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A Muslim leader from South Jersey connects communities and builds bridges

Kevin Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Religious News

“Muqaddas was great to have in class. She was always respectful of other people’s views and she was really passionate about interfaith relations,” Blake said.

“She was a leader. She was someone who could make things happen.”

Indeed: Such was Ejaz’s dedication to help teach English and computer literacy classes to recent Muslim emigres that it inspired Blake to teach some of the classes herself.

The instruction took place at the Muslim American Community Association mosque and masjid in Voorhees. In the early 2000s, plans to build the facility sparked fierce opposition from some non-Muslims in the township.

But the controversy also gave rise to an interfaith coalition that was chronicled by filmmaker Alexander Kronemer in his documentary, "Talking Through Walls." In the years since, another half dozen mosques and religious schools have opened to serve a local American Muslim population estimated at 7,000, including many professionals and businesspeople. About 2% of New Jersey’s 8.8 million residents are Muslim.

The community’s increasing visibility, especially in politics, may be inspired in part by hostile statements and policies about Muslims during the Trump administration. “Our country took a turn in 2017,” said Ejaz said of what has been called “the Trump bump.”

But the rise in the community’s prominence surely stems from the work of grassroots leaders such as Ejaz. She serves as national director of outreach for Muslim Americans in Public Service, a national organization, as well as director of communications for The Muslim Network, which is based in New Jersey. Ejaz also helped establish local bridge-building programs such as Know Your Muslim Neighbor.

“She is probably at the forefront of building social capital within the community, and helping create relationships and networks outside the community,” said Imam John Starling, the spiritual leader of GCLEA and its 350 members.

 

“The kind of work Muqaddas and others in a similar position are doing is a testament to the fact that the American Muslim community is part of the fabric of this society, and is here to stay,” Starling said.

Eajaz Rawoof, a trustee and vice president of GCLEA board, said Ejaz “brings to the table a lot of enthusiasm, and charm. She’s always looking for opportunities to help. She’s an influencer, she’s one of the key people ... and she’s definitely somebody that everybody knows.”

Rawoof also noted that Ejaz is leading an effort for GCLEA to implement accessibility and other practices promulgated by Muhsen, which advocates on behalf of people with special needs.

“We need to do a lot of awareness in the American Muslim community about special needs, which overall are sometimes not approached in an ideal manner,” said Ejaz, whose daughter is on the autism spectrum.

“There needs to be information, education, and training,” she said. “We need to offer relief prayers for caregivers of people with special needs, and offer ease for their parents.

GCLEA “is like home to me,” said Ejaz.

That’s why she wants to make sure its programs are fully accessible, and welcoming.

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