilize their communities in order to protect their rights and liberties as American citizens.
After a break which featured a visit to Al-Zahraa Islamic Center for prayers and lunch, Mr. Jalal Moughania commenced the afternoon session with great enthusiasm and drive. The discussion focused on the Challenges Facing Shia Muslims Centers. As part of The Mainstay Foundation’s effort to better understand the community that it serves, and in our pursuit for data and research to drive its work, our Research Department is working on a comprehensive study on the state of the American Shia centers in the United States. The first phase of the study, to be completed in 2016, is to:
define the challenges facing the Islamic centers and
identify the root causes for these problems.
Prior to the conference, a questionnaire was conducted targeting the administrators and executives at American Shia centers. Building on the results of the study, the afternoon session aimed to facilitate a discourse between the representatives from the centers to further define the challenges and their causes, in addition to discussing the role of the Islamic center at large.
The attendees were divided into three groups; leadership and administration, programs and services, and community outreach. Each group had 90 minutes to brainstorm the issues, conduct a SWOT analysis, and reach a consensus on the role of the Islamic center and the top three challenges and their root causes. The conveners engaged in heated debates, exchanging ideas and sharing experiences. Nonetheless, they were able to reach the desired objective. Upon completing the sessions, the attendees reconvened to present their findings.
THE LEADERSHIP AND ADMINISTRATION BREAKOUT SESSION
Mr. Shabeer Kirmani, presented the findings for the leadership and administration breakout session. The group defined the role of the Islamic center to be a holistic community center that offers an array of services, including living spaces for the elderly and sports facilities to engage the youth. The challenges they defined are lack of qualifications amongst leadership at the mosque, lack of engagement with the youth, and tribalism – which undermines diversity in the centers, something they believed to be pivotal. As far as the causes behind the aforementioned challenges, the group highlighted a couple. One is a lack of structural systems, which includes lack of credentials for executives and administrators at centers, lack of fundraising experience, and lack of professional training relevant to running a community. Second, a failure of centers to adapt. The group believed that many communities have not adapted to the current times, deferring instead to traditional means that may not necessarily be apt enough to meet the current challenges.
THE PROGRAMS AND SERVICES BREAKOUT SESSION
Mr. Muntazar Tajaldeen, presented the findings for the programs and services breakout session. The group defined the role of the Islamic center is to be a conduit to instilling the American Shia-Muslim identity and the vehicle of dialogue with other communities and denominations. The challenges they defined are lack of qualified speakers and scholars, lack of resources and prudent resource allocation, and lack of engagement with the youth. Largely, the challenges mirrored those of session one, underscoring how many of these challenges are shared across centers in the United States. The causes also overlapped with those of session one, with minor differences. The group noted that centers have been complicit in allowing unqualified speakers to speak at their centers, solely for the sake of filling seats. The group also noted that lack of engagement with the youth has a lot to do with a lack of diversity in regards to programs. Centers are not doing their part in ensuring that programs are tailored specifically to the youth, as opposed to sticking to general programming that hasn’t evolved.
THE COMMUNITY OUTREACH BREAKOUT SESSION
Mr. Ali Banoon, presented the findings for the community outreach breakout session. The group defined the role of the Islamic center to be a religious institution that seeks to empower the community and bear other essential responsibilities, such as engaging in social and civic duties, to name a few. Likewise, the challenges they defined followed those of the other sessions, including the lack of engagement with the youth, lack of innovative programming, and lack of funding and resources. The group outlined several barriers that create these challenges, including lack of adequate leadership, lack of woman’s participation, and a lack of data and hard facts that can help identify solutions to the prevailing problems.
THE PLENARY SESSION
Following the group findings, a plenary session commenced to open the lines of communication and allow everyone to discuss the issues and provide their input. Clearly, the challenges and causes were shared by many of the centers and attendees had a lot to say about that. The discussion was a fruitful one – attendees were engaged and spoke openly about the issues they face with their centers.
TAKEAWAYS AND NEXT STEPS
The conveners agreed that the mere gathering of the Islamic centers’ representatives is important and valuable. The conference was a scarce opportunity for the center leads to come together and engage in a discussion in which they addressed common challenges and shared experiences with one another. Numerous attendees expressed their enthusiasm for these types of efforts because they can be instrumental in coordinating efforts between the local centers and in creating a strong support system that all centers can benefit from.
