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ING was founded in 1993 to address the growing misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in the media and general public that increased as a result of political events and issues during and after the first Gulf War.
The organization was founded by Maha Elgenaidi, an American Muslim of Egyptian origin who migrated to the U.S. with her parents at a young age. Before founding ING, Maha worked in the corporate world in marketing and business management. She was inspired to establish this organization to counter the growing prejudice and vilification of Islam and Muslims that she noted had increased in the early 90’s. She herself had recently become better acquainted with her faith and felt the importance of providing that education to others through two means: religious literacy programs and American Muslim civic engagement.
ING initially focused on interacting with the media to help provide a Muslim perspective that was generally missing from most local and national news. ING established relationships with managing editors and news directors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and helped them generate over fifty stories and news segments a year. The focus of the stories for the first time centered not on foreign or international news but on local American Muslims in the context of family and community.
In the fall of 1993 ING initiated the Islamic Speakers Bureau program to enable a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in a proactive rather than reactive manner. Its purpose was and continues to be to supplement existing education about Islamic history and Muslim culture that is taught in middle and high schools in the context of social studies and world history. The program utilizes interactive presentations provided free of charge by trained speakers to middle and high school classes. From the inception of the program these presentations have been received enthusiastically by teachers and students alike as they provide a human face and an authentic resource on a topic that was often unfamiliar, misrepresented, or confined to academic knowledge.
Requests for ING presentations in schools increased in subsequent years. At the same time other institutions expressed a similar need for education about Islam and Muslims. Beginning in 1995, ING began providing law enforcement agencies with cultural diversity trainings about the American Muslim community. In the following years, additional institutions such as corporations, health care providers, social workers, and faith organizations also expressed their interest in this topic, especially after the tragic events of 9/11. Today, ING speakers deliver 500-700 presentations annually in the San Francisco Bay Area to a total audience of over 20,000 people.
As ING expanded its work into various venues, it documented its model for replication across the country. Building on its years of experience in educational outreach, ING systematized its programs and strategies in a series of start-up kits and in 1999 began providing training to interested groups in other cities and states. Today, there are ten active ING affiliates in the United States that provide educational outreach programs in their local areas.
Beginning in 2007, ING broadened its scope to include teaching about other religions through the newly created Interfaith Speakers Bureau, which was modeled after the successful Islamic Speakers Bureau program. In the first full year of the program, ING speakers participated in interfaith panels in 180 classrooms in high schools, colleges, and universities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The focus and hope behind this program is that by educating the public about the world’s major religions, ING will encourage an understanding and appreciation of our commonalities as well as our differences.
Reflecting on the value of its work, ING founder Maha Elgenaidi comments: While there are numerous avenues one can take towards creating positive change in society, at ING we believe that education and interfaith engagement are two of the most effective means for promoting long term change, because education and dialogue address the underlying beliefs that lead to bias and discrimination. Negative perceptions impact students’ rights in schools, workers’ rights in corporations, every aspect of the legal justice system, political access, quality of healthcare delivery, national security policies, and foreign policy, as well as our culture and ideals as Americans. By addressing people’s misperceptions about Islam, for example, and how Islamic values are in fact resonant with American values, ING is not only preventing negative behavior from occurring, but also building positive relationships among all Americans while reinforcing America’s promise and ideals of fairness and pluralism.
To learn more about ING’s work, see our Programs page.