How Hard Is It To Establish a Real Muslim Umbrella Organization? - updated 3/12/2014

How Hard Is It To Establish a Real Muslim Umbrella Organization?

by Sheila Musaji


We know that we need ONE NATIONAL UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION.  We know that we regularly need public statements made on behalf of the community, and that no one group speaks for our varied community.  We know that currently the answer to the question “Who speaks for the American Muslim community? is sadly “No one and everyone”, and that this causes serious problems for all of us. 

The effort to establish a National Umbrella Organization representing Islamic organizations across the country, and across ethnic and sectarian lines is a case in point as to why ordinary American Muslims may have lost confidence in their leadership.

 

A number of such organizations have been formed and disbanded over the years, and the current organization, the Muslim Taskforce changes members regularly.  In none of the incarnations of the various umbrella groups have all communities been represented, and the African-American community, particularly the Mosque Cares (W.D. Muhammad’s group) is glaringly absent after the 1990’s.  There are no Shia organizations included.  There are no Sufi organizations included.  There are no women’s organizations included.

It is worthwhile to spell out the changes that have taken place between 2004 and 2012 in the makeup of this organization as they show a pattern.

The National Islamic Shura Council (NISC) was established in the early 1990’s.  The members of that coalition were:

Bosnia Task Force,
Islamic Society of North America ISNA,
Islamic Circle of North America ICNA,
Ministry of Imam W.D.Muhammad (now Mosque Cares)
and Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s Community.

  This was the first attempt to develop a coalition of major American Muslim organizations that would work cooperatively on issues of concern to the entire American Muslim community.  NISC no longer exists.

The American Muslim Political Coordinating Council (AMPCC) was established in 2000.  The members of that organization were:

American Muslim Alliance AMA,
American Muslim Council AMC,
Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR
and Muslim Public Affairs Council MPAC.

  It is difficult to find documentation, but it seems as if it was replaced (or at least the name was changed) to the American Muslim Taskforce AMT after there was some community backlash against the AMPCC’s endorsement of George Bush for President.  Whatever happened, the AMPCC no longer exists.  Dr. Agha Saeed was the founder.

The American Muslim Taskforce was established in 2004 as a multi-organizational group (umbrella organization) to work on civil rights and election issues.  Dr. Agha Saeed is the coordinator.  The original members of this coalition were announced as:

American Muslim Alliance (AMA),
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP),
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),
Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA),
Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA),
Muslim American Society - Freedom (MAS-F),
Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA),
Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA),
Muslim Student Association - National (MSA-N),
North American Imams Federation (NAIF), and
United Muslims of America (UMA)

Their original mission statement said:

Mission and Objectives - Our four main objectives are to:
1) become full partners in the defense, development and prosperity of our homeland, the United States,
2) defend civil and human rights of all,
3) mainstream the American Muslim community, and
4) develop alliances with like-minded fellow Americans on a wide variety of social, political, economic and moral issues.
 
It also said that it “sets forth a bottom-up, community- based decision-making process”.

This mission statement was extremely encouraging, as such an organization was so much needed.  The statement goes beyond simply political and election issues and could be seen as covering most areas of importance to the community.

If you go to their site today you will see that they last posted anything in April of 2011, and that the links for “about us”, “comunity facts and figures”, etc. are dead links that go nowhere. 

On their site it lists member organizations as:

American Muslim Alliance AMA,
Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR,
Islamic Circle of North America ICNA,
Islamic Society of North America ISNA,
Muslim Alliance of North America MANA,
Muslim American Society MAS,
Muslim Public Affairs Council MPAC,
Muslim Student Association - National,
Muslim Ummah of North America MUNA,
Project Islamic Hope,
United Muslims of America UMA,
and American Muslims for Palestine.

This is a different list from that stated in the original announcement.  Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) and North American Imams Federation (NAIF) no longer appear on the member organizations list.  ISNA has been added, as has Project Islamic Hope. 

The links on the AMT site for organizations work and take you to the sites of the particular organizations, except for the Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA) and Project Islamic Hope.  Those links are dead, and if you do a search for those organizations, only MUNA actually has a site.  MUNA appears to be some sort of local Bengali Dawa organization in NY and NJ.  The AMA is a political group, but their site also has not posted anything since 2008, and they seem to be completely inactive.  The UMA has a site, but no events listed, no real current information, no press releases, and only a few articles posted from other sites.  They also seem to be completely inactive.  The AMP is strictly a single issue political organization whose mission is to educate the public about Palestine. 

In a 3/2010 press release from AMT, the organizations are listed as being members and observers:

Members:  American Muslim Alliance (AMA),
American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI)
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP),
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),
Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA),
Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA),
MAS-Freedom,
Muslim Student Association-National (MSA-N),
Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA),
and United Muslims of America (UMA).
Its observer organizations include American Muslims for Civic Engagement (AMCE), Islamic Educational Council of Orange County (IECOC), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).


I can’t find anything on AMCE except that they come up in press releases about the AMT, there is an American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute AMCLI and it appears to be an active organization, MAS-Freedom no longer exists (and that is a story in itself).