The Mainstay Foundation concluded the conference by summarizing the takeaways and the next steps with respect to both Engage 2016 and the Study on the American Shia-Islamic Centers.
With respect to Engage 2016, The Mainstay Foundation will follow up with all of the participating Islamic center at the conference to see which products and or efforts they are interested in implementing. Whether it is setting a voting registration campaign, hosting a candidate forum, holding a workshop on rights and liberties, or supporting an ad campaign, The Mainstay Foundation will act as a facilitator and coordinator to bring these products to the centers. Furthermore, The Mainstay Foundation will monitor and measure the extent to which the Islamic centers implemented the products in their centers. Additionally, The Mainstay Foundation, with the support of all of the interested Islamic centers and organizations, will take the lead on the Strategic Communication Plan.
With the respect to the Study on the American Shia-Islamic Centers, the outcome of the discussions will be included in the study to produce a comprehensive assessment which will help The Mainstay Foundation shape its organizational development services and all stakeholders concerned with the work of American Shia Muslim centers. The next phase of the study will be addressing the solutions to the challenges. This phase will commence in 2017 and will directly involve the leadership of the Islamic centers as well.
Phase I of the study titled, ‘Challenges Facing Islamic Centers in the United States’ sought to explore the challenges, as perceived by the leadership of centers and mosques in the United States.
The study is designed to take place in three successive stages to allow for a thorough analysis of how the Islamic community perceives and responds to challenges.
By distinguishing between the three normative elements that constitute most Islamic centers in the United States, namely the leadership, the resident scholars and the community members, the project is aimed as exploring points of convergence and divergence in opinion in order to best recommend potential solutions to (a) areas of consist concern among the three groups or, (b) areas of concern to some but not necessarily all three groups.
‘Leadership’ is defined as any member of the American Shia community who currently occupies a role on the Board of Trustees, the Board of Directors or plays a significant role in leading the affairs of the center or mosque.
‘Leadership’, ‘Management’, ‘Executives’ and ‘Participants’ are terms used interchangeably throughout the study.
40 executives were contacted using expert purposive sampling
12 interviews were secured and interviewed from 17 different centers
1 interview took place with 3 executives but was counted as 1 interview where opinions did not differ amongst the executives
1 participant was female while 11 were male
39 executives were contacted 2-5 times
16 executives never responded
6 executives agreed to be interviewed but did not appear for the interview
5 executives declined interviews
3 executives responded to the first call out
2 executives could not be interviewed due to scheduling conflicts
1 executive requested to participate by email but never responded
The top internal challenges identified were:
Lack of participation by community members and especially youth
Lack of understanding, interaction and engagement both within and outside the center
Lack of proper administration and programming
Relationship of executives with resident scholars
Lack of funds and financial support
Lack of transparency of khums money, absence of quality institutions in Shia world, securing speakers, securing premises for gatherings, developing Islamic schools, lack of Sunday school material, generational gap between youth and elders, lack of education within the community, vandalism caused to the center by its own youth and ‘marjeaya’
The top external challenges identified were:
Lack of political outreach and outreach to the media
Islamophobia – lack of media management, travel ban, safety and security issues, status of Muslims, hate groups
Lack of exposure of Muslim communities and others to the marjeaya
Lack of centralization of efforts of the Shia community leading to the permeation of cultural influences
Serving as a leading voice for Muslim communities in the United States
The sample size does not allow for generalizations to be drawn or recommendations to be made
The lack of participation posed significant challenges to the research process that warrants a discussion about the appreciation, or lack thereof, of intelligence-led decisions in the American Shia community in the United States.
Time constraints posed as a result of the inability to secure interviews presented challenges to analyzing the data using qualitative data analytics software that would have been a best practice
Phase II of the study will be discussing challenges as perceived by resident scholars of various centers across the United States.
Phase III of the study will be discussing challenges perceived by community members of Islamic centers across the United States.
The Mainstay Foundation completed the Engage 2018 initiative building on the results of Engage 2016 and Engage 2017. For the last three years, the Engage initiative made it a priority to address contemporary challenges that pertain to the American Shia Muslim Community – bringing thought leaders and organizational leadership to discuss the issues and formulate recommendations, which can then be translated into practical action items. This year, the overarching theme was: Identity, Participation, and Ownership.
