He is one of Muslim America’s rising young activists, yet he is reserved in his comments on caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, the Mideast conflict and the war in Iraq.
Instead, Rami Nashashibi speaks out against Muslim-owned liquor stores, protests on behalf of Latino workers and denounces mistreatment of blacks by the criminal justice system. On Monday he joined Mexicans, Koreans and Poles in a massive march for immigrant rights.
Such issues are not commonly associated with Muslim activism, but Nashashibi, 33, believes Islam calls on the faithful to focus on gritty problems in urban areas. For him, waging a war at home against poverty, gang violence and other modern plagues is key to uniting Muslim Americans.
“Muslims have been absent and aloof about the problems in the inner city,” he said. “We’re seen either as victims or villains. We have not been part of the larger story in transforming communities. But now we have a unique opportunity to bring together the diverse elements of our community to effect change.”
Muslim leaders and scholars agree that one of the most pressing problems in Muslim America today is the divide separating Arab and Southeast Asian immigrants, such as Nashashibi, from the growing number of African-Americans and Latinos becoming Muslims.
As executive director of the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network or IMAN, Nashashibi is one of the few Muslim activists nationwide connecting wealthy, suburban Muslim immigrants with largely working-class Muslims in the city. As a Palestinian-American educated in Chicago, he bridges both worlds, mixing Islamic beliefs with street culture like spoken-word and hip-hop music.
This month, IMAN moves into new offices that include a free health clinic for the low-income Latinos, African-Americans and Arabs in Chicago Lawn on the Southwest Side. As Nashashibi’s influence grows, many observers say he is redefining what it means to be a Muslim-American activist.