Chicago is ground zero in U.S. Muslim renaissance

CHICAGO — Religious affiliation may be on the wane in America, a recent Pew study asserts, but you wouldn’t know it walking into the storefront near the corner of West 63rd Street and South Fairfield Avenue.

 

Inside a former bank in a neighborhood afflicted with gang violence, failed businesses and empty lots, a team of volunteers drawn by their religious faith is working to make life better for Chicago’s poorest residents.

 

The free medical clinic has expanded its hours; 20-something college graduates are clamoring to get into its internship program; rap stars swing by its alcohol-free poetry slams; and the budget has increased tenfold in the past decade.

 

The storefront belongs to Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and it is part of a wave of new Muslim institutions emerging at an unprecedented pace. More than a quarter of the nation’s 2,106 mosques were founded in the last decade, according to a recent University of Kentucky study, and new social service organizations, many of them run by 20- and 30-something American-born Muslims, are thriving as never before.

 

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.

 

Muslim Americans lead in social entrepreneurship

“Social entrepreneurship” has become a buzzword in the international development community and in activist culture in the United States and beyond.

It is a matter of pride for me, a Muslim American blogger, to highlight two models of social entrepreneurship – solving a social problem through innovative solutions – that have received national attention in the U.S. and are the brainchildren of Muslim Americans. Their innovation has created new spaces for community engagement that can help expand ideas of what it means to be a community activist.

Meet two social entrepreneurial models that connect non-Muslim and Muslim Americans, and others: Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network in Chicago. They are not ventures geared toward interfaith understanding. Instead, they are focused on community building – but in doing so they have created spaces where people of different faiths and backgrounds can interact.

As American leaders encourage other countries’ budding entrepreneurs to take ownership of problems within their communities, it is important to highlight what is already happening in the United States.

Local leaders in other American cities, such as Denver and New York, have approached these Muslim Americans and asked them to expand their operations and open a Busboys and Poets or IMAN there. If they do so, they will be sharing more than just the spirit of American activism, but also a dynamic, inclusive Muslim approach to activism.