Based on the results of numerous survey data, as well as listening to the “voice of the community”, there are several concerns amongst leaders of our communities. The most pressing of which surround issues of identity, ownership, and participation. There are concerns surrounding the issue of identity for American Shia Muslims living in the United States, particularly with the younger generations. Many people grow up with no clear sense of identity or find it challenging to reconcile what they perceive as a major conflict between their religious, national, and ethnic identities. Some believe that this “identity crisis” has weakened the community’s fabric and sense of ownership in the community’s organizations and centers, resulting in a dangerous decline in participation by community members in their religious institutions. Others might attribute the lack of participation and engagement of community members with their institutions to the lackadaisical work of organizations and centers and their inability to be relevant in the lives of their constituents.
Regardless of what the reason maybe, there is a serious concern that this concern will continue to perpetuate effecting participation and sense of ownership amongst various demographics To address this growing concern, the purpose of ENGAGE 2018 was to Identify means of strengthening identity, participation, and ownership amongst the general members of our community in a long-term sustainable manner in order to shape, nurture and safeguard the American Shia identity. The premise being, if individuals in our community feel a strong sense of identifying with their Shia Identity, then this will potentially increase their participation in their respective mosques and institutions and inculcate a sense of ownership within them which will ultimately result in the success of the community at large. The Engage 2018 initiative comprised of three phases, as explained below.
The Mainstay Foundation hosted the Engage 2018 Conference on August 4th in Dearborn, Michigan. This Conference commenced phase two of the initiative. The Conference was attended by representatives from American Shia Muslim organizations and local centers. The day was divided into morning and afternoon sessions.
The morning session was reserved to discuss the issue of the diminishment in participation and ownership amongst community members across the United States, focusing on the Summit recommendations to determine which of the recommendations can be adopted by the organizations and centers, as a collective, to assist in remediating the issue. The afternoon session continued with three objectives. First, attendees had the platform to present their organizations to the group to raise awareness about their work and to leverage networking opportunities.
Second, we conducted non-profit training in various fields including law, strategy, marketing, accounting, technology and volunteer programming.
Third, the Conference concluded with an open and frank discussion by the conveners on how the attendees, representing over 40 organizations and local centers, can leverage the national network to foster effective connection, communication, and collaboration amongst each other. Based on feedback provided by the Summit, the morning sessions commenced with a presentation followed by discussion on capacity building. Empowering and investing in the next generation of leaders is crucial for the sustainability of the American Shia Muslim community. This can be achieved through recruitment, empowerment, scouting and professional development.
After elaborate discourse in which concerns were raised and discussed, the participants reached a consensus to introduce the Inspire 2018 project. The purpose of this project is to establish a leadership retreat targeting university students and young professionals who are active in their communities. These individuals will be trained and empowered to lead in their centers in the future. The goal is to have 40-50 young professionals and university students nominated by their centers and organizations to take part in a leadership development conference, which will run concurrently with the Engage 2019 Summit.
The conversation then shifted to community engagement. Participants focused on what is needed to increase participation by their congregations. This conversation was powered by recommendation from the Summit on how to achieve: relevance, integration, and unification While everyone acknowledged that a lot of good work is already being done by the centers, there is a consensus that much more is needed. If we desire community members to be engaged, we need to provide relevance to encourage participation. Research suggests that members feel that the national Shia community is divided on messaging. Thus, it is imperative to unify messaging on a national level. This discussion led into the Summit’s recommendation for a national theme which introduced the concept of a national service day uniting American Shia Muslims across the United States around community service. We suggested the centers collaborate together for the National Hussain (as) Service Day and Mainstay Foundation offered to assist the centers in facilitating community service events in their respective communities.
Following a networking lunch, the Conference resumed with an open platform for leaders to present on their organization. The platform was open to everyone and several leaders utilized the opportunity to discuss their efforts. Subsequently, the Mainstay Foundation team conducted a series of workshops on non-profit management for all participants. The training focused on finance and budgeting, legal compliance, marketing, information technology infrastructure, and volunteer program development. Participants expressed the benefit obtained from these workshops, and were given the opportunity to pose questions specific to their organizations.
