The younger point of view has a new and energetic face on the IFLC board. Sumaiya Ahmed is following in the formidable footsteps of her uncle, founding IFLC board member Victor Begg, as an advocate for the Muslim community and an interfaith activist.
Born in Chicago, she was raised in Michigan, studying the Islamic Huda Montessori school in Franklin from preschool to 8th grade. She says that her parents instilled both faith and the importance of an American identity. And she grew up going to IFLC events. As a graduate of Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, she felt it was time for her to become actively involved in the community.
“I wanted to make sure that people had the right story,” says Ahmed, “I wanted to continue that passion of serving the community, not just serving the community, but working with different partners, like the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). It was very important to me to bring that message of faith and solidarity within these groups.”
Active with many groups, one of Ahmed’s passions is her work on the community relations committee of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD). Their outreach activities include candidate forums, ask your Muslim neighbor, and a career fair for students. Ahmed says that she works with the IAGD’s Sunday school to make sure that Muslim students and Muslim children have a very strong identity and aren’t afraid to share their faith with others.
“One of my main goals growing up Muslim in Michigan is helping kids stay true to their identity and who they are and showing people what our faith is about, being nice to people, respecting people, giving charity. I want to make sure that kids growing up nowadays know that there are people like them, growing up here. When people are not educated, that’s when all the stigmas and negative connotations arise,” says Ahmed.
Ahmed went to Oakland University where she majored in English and Science and pursued a masters in special education. She has taught in Dearborn and Rochester and is now the operations director for a tutoring center. One of her educational values is making sure that each child’s needs are met in the educational setting. And with her masters in special education, her tutoring center is one of the few that can accommodate the needs of special needs students.
She also puts her science background to good use on the Oakland County STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education board. This is “not teaching with traditional teaching practices,” says Ahmed. “This is project-based, working with groups to figure out how do you get a car to start, what’s the science behind it, what’s the math?” The work harkens back to the HUDA school, where her favorite activities were the hands-on programs, a key component of both good education and interfaith work.
“How do we get our kids to be more hands on?hat are different projects we can do with each other?”
As a student, Ahmed became active with a campus interfaith group, where she learned that “you can agree to disagree, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work together side by side.”
She has been deeply involved in the IFLC, and working with the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC) on joint projects like Mitzvah day. Mitzvah day takes place on Christmas each year when Jewish and Muslim volunteers fill in for Christian volunteers around the community.
As Communications Director at MMCC, she handles their database, and coordinates volunteer activities. She helped organized the Islamic Society of North America’s 2014 conference in Detroit, a huge annual convention that mobilizes many Muslims nationwide.
In addition to Mitzvah day, Ahmed worked with MMCC and JCRC/AJC in partnership on rebuilding Detroit’s Nolan Elementary / middle school. MMCC and JCRC/AJC, says Ahmed, share a common goal of working together to leave a lasting impact on Michigan.
“Detroit is such a home for all of us. It’s our home. We love it,” was the thinking, says Ahmed. “Let’s go find a school that needs our help.”
Although she was active with the IFLC, she realized that the board didn’t have a lot of Muslims, even though many of the activities are with mosques and Muslim organizations, so she approached IFLC Program Director and Administrator Meredith Skowronski about getting more involved.
“I really felt like there was a huge push in me, with the election and everything that’s going on,” says Ahmed. “I’m really excited to work with them. One of my main focuses is the community committee, and the education committee. I think it’s so vital for our kids to learn about diversity from a young age.
You’re going to grow up with a lot of kinds of people and they may have different beliefs from you and look different and practice differently from you.”
In addition to the Muslim and Jewish communities, Ahmed is pleased to have the chance to work with many other faith groups.
“I just feel like we’re in that room, that all barriers are down, that it’s just to see what we can do for our community to make it a better place,” says Ahmed.