Maha Elgenaidi’s 20th Anniversary Gala Speech

ING’s 20th Anniversary Gala
Founder Maha Elgenaidi’s Speech

Thank you, Rehmat, good evening and salam alaykum everyone.

Bism Allah ar Rahman ar Raheem. Tonight is indeed an auspicious night celebrating our 20th year anniversary. Alhamdulillah, all praise is due to God, to Whom all the credit is due. Ameen.

Most of you by now know the ING story, of where this all first began. I’ll repeat part of it here for those of you who don’t know it because it speaks to the gratitude that is owed to the people that helped build this organization, as it also speaks to the foundation of the organization which is build on sincerity, love of God, and the beauty of Islam.

Although I was raised in a Muslim family, we were secular (my father was a psychiatrist) and I only read the Quran for the first time when I was 30 years old. This had a transformative effect on me.

The inspirations that came up for me repeatedly were two: one, to tell others about this religion that was so maligned in the media, and two: to do it through Muslims.

I left my job and nice apartment and moved to a small room in the home of a Muslim family in Santa Clara, and started volunteering and learning about the Muslim community and its organizations until I started ING a year later.

I started it because there was no Muslim organization at that time engaged in proactively reaching out to our neighbors, getting to know them, and helping them to know about us and our faith. The sad part of this story is that I faced a lot of rejection, barriers, sometimes even hostility. I think it had a lot to do with envy, competition and quite honestly being a woman, and one who is more assertive than Muslims at the time were accustomed to.

The situation left me with a huge challenge. Here I was with no start-up funding (in the language of business people), no endowments to apply for, and no network of friends. I was new to Islam and new to the Muslim community. I couldn’t go to my family for help (who are all physicians) because, as is typical of immigrant families, they believed that if you’re not a doctor or an engineer and making loads of money, you’re not considered successful or well. And in fact my mother told my brother to come and get me because she thought I had a nervous breakdown.

So how did I do it? How did I survive? It’s a great story—too long to tell in detail here. But it explains and puts in context why I am so appreciative of the people who helped me along the way, and why you should be as well.

The short of it is I did it with a nexus of supporters that consisted of donors, volunteers, and many friends that I made along the way.

I can’t mention all the people that I’ve written about in the last few weeks, but I do want to give a shout out to few of them who are here tonight:

The donors who not only donated to ING but also gave me much moral support are

Amer Haider, Raghib Hussain, Javed Patel, Javed Khan, and Randy Pond. These are people who have never said no to me for anything I’ve asked of them.

Donors who worked with me to raise money and put on events for us who truly reflected the beauty of Islam and the power of Muslim women include the following who are here this evening:

Samira Aamer and Saira Siddiqui, who were the ring-leaders of several other women they brought along.

Volunteer speakers begin with…

Ameena Jandali, Amany Nasser, Katharina Harlow, Nashwan Hamza, Imran Maskatia, Uzma Hussaini, among others who have been here for 20 years. More recently in the last decade they include speakers like Aisha Morgan who travels all over the Bay Area for us, Ismael Nass who always makes himself available, Harry Cornbleet, Dave Marshak, Berget Jelane, Dr. Lulla, Helena Miller-Fleig and on and on—I could and should go on with many other names but there isn’t time. All these people are volunteers whom we train and certify.

ING wouldn’t be able to do its work without them.

In the scholars group, it begins with:

Imam Faheem Shuaibe whose khutbahs and talks situated Islam for me in the American context. Sh Hamza Yusuf who taught me the tradition and through whom I met many of the scholars with whom we work today.

For friends, I was very fortunate to have many that begin with…

Imam Abu Qadir Al Amin and his wife Hafsa, Abdul Rahim Rydhan, and Sr. Habibe Husain. I was so poor in my first few years and before I was married that sometimes I didn’t have any money to eat or get gas, and when my car broke down, Sr. Habibe gave me a car that was just donated to her organization, Rahima.

Due to the support of all these and many more people, ING has been able to accomplish the following and are the reasons why you should continue to invest in us:

We’ve been able to create an indigenous, home-grown, independent, grassroots, non-profit organization.

Not only that but it’s also an organization that’s helped initiate 22 other, similar organizations in 20 states. If this isn’t social entrepreneurship I don’t know what it is.

Together we have reached over a million people.

Our impact is substantial and documented. I won’t bore you with figures here, but our audience surveys clearly show that we markedly improve attitudes towards Islam and other religions.

Since last year, we have featured our Islamic and interfaith content online which has been downloaded at least 127 times by teachers in over a dozen states without any marketing whatsoever. People are finding us.

We’ve created a social media platform with thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, which facilitates our messaging to a new generation of Americas.

We have been accredited by the Better Business Bureau since 2008.

We are debt – free.

We have an incredible group of Trustees and Directors who make up our leadership team.

We have an incredible number of staff people like Ameena, Henry, Ali, Aisha, and Rehmat, all of whom have 6+ years of history with ING, with the exception of Henry who’s celebrating his 2 year anniversary this month.

And we have a network of very talented former employees like Grace Fong, Dr. Kristy Coleman, Bushra Khan, Ateka Ali and others that we can call on.

So ING Alhamdullilah is in a very good place 20 years later, and it is the best investment you can make for the next 20 years if you’re interested in countering Islamophobia and preventing bullying and discrimination against Muslims.

We also have a sustainable model for a nonprofit organization primarily because it is small and nimble, and we create small and nimble organizations all around the country with folks who have roots in their communities.

As the founding organization, ING needs your support to sustain itself and to build the capacity of the organizations that we have initiated. And we hope that you will consider supporting us this evening.

Thank you again, and jazakum allau khayran to all of you and to countless others – including all of you – our supporters here this evening – who have helped ING through the years.

It has truly been an honor serving the Bay Area community.

Now, I would like to make dua – supplication – for the continued success and growth of ING over the next 20 years before I introduce our next speaker who will review some of these goals. Please join me in prayer.

Oh God, we thank you for the opportunity to educate and provide an understanding between peoples of different faiths;

Oh God, please give us the fortitude and wisdom to continue this important work for the next 20 years.

Oh God, bless this gathering and all who come together to work for understanding, and peace. Ameen.