A Brief Timeline
The idea for RICMA came about in late 1999, early 2000, when Sister Farah Andrabi, Brother Muhammad Abdulrhman, Sister Jennifer Ead (all three of Masjid Al-Kareem Sunday School), and Brother Nasser Zawia (of Masjid Al-Hoda) began to discuss the need to unify the Rhode Island Muslim community, and to build bridges with a variety of partners in the state. Informal conversations grew into a weekly meeting to discuss this vision, and other community leaders were invited to take part, including Imam Farid Ansari of the Muslim American Dawah Center of RI, Imam Abdul-Giyath of Masjid Ar-Razzaq, and Imam Abdul Hamid of Masjid Al-Kareem.
The first step was to ask each Muslim organization in Rhode Island to appoint up to four representatives—two male, and two female—to serve on RICMA’s Board. Other individuals who had taken initiative in service and leadership in the community were also invited to take part. As participation expanded to around 20 members, the meetings, beginning in June 2001, focused on formulating the bylaws. After months of careful drafting and improvement, the bylaws were complete. In July 2003, RICMA gained 501(c)(3) status.
After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, while RICMA was still in its early planning stages, the demands on the Muslim community expanded exponentially. On one hand, the community was under attack, the object of increased fear, hate, and government scrutiny. On the other hand, friends, allies, and those eager to educate against prejudice began to seek Muslim speakers and conversation-partners. The Muslim community was called to respond in an ad hoc and accelerated manner to the events that immediately followed 9/11—from the detention of some community members, to expectations of public and media engagement, to invitations to speak at local schools and congregations. The circumstances of this intense period set the agenda for RICMA—both inspiring and mobilizing new forms of engagement, but also redirecting and burning out the energies of a small group of committed volunteers.
In 2004, some key leaders of RICMA stepped back from their work with the organization in order to establish the Islamic School of Rhode Island. This was a huge undertaking that in some ways absorbed the balance of community leadership.
Nonetheless, since then, a variety of community leaders have been elected to take charge of the RICMA Board; thanks to their efforts, RICMA has remained a presence in Rhode Island since its founding, with the ebbs and flows expected of an all-volunteer organization. Still, this lack of continuity meant that in 2012, RICMA lost its 501(c)(3) status as a result of failing to file the proper tax forms for multiple consecutive years. Efforts are currently under way to regain 501(c)(3) status.
RICMA’s Original Vision and Work
RICMA was originally conceived as a "membership" organization; that is, members would share responsibility for carrying out the work of the organization, and for electing its leadership. A mosque or Muslim-led organization could become a member by paying fees and appointing representatives. The principle for decision-making was that of “shurah” meaning “mutual consultation.”
The management structure of RICMA consisted of three tiers:
- The Executive Board was the highest policy formulation and decision-making organ of the Council.
- Administrative Boards were designed to carry out the aims and objectives of the organization, including boards for Social Welfare, Education, Outreach, Youth and Sports, and Civic Engagement. The original vision included having a male and a female wing for each of these Boards.
- The Religious Advisory Board consisted of scholars competent to give religious rulings, and its purpose was to advise and guide RICMA in its work.
The 2003 bylaws listed the aims and objectives of the organization:
- Foster the spirit of mutual amicability among the member societies.
- Coordinate affairs of common interest to the Islamic Societies of Rhode Island.
- Address and correct any misinterpretations of Islam and false information about Islam through proper channels and media.
- Create avenues for combined charitable and humane efforts by Muslims and Islamic Societies towards all people.
- Promote a better understanding of Islam by organizing and holding workshops, conferences, etc.
In practice, realizing these aims and objectives involved a wide array of activities, including: facilitating unified Eid prayers and community-wide picnics; organizing teams for fundraising walks for such research endeavors as MS, breast cancer, and diabetes; coordinating meetings between community leaders and law enforcement or elected officials; writing press releases and hosting press conferences at times of crisis; providing educational workshops and seminars on various Islamic topics; ensuring the presence of Muslim speakers at interfaith, vigil, and rally events—to name just a few!
Since RICMA’s early days, its greatest challenge was maintaining consistency in its work, when all of its core endeavors were taken on by volunteer members who already served the Muslim community through the organizations they represented. Another challenge was how to balance the autonomy of organizations and mosques and their pre-existing efforts, on the one hand, with the benefits of unified community work, on the other; there were concerns that existing endeavors in the areas of education, outreach, youth, civic engagement, interfaith, etc. would be absorbed and centralized within RICMA. Finally, some members were concerned that RICMA was elevating the profile of the Muslim community in Rhode Island at a time of intense Islamophobia, compromising the safety of its mosques and organizations.
Noteworthy Efforts Over the Years
RICMA’s ambitious vision has left its members and volunteers wide scope in which to explore the possibilities and opportunities that the Rhode Island Muslim community has to offer. Here, we highlight just a few of the remarkable efforts of RICMA Boards of years’ past; some of these efforts continue in various forms until today.
Masjid Coordinating Council (MCC)
“Masjid” is the Arabic word for “mosque,” and it means “place of prostration.” The vision of the MCC was to create a forum for imams and mosque leadership to meet in order to agree on religious matters of common concern across the state. This was particularly useful for coming to a collective determination on the start and end dates of lunar months, which can be determined in a variety of ways, depending on the legal school of thought one follows within the Islamic tradition. This meant that Muslims in Rhode Island could mark such significant dates as the beginning of Ramadan, and the Eid holidays, on the same day.
The Sisters’ Wing
Between 2007 and 2013, the Sisters’ Wing of RICMA worked tirelessly to establish a variety of women-led initiatives in Rhode Island. Part of their work was to foster sisterhood by coordinating women-only events, such as retreats, educational activities, and social media discussion groups. In addition, the Sisters’ Wing took the lead on a variety of community-wide events, such as family picnics, and forming panels to speak at congregations and schools on “Women in Islam” and other topics.
Political Action Committee
In 2011 and 2012, the RICMA PAC worked to encourage increased political and civic engagement of the RI Muslim community, without endorsing any political party or candidate. In particular, their goals were:
- Relationship-building with public officials, media, and other outlets
- Public outreach and coalition-building
- Reinforcement of national and regional Muslim organizations
- Educating the community on the voting process and general and presidential elections
For two years, the RICMA PAC—among other things—established relationships with allied coalitions, organized rallies, wrote open letters to elected officials, cosponsored public lectures and panels (including one with Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman), notified the Muslim community of opportunities for charity and activism. To an extent, the Muslim Community and Civic Engagement initiative has been extending these efforts since its founding in 2017.
Healthy Families Initiative
Between 2009 and 2014, HFI was an anti-domestic violence initiative. Though it operated under the auspices of RICMA, HFI took the lead in:
- Connecting Muslims experiencing domestic violence with access to intervention resources and services.
- Educating advocates and professionals on the special needs of Muslims who reach out to them for help.
- Providing guidance to mosque leadership and community members on the creation of healthier families within the Muslim community.
New Leadership 2016-2017
For a few years in the mid-2010s, RICMA had a hiatus. In 2016, a new three-person Board was formed. Among its achievements were to revive some of the programming familiar to early RICMA days (community picnics, public speaking, media engagement, etc.), as well as to improve internal operations with the ambition to achieve its aims in a consistent and sustainable manner, and in line with the standards required to comply with 501(c)(3) status. In January 2018, this Board has decided to pass the baton to new leadership.
The story of RICMA, to be continued.