Islamic Social Services Association Celebrates Ten Years of Service
Over the years discussing social problems has met with a mixed reception in the U.S. Muslim community. Like most minority communities, discussing social problems was akin to hanging dirty laundry and something we were discouraged from doing. From the 1980s until recently, discussing social problems like domestic violence, the growing divorce rate, substance abuse and poverty was difficult at best. In some communities there was clear denial that such problems exist among Muslims. Merely being Muslim was seen as an assurance that one was immune from such problems. There were few organized efforts and not comprehensive nationwide effort to address the problems facing community members.
Even as the American Muslim community was growing mainstream providers knew little about the provision of culturally and spiritually competent services with Muslims. It was difficult to get much attention at all to these issues. By 1999, the need for a nationwide effort in the United States and Canada became apparent.
The late Dr. Maryam Funches, Dr. Aneesah Nadir, Dr. Bilqis Eltareb and Shahina Siddiqui were convinced that there was a need for a nationwide effort to address the social problems facing the Muslims in the U.S. and Canada. They inspired a conference, which called professionals, imams and volunteers together to discuss the social service issues facing Muslims. The conference led to the establishment of a nonprofit organization that became known as the Islamic Social Services Association Inc (ISSA). ISSA was established in 1999 at a meeting of sixty Muslim social workers, mental health professionals, counselors, imams and volunteers in Dulles, Virginia. Among the ISSA founders were Dr. Maryam Funches, Dr. Aneesah Nadir, Dr. Bilqis Altareb, Srs. Shahina Siddiqui, Nadirah Rasheed, and Shareefa Alkhateeb, Dr. Altaf Hussain, Br. Abu Jamal Teague, Imam Mohamed Magid and Imam Khalid Griggs.
In 2003 it became clear that the needs in both the U.S. and Canada were growing. As a result, two organizations were formed to expand the focus in each country. The Islamic Social Services Association-United States and the Islamic Social Services Association in Canada are nationwide organizations that promote awareness of the social service, mental health, and family issues facing Muslims living in their respective countries.
Ten years later in Dulles, Virginia on June 19th and 20th 2009 ISSA returns to celebrate its anniversary. The daylong conference provides a forum to discuss the growth and changes that have taken place regarding social services among Muslims in North America. Experts in marriage and family, youth, mental health, aging and disability services will discuss their perspectives on the changes that have taken place in their areas over the past ten years and what they envision for the future. The conference will focus on accomplishments and challenges of the past as well as the considerations for the future.
This year preconference diversity training for mainstream social workers and other human service providers will be provided in Washington, D.C. as collaboration between the local chapters of the National Association of Social Workers and ISSA. Additionally, a post conference seminar for Imams and community leaders on Premarital Services will follow on Sunday June 21st and 22nd at Fairfax Institute in Herndon, Virginia.
The keynote speaker for the Conference luncheon on Saturday June 20th will be Imam Mohamed Magid and the keynote speaker for the dinner banquet is Dr. Altaf Hussain. Imam Siraj Wahhaj plans to join attendees via Internet technology from his benefit event in Atlanta. During the luncheon and dinner banquet ISSA will take the opportunity to honor and recognize those who have dedicated their lives to addressing the social service needs of their fellow Muslims and those in the larger society. The main honoree for ISSA’s 10th Anniversary Conference is Dr. Maryam Funches who dedicated her life to help those in need. Dr. Funches who passed away in 2007 helped to establish ISSA and many other social service efforts. She will be awarded the ISSA Excellence in Service Award, which will be accepted by her family members, one of whom is Hud Williams, Director of MANA’s Healing and Reconciliation Task Force.
Other awardees include Imams nominated for their commitment to promoting awareness about the social services issues facing Muslims in the U.S. and Canada. Among the awardees is MANA’s Amir Imam Siraj Wahhaj. Imam Siraj is well known for his efforts to eliminate drugs in the community around Masjid Al Taqwa in Brooklyn. He has supported MANA volunteers in developing SHARE Centers and the Community Reentry and Healthy Marriage Initiatives in local urban communities. Imam Mohamed Magid, Vice President of ISNA and Imam of ADAMS Center in Virginia, Abdul Malik Mujahid of Soundvision in Chicago, and Sheik Sadullah Khan of the Islamic Center of Irvine in California will also be honored for their support of social services.
ISSA plans to debut its 2009 edition of “Honoring Social Services in North American Muslim Communities: A Compendium of Providers Biographies” at its conference. This compendium includes MANA’s Diwan member Altaf Hussain, General Secretary Ihsan Bagby, National Director of MANA’s SHARE Centers Abu Jamal Teague, and Events and Fundraising Director Imam Qasim Khan among others for their contribution to social services as academics, professionals, volunteers and imams.
Muslim Culture and Faith, a cultural diversity training program for mainstream providers, has received acclaim among social workers and human service providers throughout the U.S. and Canada. ISSA provides this training for mainstream providers as well as training and consultation for Muslims who want to establish social service efforts in their local communities. ISSA supports the development of program evaluation and research studies about social service concerns facing Muslims. It also provides training on various social problems including youth leadership and development, domestic abuse, premarital and marital services. ISSA distributes books and materials published as part of its Muslim Culture and Faith series for mainstream social service providers, teachers, healthcare providers, and law enforcement personnel. ISSA has also published books for imams and community leaders about how to address domestic violence, sexual abuse and how to develop women-sensitive mosques.
The Sakinah Healthy Marriage Initiative is a seminal program of ISSA-USA. ISSA-USA works with local and national organizations like MANA to promote marital and family health among Muslims throughout the United States. ISSA-USA has worked with MANA over the past few years to develop MANA’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, which focuses on establishing premarital services and zero tolerance for domestic abuse among Muslims in urban communities throughout the U.S.
To register for ISSA’s 10th Anniversary Conference and to learn more about its programs and publications go to www.issausa.org.
Aneesah Nadir is CEO of Dr. Aneesah Nadir & Associates, a retired Arizona State University Social Work Professor and President of the Islamic Social Services Association-USA. Dr. Nadir lives in Mesa, Arizona with her husband and adult children.