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By Tabassum Haleem, CEO
February 5, 2021
Teachers are in the privileged position of being trend watchers, historians and even agents for social change. Year after year, they work with a different cohort of students for an entire semester, maybe even a year. They have a front row seat to their students’ attitudes and behavior towards each other as well as their reactions to the world around them. Over the course of their career, teachers will have impacted the trajectories of innumerable lives by the lesson plans they offer to their students.
Each year, like clockwork, I receive a call from Grace United Methodist Church (GUMC). Can I fill their request for presentation again this year for their 8th Grade Confirmation class, specifically, Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith? In past years, the program had also included breakfast and a tour of the mosque, but during this year of COVID-19, we would have to manage over Zoom. It is, after all, a requirement for their graduation. Although I have presented on this topic to tens of thousands of individuals over the last 20 years to all age groups and types of institutions – churches, synagogues, civic organizations, law enforcement, and academic – this particular audience has always been close to my heart. Perhaps because they represent Generation Z, who are supposed to be the least religious among young people according to Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
This GUMC Confirmation Class is unique, not only because of the consistent support and active participation by its Director of Youth Ministries, but also of many of the parents. Moreover, none of this inhibits the students from asking questions or venturing into discussions. No doubt, being part of a congregation, itself provides structure within which to understand other faiths. Would it be the same for a young person who did not grow up with religion?
I am certainly looking forward to meeting this year’s representatives of the intelligent, curious and kind Generation Z.
Tabassum Haleem is the CEO of Islamic Networks Group (www.ing.org), a peace-building organization providing face-to-face education and engagement opportunities that foster understanding of Muslims and other misunderstood groups to promote harmony among all people. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Master of Public Policy and Master of Arts from the University of Chicago, and is a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). She also oversees a family startup in the development and distribution of innovative products centered on health and well-being. Tabassum serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Board of LGC’s Leadership Fellows Association. Tabassum is a recipient of the Minorities in Public Policy Studies Alumni Award from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, and a McCormick Tribune Urban Policy Leadership Fellow. She has served on the Board of Trustees for the Naperville Education Foundation (NEF) and as a co-Chair for DuPage United, a community organizing group, and on the Advisory Committee for the Naperville Chamber of Commerce-Green Leadership Council.