By Maha Elgenaidi, founder and Chief Innovation Officer

March 23, 2021

In the past several days, we have learned that ING’s participation at a recent California Department of Education board meeting —where the adoption of a model ethnic studies curriculum, the first of its kind in the nation, was approved —has been met by criticism by some members of a community group who have, since then, made disparaging remarks on social media about both ING and me. For those who are interested in the details of ING’s involvement with the Department, the ING team prepared a brief history.

As stated at that meeting, I view the curriculum that was approved as “the first version” of many to come and that “the model curriculum is a good start for the government, but it is also a work in progress. And it will be one of many useful documents that will be made available by the state.”

Here at ING, it has been and will continue to be our belief that the best path forward to achieve greater understanding and respect for our differences — be they racial, ethnic, cultural, or faith-based — is through education and engagement, one conversation, one gathering, one collaboration at a time. We see the recent adoption of the model ethnic studies curriculum as one such step forward.

Not all people will agree with this position.

Even with shared goals of elevating the status of marginalized voices and communities, we understand that some people and organizations will hold divergent perspectives about which methods best serve to advance the cause. Good people can agree to disagree. And we recognize and respect these diverse perspectives.

At ING, our values have and will continue to guide our work.

I’d like to highlight excerpts from a few of those values that I’ve been reminded of, in recent days:

    1. We are partners and collaborators
      We believe that increasing understanding, acceptance, and friendship across diverse faith-based, ethnic, and cultural communities will lead us towards a more peaceful, harmonious America for all. We believe in the fundamental goodness, dignity, and equality of all humans —and our connection to all humans in our shared humanity.

 

    1. We work to the highest standards of quality.
      We do our work to the best of our ability, in ways that further our day-to-day mission and longer-term vision. Our work product is scholarly, professional, and accessible. We value constructive feedback, even when it challenges our assumptions and requires us to consider new ideas. When we err, we acknowledge our mistakes and make amends as required.

 

    1. We work in service of others.
      We serve our stakeholders, including our donors, clients, volunteers, supporters, and the American people. We work to serve, support, and build understanding and acceptance towards faith-based, racial, ethnic, and cultural communities that are misunderstood. We serve to bring diverse communities together to build a more peaceful, harmonious America in which all of its people feel respected, valued, and welcome.

 

  1. We believe in the value of pluralism, diversity, and inclusion. 
    We interact with all people based on the belief that they are good, decent human beings. We see value in diverse beliefs, ideals, and practices and we work towards increasing acceptance and understanding of these differences to better all of our lives through personal enrichment and collective strength. We subscribe to the principles expressed in the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: our programs and services are therefore informative but also objective and non-proselytizing in nature.

Some have called us “sell outs”, and worse, because of our commitment to these values. While we don’t see pejoratives as effective tools of expression, we do understand that these criticisms may come from a difference in foundational perspectives on how best to advance perceptions of marginalized communities — in this case, Arab Americans and Muslim Americans — and the significance of the occupation of Palestine in guiding the choices that are made to engage across faith-based communities.

In the spirit of ING’s value around being open to constructive feedback, I invite anyone who wishes to engage in respectful dialogue about how ING might improve its approach, while still holding ground in our values as an organization, to reach out to me for conversation. We at ING are eager to listen with intent, and to deepen our understanding of diverse perspectives, even when different from our own, provided they come from a desire to heal and move forward, together.

ING and I, personally, remain committed to peace-building work that fosters understanding of Muslims and other misunderstood minority groups and promotes harmony among all people. With steadfast resolve, we continue to engage with individuals and organizations across racial, ethnic, cultural, and faith-based lines to build better communities and more peace here in the United States, and the world beyond.

In hope and solidarity,

Maha Elgenaidi

Maha is the founder of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and author of training handbooks on outreach for American Muslims as well as training seminars for public institutions on developing cultural competency with the American Muslim community. She received an M.A. in religious studies from Stanford University and B.A in political science and economics from the American University in Cairo. She has taught classes on Islam in the modern world in universities such as the University of California at Santa Cruz, and has been recognized with numerous awards, including the “Civil Rights Leadership Award” from the California Association of Human Relations Organizations, the “Citizen of the Year Award” from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and the “Dorothy Irene Height Community Award” from the NAACP-Silicon Valley. She is currently a member of the Council of Advisors for the Freedom Forum that helps shape American views on the First Amendment; the County of Santa Clara’s Hate Crimes Task Force; and the Ethnic Studies Committee of ARUSD in San Jose, CA. Read Maha’s blog here.

ING’s mission is to promote peace among all, by fostering a deeper, more nuanced understanding of Muslims and other faith-based, racial/ethnic, and cultural communities, through teaching, learning, and engaging across differences.