Dec 4, 2018

MALA Celebrates Storytellers

MALA's Gala Recognized Storytellers and Leaders
MALA's Gala Recognized Storytellers and Leaders

On November 6, 2018, MALA recognized a number of "Muslim American Journeys" storytellers at its Third Annual Gala. 

Narimon, a Chicago based Iranian-American entrepreneur who is also a contributor and analyst for the radio program Worldview on WBEZ (Chicago Public Media), received MALA’s first annual Community Builder Award for Cultural Leadership. This Award recognizes his outstanding work in bridging the worlds of entrepreneurship, the arts, and current affairs, and, “in doing so, building a community of talent and passion.” Listen to Narimon’s StoryCorps interview, “To Chicago, from Tehran,” here. 

Isra, a young Somali-American who has played a dynamic role in MALA’s growth, received MALA’s Emerging Leader Award for her outstanding contribution to the Muslim community in Chicago and her commitment to volunteer service. Listen to Isra’s StoryCorps interview, “Reconnecting with My Faith,” here.

Chicago powerhouse and long-time MALA friend Logan received the MALA Community Builders Award for Philanthropy for his “commitment to inclusion, creativity, and human connection as solutions to society’s modern challenges.” Michael of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and cofounder of the Chicago Leadership Alliance, received MALA’s first annual Community Builder Award for Leadership. This was recognition for Michael’s outstanding work in building and mentoring leaders across Chicago: “in the process of fostering positive, values-driven, pluralistic leadership, you have built bridges that have allowed for the respectful exchange of ideas.” He also led a session for MALA’s Young Leaders at their retreat, held the day before the gala. Read Michael’s StoryCorps interview, “Global Connectivity Begins At Home” here.

Rasheed received the MALA Community Builder Award for Journalism. Rasheed is the publisher of the Yemeni American Net website and The Yemeni American News, which was launched in 2008. The newspaper and website both publish news, research, and studies that are related to the Yemeni American and the Arab American communities in both the English and Arabic languages, and highlight stories about successful Yemeni Americans.

Finally, MALA’s first annual MALA Human Rights Storytellers Award went to Mariya, a long-time gender violence activist. Taher has facilitated a powerful series of videos that allow survivors of Female Gential Cutting (FGC) to share their stories on their own terms. MALA looks forward to hosting screenings of these stories in 2019 through our "Muslim American Journeys" project.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a congratulatory letter to MALA on the occasion of this Gala. He wrote: “MALA has emerged as one of our most innovative civic and community organizations whose involved programming focuses on meeting the needs and sharing the narratives of Muslin Americans.” Read the Mayor’s full letter here. 

Nov 26, 2018

MALA Launches 2nd Annual Scholarship Competition

In September 2018, MALA launched its “Muslim American Journeys” Scholarship competition for the second year in a row!

This competition is open to young storytellers who are seeking higher education as a means to build stronger communities, cultivate diverse perspectives, and enact positive change. This scholarship aims to empower rising leaders to pursue these objectives, while continuing to shape the diverse fabric of American society. And even as academic choices expand, higher education remains the preeminent tool for empowering new generations of leaders and changemakers.

As part of its scholarship competition, MALA also launched the Fawaz Kannout Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will honor the life and legacy of Dr. Fawaz, who passed away earlier this year after a courageous battle with cancer. This fund will ensure the continuation of Dr. Fawaz’s legacy by providing opportunities for young leaders to engage with the arts and with cultural initiatives.

MALA is accepting applications from US residents with a story to share! Storytellers must be at least 18 years old and enrolled in (or planning to attend in the next year) a college or university in the United States. Undergraduates at two-year and four-year institutions, and graduate students, are all welcome.

MALA will award a $1,000 grand prize, a $500 second prize, and five third-place prizes of $300 each. And MALA will share as many of these personal journeys as possible in its digital “Muslim American Journeys” story collection, so it is a great opportunity for storytellers to be published.

To apply, applicants submit a short essay (600-1000 words), accompanied by a headshot, describing their individual journey under one of the following themes:

  • Identity: How do you choose to define yourself? Tell us a story of an experience that influenced your individual identity journey. How has your identity evolved?
  • Freedom: How do you navigate America’s open society with its inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Tell us a story of what freedom means to you.
  • Immigration: What did you leave behind when you came to America? How you are seizing opportunities to live in freedom in America? Tell us a story!

Essays will be judged on:

  • Literary Quality—grammar, syntax, general flow and quality of writing
  • Connection to Essay Prompts—How does the essay address the prompt(s) listed above?
  • Voice—Does the story bring a unique and thoughtful voice to the MALA Story Collection?
  • Relevance to MALA’s Mission—Does the essay embody MALA’s mission and values?

The deadline is January 18, 2019, and winners will be announced by March 1, 2019.

Learn more and apply here:


Sep 6, 2018

MALA Launches Islamic Art Seminar Series

Participants in Chicago
Participants in Chicago

In July 2018, MALA launched an ongoing series of seminars and other events centered around Islamic art to continue our exploration of the Muslim American journey. 

MALA’s inaugural event, conceptualized and led by MALA community members, was held in Chicago in July, and focused on tessellation art – the instantly recognizable swirl of geometry that is so common across north Africa and the Middle East.

The afternoon started with a conversation about the diverse origins of Islamic tessellation art – including the Greeks, Romans, and Sasanians in Iran – and the role of Islamic mathematicians, astronomers, and scientists in driving the style to its perfection. The mathematical elegance of these designs is that no matter how elaborate, they are always based on grids, and even amateur artists can build a remarkable visual spread using only a compass and ruler.

After this discussion, attendees – each of whom received a compass and ruler – got to work on their own masterpieces! Led by Gabriel and Aqsa, this wait-listed seminar was geared towards both those interested in the cultural and artistic dimensions of Islam as well as anyone interested in art more generally.

Meanwhile, in New York City in August, MALA partnered with the American Sephardi Federation to host “Maktuv,” an evening of inter-cultural art. As cognates, 'Maktoob' and 'K’tuv' mean “written” in Arabic and Hebrew, and the class used calligraphy to explore the significance of Arabic in Islam and Hebrew in Judaism, as well as the close relationship between both Semitic languages.

This hands-on workshop, which was also waitlisted, was a welcoming space for attendees to share their personal connections with the holy languages of two faiths and to engage with these two languages through the beauty of calligraphy.

This seminar was led by Ruben. Originally from Uzbekistan, Ruben comes from the native Persian-speaking Jewish population of Central Asia. This community — the Bukharian Jews — has lived alongside their Muslim neighbors for 1,300 years, engaging in cultural and intellectual commerce.

MALA is excited to host more of these hands-on, arts-centric events in the coming year, including a special tessellation seminar for architects in Chicago in October, and an exhibit of rising young Muslim American photographers. MALA is also collecting artist stories to share alongside these events.

See the full photo gallery from our New York art event on Flickr.

Participants in New York
Participants in New York
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