Islamic Leadership Institute of America (ILIA) Holds Fundraiser to Continue Mission, Expand
Left: ILIA founder Ayman Nassar and youth counselor Arif Kabir conducted a workshop aimed at helping parents and their teenage children better communicate.
A young hafidh with a stellar resume stepped into the room where three people were going to interview him for a position. Faced with direct questions, his nervousness and inability to speak cost him the job.
‘Leaders are not born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal,’ Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said. Put in the position to represent the community, how prepared are our youth?
An integral part of an Islamic education includes teaching Muslim youth to lead, so they can eventually lead families, organizations and communities. The Islamic Leadership Institute (ILIA) is filling a void in the community by providing a space for youth and professional leadership certification based on a six-core fundamentals framework.
Young students at ILIA's iLEAD summer camp work on creative projects. Photos courtesy of ILIA.
ILIA brings to communities in the DC Metro cutting edge training and professional grade development in various areas of management.
To develop its programs further, ILIA held its second fundraiser on April 27, 2014 at the Stamp Union at the University of Maryland. The goal was to raise money for targeted needs including paying back a $20,000 loan, develop a handbook for youth counselors and collect a down payment for a youth center in Ellicott City, Maryland.
Ayman Nassar, or “Ammu Ayman” as the youth call him, is the founder and chair of the board of directors of Islamic Leadership Institute of America (ILIA). He has held positions on the board of directors and advisors of several masjids and Islamic organizations in the US. He lives by the words of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam, "on a journey, the leader of the people is their servant."
“[In all the years] we have covered organizations and masajid in the DMV area, we have not seen anything like ILIA,” stated Minhaj Hasan, editor in chief of the Muslim Link, who was the master of ceremonies for the event. ”Br Ayman is running a very unique program.”
Hasan said that ILIA is filling a void in the community and that in order to master leadership children need to be put in positions where they have to lead.
Another service provided by ILIA is the mentoring of at-risk youth. The organization provides tutoring and academic support for low-income students. “They come to us with low self-esteem, in depression. Working with [our] tutors [changes their lives] in a matter of weeks,” shared Nasser.
ILIA’s Green Sprouts Program in Baltimore City is a program that parents say help their children’s brains to grow emotionally and socially. Using gardening—hence the name— young men, often without a roof over their head, are mentored and coached. ILIA envisions a center that can serve at least 500 at risk youth per year. The current proposal is for a charter center that can serve 40 non-resident students a day, and 12 resident students at any given time.
When a young man accepts Islam in prison, what options does he have when he reenters society? I Can Lead, another ILIA initiative teaches students at Howard County Detention Center (HCDC). The program has gained large interest from the HCDC population and the class was at capacity during the semester. Each student costs I Can Lead approximately $250 for the academic quarter, including books and tuition, sponsored through donations.
At the fundraiser, visiting scholar from South Carolina, Shaykh Muhammad Adly gave the keynote address on raising leaders. He shared that he had left Makkah to come and live in the United States for the purpose of dawah. He said he sees many projects around the country, but was specially impressed by the work that Nasser and his team do. “They are working on the foundation,” he said.
Shaykh Adly had four suggestions for leaders: Consider the needs and wants of the people, know when to stop, don’t be a fitnah and make it easy for the people.
He elucidated that all prophets were shepherds; shepherding was a Divine training program for every Prophet and Messenger. Placing an emphasis on the leadership of parents, he said that children learn from the examples parents set.
Imam Safi Khan of Dar us Salaam spoke about the evolution of the community from the time he was a teenager and how ILIA was providing a valuable service. Questions the youth have about Islam need to be answered in the context of the firm tenets of the religion, he said. He urged the youth to be keys to goodness and locks to evil.
“If we want to develop leadership in our youth, they need to learn about patience under trials and yaqeen in Allah, otherwise they will remain troubled for the rest of their lives,” he reiterated.
Nur, a young man involved in the organization, asked the audience to put their time, effort and money — ‘that is what most leadership institutes put in their youth,’ he said.
Dr. Fauzia Fazily, the principal of Al Rahmah School, speaking to the audience shared that the Islamic Society of Baltimore has asked ILIA to help their student leadership program. They know the challenges of Muslim youth and they will prepare our kids, she said.
As a former positive behavior coach, Fazily knows the value such programs can provide to young adults, who are forging their way in a society where many Islamic values are not fostered. “Many young Muslim boys and girls get into lots of trouble despite strong family backgrounds” she emphasized; they drop out of school, often ending up in prison.
A Robotics Club for Middle School students was announced and interns who worked on many of ILIA projects such as an online brochure about tattoos and presentations for local organizations were recognized with special certificates.
A graduate of many ILIA’s programs, Yumna, 14, now an intern, held her award certificate. She said that ILIA taught her how to be independent and a positive influence.
Sarah Tayel, 15, an intern with the organization said that ILIA gave her awareness of Islam and community that a simple high school MSA could not. “All activities have an Islamic element,” she said.
Sumaya Fahmy, a mother from Silver Springs, MD whose son has benefited from spending time at the Halal Yeah! Youth Center that ILIA runs, said that having a venue where her son can spend time with his friends in a fun and Islamic environment is very important to her. “I have a hidden agenda in sending my children, but it helps that they come back happy,” said Fahmy.
A popular ILIA class is the Youth Project Management Certification for ages 12 – 18. For around a hundred dollars a class, students can complete a course of 8 classes and experience ‘a world of planning, organizing, controlling and directing projects.’ Youth not only learn essential leadership skills for success, but also ‘learn to transform boring work into exciting accomplishments.’
Other classes offered by ILIA such as the Life Hacks: Purpose as a Tool for Optimal Functioning are taught by a local students, and help young adults in developing a purpose, making a positive impact on the world, and finding meaning in their life using positive psychology. The instructor Emily Rabinowitz, a junior at River Hill High School, is a member of the Gifted and Talented Independent Research Program where she is studying purpose development under the advisory of Dr. Jenni Menon Mariano of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
Dar-us-Salaam, ADAMS, ISB, Peace thru Justice Foundation, Howard County Muslim Council, Sterling Management Group, and Dar at Taqwa sponsored the event.
Leading the way, the organization wants to invest in the future.
If you would like to donate to ILIA, please visit www.islamicleadership.org