Furthermore, participants suggested if more training can be offered on a regular basis by the Mainstay Foundation team either in person or through web videos on the HUB. The Conference concluded with a presentation by Mainstay’s executive director on the importance of leveraging our national network through unity and collaboration. This was followed by an open discussion amongst all participants. Great feedback was provided on the ways to improve and bridge gaps to ensure we can continue to grow as a national community. Participants agreed that we need to continue having constructive dialogue and accept our differences.
We are a diverse community but we share similar challenges. It is imperative that we celebrate our diversity and work as a collective to face our challenges. Our organizations and centers, being the hubs for communities, need to play a vital role in that process. They must leverage their resources and work as a collective by connecting, communicating, and collaborating.
THE EXEXUTION PHASE
In this phase, the Mainstay Foundation will commit to working closely with the organizations and centers to implement and execute the recommendations from the Summit, which were adopted at the conference. This will include facilitating communication and coordinating resources through the American Shia Muslim Resource HUB. The HUB is a platform for American Shia Muslim organizations and centers to connect, communicate, and collaborate. Open for all American Shia Muslim organizations and centers that join, the HUB is an effective means for members to share resources and exchange experiences that can address common challenges and foster development for the community.
Improve awareness of Mainstay’s existence
Provide ongoing training through online webinars, slides, in-person classes
Develop SOP’s for Islamic school, curriculum and education
Improve diversity of networks
Increase Shia representation among larger organizations
Increase presence of female leadership
Seek voice of African American community
Youth are present but impatient to disagreement on perspectives
Must improve constructive dialogue through accepting different perspective
The Mainstay Foundation team facilitated the 2019 Engage Conference by bringing together a very diverse group of individuals with different professional backgrounds representing various local centers and organizations across the country. These participants have committed their time and effort to serve their communities through their active participation amongst the board of directors, the board of trustees, or executive committees in their respected centers and organizations. Additional participants included young leaders and volunteers at the Foundation, who were observing and learning from the experience. The conference aimed to embrace diversity and create a platform to connect and learn from each other’s experiences and expertise. The conference was held through various panels, presentations, and open discussion opportunities.
Although we come from different backgrounds, we face common issues. From day one, and over the last four years, the underlying goal of this conference has been to bring together like-minded individuals to serve and enhance the American Shia Muslim community and to address the common issues and matters that pertain to all of our constituencies. By addressing our issues as a collective, the hope is there are more resources and power to discuss them. Dialogue and communication are essential to transfer knowledge and experience over the years by various communities. Through collaboration and partnership, we hope to leverage our recourses to enhance our community.
The primary purpose of the Engage 2019 Conference can be summarized in three words: connect, communicate, collaborate. Our intent is to allow individuals to engage freely and openly and productively discuss various matters. None of the recommendations should be imposed or binding on anyone. We are convening to discuss important issues with hopes to reach a consensus on some practical solutions that we can take back to our communities, and these are only recommendations that members of the community can choose to adopt if they wish to do so.
The primary focus of the conference this year was to discuss and devise practical strategies centered around some of the major challenges facing the American Shia Muslim community, especially with respect to the preservation and promotion of the narrative. We have learned over the years of the decline and diminishment of participation, ownership, and sense of identity of American Shia Muslims’ youth. We continue to struggle with this issue despite prior years of efforts to address it. This has been an ongoing challenge and will continue to be a focus for our efforts. This year, we continued discussing this topic of youth participation and engagement and discuss how we can preserve and disseminate our narrative.
The Mainstay Foundation hosted the Engage 2019 Conference in Dearborn, MI, on November 23, 2019. Center administrators and executives attended the conference with a common agenda to serve and enhance the American Shia Muslim community through dialogue and collaboration by addressing the common issues we face. The primary focus of this year’s conference was to address these challenges while preserving and promoting the narrative.
A panel discussion led the first session of the conference. Based on the surveys conducted before the conference, the “youth participation and engagement” was the most important topic to discuss in this year’s conference. The panelists were:
Sayyid Shabbir Kirmani
Shaykh Mohammad Al-Saadi
Hajj Mustafa Dinani
Hajjah Khadija Alaouie
Each panelist discussed some of the common issues pertaining to the youth and presented some solutions. Following the presentations, there was an opportunity for questions and answers. The Q&A drove a robust discussion of several solutions to address youth engagement and participation, namely, the vitality of having a multipurpose center and youth trained at the Islamic Seminary (Hawzah) to come back and serve their local communities.