A 1/2012 press release from CAIR lists the AMT member organizations as:

Member Organizations:  American Muslim Alliance (AMA),
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP),
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),
Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA),
Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA),
Muslim American Society (MAS),
Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA),
Muslim Students Association-National (MSA-N),
Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA),
North America Imams Federation (NAIF),
United Muslims of America (UMA). 
Observer Organizations:  American Muslims for Civic Engagement (AMCE), Islamic Educational Council of Orange County (IECOC), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

This is the most recent list of member organizations that I could find.  The Muslim Legal Fund of America MLFA has a website, the links work, and they seem to be currently active.  The North American Imams Federation NAMF also has a website, but there is not much useful information, e.g. they have a response to the anti-Sharia movement that is one paragraph and a note that more is coming soon, and that’s it, although this issue has been ongoing for the past two years.  The IECOC is not a national organization, but a local county organization.  As we previously learned, of these organizations:  The AMA is a political group, but their site also has not posted anything since 2008, and they seem to be completely inactive.  AMP is a single issue political organization focusing on foreign affairs.  MUNA appears to be some sort of local Bengali Dawa organization in NY and NJ.  AMCE doesn’t seem to exist.  AMCLI was on the previous list, but simply disappears from this list, why?


UPDATE June 12, 2012

On June 12, 2012 an article was published by Sabrina Siddiqui in the Huffington Post saying that “This year there are many issues that are of great concern, looking at the last four years of President Obama, especially concerning civil rights,” said Naeem Baig, chairman of the American Muslim Taskforce, a coalition representing 13 of the country’s largest Muslim organizations.

The AMT site itself has a different list of organizations than this last press release shows.  There is nothing on the AMT site that lists the Board of Directors, or Officers - so this article in the Huffington Post saying that it has a Chairman named Naeem Baig is the only way that information might be available.  There is nothing on the AMT site that says whether members are observer organizations or actual members, nor is there any definition or explanation of what that might mean.  Why are ISNA and MPAC, two of the most important national organizations listed as “observers”?

The most recent list of organizations includes 11 member organizatons and 4 observer organizations, removing those that are inactive or have no site or current activities brings it down to 8 member organizations and 2 observer organizations.

All of this is very unprofessional.  In the final analysis, we do not have at this time a real, functioning, transparent organization that is a coalition or umbrella group for all American Muslim organizations who wish to participate, and that includes members from all of our varied groups.

It is possible that the AMT could still become such an organization, but it would take a lot of work, and a genuine commitment to “setting forth a bottom-up, community- based decision-making process” as their original mission statement said:

AN INCLUSIVE UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION

Establish an inclusive umbrella group that has members from every national and regional Muslim organization that is open to all who want to join - Sunni and Shia, Sufi and Salafi, indigenous and immigrant, etc.  An umbrella group that is supported financially by all these groups.  Every effort should be made to include all organizations (e.g. AIF, BAACBH, CAIR, CSID, ICNA, IIIT, ISNA, ISPU, MANA, MFI, MPAC, MSA, MWL, NAIF, UMA, UMMAA, WISE, etc.) Every mosque and organization in the U.S. (and Canada) should be encouraged to be a part of this organization. 

Each member organization should select one or two qualified individuals to be their representatives to this organization and these individuals would be a core committee that would issue statements, clarifications, etc. on behalf of the Muslim community, and that would decide on the minimum standards for an organization or mosque to be considered a member in good standing.  They would decide what committees should be set up to handle different issues, and divide the responsibilities according to expertise.  This group would vote on the structure of the organization, the mission statement, the budget, the first officers of the organization and their responsibilities and length of terms of office, etc. 

This organization would be the primary contact group for community interaction with law enforcement, or with government officials, interfaith groups, etc..  This would be the organization that any Muslim could call with a concern about a problem in their local community, and the organization that would be able to refer them to the appropriate individual or organizational resource. 

This organization should and have an office with a phone that is manned 24-hours a day, and also maintain a website with resources available online and produce  

This office should maintain a data base of information and resources including:

— a khutba bank, and a fatwa bank
— contacts for every mosque and organization in the U.S.,
— information on legal issues that might affect Muslim communities,
— recommended best practices, sample constitutions, etc.,
— a list of specialists in various fields (e.g. public relations, various legal specialties, economists, political scientists) and their area(s) of expertise,
— a list of alims and scholars and their madhab or special expertise
— a list of public speakers on various topics,
— a list of complaints received about particular individuals or groups that might show trends over time, etc.) that can be called up as needed and regularly updated with all member organizations supplying information and resources.
— an absolutely transparent financial statement, and meeting minutes.
— a very simple monthly newsletter that provides information about current issues of importance, conventions and national and local events,  information about statements or petitions needing signatures, best practices information from existing regional or national groups, etc.

It seems that something like this would be possible and that it would make it possible for the American Muslim community to have a practical way to implement good theoretical ideas.


UPDATE March 12, 2014

Today CAIR issued a press release announcing the formation of a new umbrella organization called the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations.  Here is the press release about this new organization:

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/12/14)—Ten* major national American Muslim organizations held a news conference today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to announce the formation of the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), an umbrella group that will serve as a representative voice for Muslims as that faith community seeks to enhance its positive impact on society. [SEE: http://uscmo.org/ ]

The new national council’s first priority will be to build on Muslim citizenship rights by conducting a census of American Muslims to create a database that will be used to enhance civic and political participation in upcoming elections.

* Organizations participating in the initial launch included: (More organizations may be added at a later date.)

The Mosque Cares (Ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed), Muslim American Society (MAS), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North American (ICNA), Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), American Muslim Alliance (AMA), The Mosque Foundation (Chicago)

Only time will tell whether or not this “new” organization will be any more effective or inclusive than previous attempts.  However, the list of initial participants does not offer a great deal of encouragement for a hopeful outcome.

 


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