FIRST GENERATION MOSQUE PRESIDENT?
We often hear the term “first generation” used in contexts such as the first-generation college graduate, first-generation American, or first-generation immigrant, etc. However, at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (ICGT), this term is used to define their former young female president Dr. Nadia Ashraf-Moghal, an emergency medicine doctor at Wood County Hospital in Bowling Green, OH. Having a female president at the ICGT is not new though. Chereffe Kadri was the one who started the trend and probably was the first female mosque president in the world at the time according to Dr. Nadia who happened to be the third consecutive woman holding this position so far.
“I am the third one now at the center actually, there have been three consecutive females and I don’t know, I think we do a pretty good job. I think back then maybe it was something ‘wait a minute is this something we’ve seen before, it has been done before, or is it even allowed?’ This type of questions came, but our religious leader at that time, Imam Khattab said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. So, the trend has continued.”
The ICGT has a 13-member-council, and from that 13-member council, there is an election for the president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Presidency is a one-year-term up to four years consecutive. When I had the interview with Dr. Nadia in October 2019, she was in her fourth term already. Currently she continues her duties as a vice president of the mosque council. When I asked her how she decided to be in that position, her initial response was that it was not something she was planning at all.
“It was the farthest thing in my mind ever. Even to be in the Council was the farthest thing in my mind, u-uhm, just never thought about it. I was born and raised in Toledo, my parents attended the Islamic Center my whole life and I was approached like 7 years ago and they were like ‘Hey do you want to be in our Council?’ And I was like what? Then I was like okay fine. I’ll give it a shot! I started as a chair of religious education so was in that role for a year or so – I think two years and then they said we want you to be the secretary of the executive committee, so I was the secretary of the Council and then at the end of my second term they suggested that I be the president. And I was like, are you kidding me? I mean I couldn’t even imagine. But you know I felt like it was something really needed in the community, it was time for the next generation to start taking over.”
This is how Dr. Nadia challenges our perception of Islam, Muslims, and faith-based practices of immigrant communities even further. Although her gender is what catches our attention with regards to the position she holds at first glance, that is not all she has to offer. She is a true example of how second-generation American born Muslims are taking leadership positions within Muslim communities.
“I was the first president of that next generation, those kids that were raised in this mosque. And so, what that has done is; it’s attracted a lot of next generation American Muslims to the Council. So, of our 13-member-council, the majority of it is American born Muslims in their 20s, 30s, 40s. That is very different to most mosques you’ll see around town or probably even nationally. So, it’s very different, it’s not the immigrant coming in to run the center model over here. To add to that, we discussed; got a new Imam. He started in August. And I feel like, it kind of puts the whole picture just together. We got the spiritual side, we got the governing body, and everyone is on the same page, same mindset, we have our vision for the Center and want to try to develop that vision for Islam and America”
While the hyphenated Muslim-American identity and “Muslim integration in America” remain to be controversial topics both among Muslim and the non-Muslim community in the U.S., Dr. Nadia and the efforts of the member crew at the ICGT challenge them all successfully. Islam is a religion nor a race and cannot be represented by a single culture, religion or language as it was harmoniously exhibited at this international festival. Dr. Nadia’s following words summarize the true purpose of the ICGT and how nobody is estranged from each other in this beautifully diverse northwest Ohio community.
“We’re not here to judge you if you wear hijab, that’s not really our business, we don’t really have those types of hang-ups or have certain customs I would say that are central to the way the mosque runs. It’s about creating a welcoming environment for the Muslim community as well as the greater community. …. it’s not just a Lebanese mosque, or the Syrian mosque or the Egyptian mosque. This is really for everyone to feel at home, okay?”
Okay, Dr. Nadia! ☺