Additionally, The Mainstay Foundation team highlighted the National Network enhancements and updates to theHUB, an online digital platform that provides resources and helps communities connect, communicate, and collaborate. These updates were demonstrated on screen and presented to the attendees during the conference.
Then, the conference opened up the platform and allowed major center and organization administrators to share their work and efforts. These individuals spent 10 minutes discussing and presenting their organizations’ work.
The concluding session of this conference discussed how we should control our narrative. Prior to the conference, ten qualified and professional scholars and speakers were surveyed to suggest and propose general guidelines for speakers and the content they should deliver. A compilation of these suggestions was presented to the attendees for review and feedback. A heavy dialogue and debate ensued, but there was a general consensus that guidelines are essential when selecting a speaker or scholar. Content guidelines should not be a limitation or restriction to a speaker, but instead, they should serve to guide and assist a speaker in serving communities’ specific needs.
Sh. Jafar Muhibullah for majalis/lecture inclusive of discussion on race awareness
Imamia Medics International – www.tinyurl.com/IMINewsandObit
American Muslim Bar Association – www.ambalegal.org/post/statementagainst-injustices-facing-the-black-community
KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR VIRTUAL PROGRAMMING:
Targeting the audience to a narrower range will lead to better outcomes. For example, the children and teen programs that were limited to a specific age range had a more productive and valuable discussion.
The live interactive sessions provide more engagement than lecture-style programs.
When attendees can ask questions and stay involved, they had better engagement and attendance. This is especially true for the younger members, where children learn better when interacting as opposed to being lectured to.
The more shareable the content was, the higher the success of the engagement.
The short 2 min videos had higher reactivity, with more reach and better success among viewers.
KEY GUIDELINES FOR OUTDOOR PROGRAMMING
All community members should be required to sign a waiver before entry
Community members are asked to participate and cooperate with parking ushers, volunteers, and security personnel.
CDC advice should be adhered to Social distancing greater than 6 feet between members and face masks are required to reduce risk of transmission
All families are required to stay within proximity of their car, they can bring chairs and blankets if they wish
Everyone is encouraged to limit the number of cars per household
All should refrain from shaking hands or cultural greetings
Children should remain with parents and limit moving from car to car since children may be asymptomatic and inadvertently spread the virus. In some communities, getting out of the car was not allowed. This is helpful for noise control as well
Smoking is prohibited on grounds and only permitted in designated areasNo attendees shall be present if they test positive for COVID in the past 14 days, traveled to an international hotspot, or is actively sick with symptoms
For the safety of everyone, if these guidelines are not adhered to then members will be asked to leave
Tabaruk or distribution of any food should be prepackaged, bagged, and handed on exit
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BEST PRACTICES & LESSONS LEARNED
Preparing and organization is key
Consider weather patterns (heat, cold, wind)
Set up early – avoid delays (i.e., I.T., chairs, stage)
Consider using markers for distancing (lights, chairs, flags)
Have a back-up plan (consider weather changes)
Be considerate of surrounding sound and traffic (neighbor) –
F.M. transmitters can be used to allow for volume control within cars
Document a list of all members in attendance.
BEST PRACTICES FOR INDOOR PROGRAMMING
Sign in and Screening of all attendees (temperature and travel screening) Perform wudhu at home (restrooms may not be available or very limited)
Wear your own mask, bring your own prayer rug, prayer tablet (turbah), and hand sanitizer
No handshakes, hugs, or kisses
No mingling inside the center
Doors open 5 minutes before programming begins, and attendees should immediately exit after the program concludes
Socially distanced seating 6 feet apart
Food packaged and given as to-go
Sanitizing spray used throughout the center
Recommendations on who should avoid attending
If you are sick with symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, or loss of taste or smell)
Children under 13 and elderly greater than 60 years old
People with chronic illness, diabetes, heart, kidney, lung (asthma and COPD) or liver diseases
Immunocompromised persons with organ and bone transplants, cancer, splenectomy and patients taking steroids or immunosuppressive agents
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