ISBLI Reflection – Azka Mahmood

February 8th, 2021 by

Participating in the ISBLI 2020 course has deepened and widened my understanding of myself and how to grow into the leader I aspire to become.

I grew up with many privileges owing to my father’s job in the esteemed Pakistani military, but was limited on how high I could reach as I was a woman, despite my analytical and communication abilities and a desire to be a change-maker and truth-teller in some way. When I got married and moved to the US, I found multiple new identities – I was not only an immigrant and a member of a minority, but even my religious identity shifted from being a simple Muslim-by-faith-and-circumstance to an American Muslim. Alongside graduate studies that shed a bright light on social structures in the U.S., a thirst to understand my new community more drew me into the political activities and concerns of my fellow American Muslims. However, even after years of living in the U.S., I hesitated to voice my opinions publicly due to my status as an immigrant – a part of me felt that I hadn’t yet earned the right to demand much from the country since I was still a newcomer.

In 2016, I became a citizen of the U.S. and found the confidence I needed to own the new leadership roles I wanted to adopt. Participating in the ISBLI 2020 course has deepened and widened my understanding of myself and how to grow into the leader I aspire to become. It has reminded me of the ways my faith strengthens my resolve and supports it when it wavers. The course has enabled me to strategize how I present myself so that I can better attract the opportunities that bring me closer to my goals. Most importantly, by showing me my strengths, the course has brought into relief my shortcomings, and the tools to work to overcome them.

I will continue to build on the strong foundational tools given to me by ISBLI to refine myself, my leadership style, and my goals of service. I strongly believe that the insights into leaders, decision-making, and the workings of the inner self that I got through the ISBLI will make me a more effective leader at work, as a volunteer, and at home with my family. Through ISBLI I have become more self-aware and intentional, able to anticipate challenges, and focus on the synergies of my team. This will help me be a more valuable member of society who is able to influence real change and positivity into the lives and circumstances of multitudes. I may be able to unlock the true essence of service as enshrined in Islam, and be many steps closer to self-actualization.




ISBLI Reflection – Amirah Kahera

February 8th, 2021 by

ISBLI intentionally brought together a diverse group of people from various cultural, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, occupational, ideological, and intellectual backgrounds.

The Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta (ISB) has cultivated space for Muslims to lend their voices to the work of their communities and be affirmed in their right to participate as leaders in the beautifully diverse communities of Georgia. Seeing members of the ISB board constantly show up as their whole selves in spaces that are often resistant to their presence demonstrates bravery and stands in alignment with our history. I felt compelled to participate in the ISB Leadership Institute (ISBLI) because I wanted to engage in a program that would prepare me to face more of myself and more of the world with the knowledge, faith, and compassion of leaders both Muslim and Non-Muslim alike. Specifically I wanted to learn how to bridge communal gaps and bring communities together.

Before I began the program, I understood my skills to be those of analysis, deep observation, reflection, strategic planning, and organizing myself and others. I wanted to gain something more and deepen those skills, and I wanted to be in a nurturing program that would honor my multiple cultural background and identities. ISBLI was a supportive place outside of my comfort zone because it intentionally brought together a diverse group of people from various cultural, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, occupational, ideological, and intellectual backgrounds.

Our networks, colleagues, and teams are mirrors for us to deepen our understanding of self while improving how we move through the world. Recognizing this, ISBLI divided us into teams that were tasked with a project to support a nonprofit organization. Our team was dedicated to increasing the visibility of Muslim voters in Georgia. Together with my teammates, who not only are supportive colleagues and friends but mentors and teachers who I admire, we took on this task by creating a survey and methodology for analyzing the population of Muslims in Georgia. Supporting the organization working to increase civic engagement increased our understanding of the power we have and to use our influence in positive ways. Along with this impact, I learned lessons in communication, strategy, moving through adversity and patience from my teammates.

ISBLI has prepared me to see a more diverse, engaged, kind, and connected world. I am now more present with myself and with the communities I serve, supporting us all in creating that positively envisioned world. I carry the charge ISBLI’s goals s in my work and now understand the ease and accessibility of creating change in our communities. This project was one step and our working and living habits are all steps that ultimately add up in the end, hopefully, all for good.




ISBLI Reflection – Shomaila Khan

February 8th, 2021 by

  “ISBLI has taken on the task to produce driving leaders all over the globe, especially when leaders are faced with decisions and situations that are testing what good leadership looks like! My experience at ISBLI will help me better myself and any organization I am affiliated with. Leadership is about service to ourselves, our families, and our communities!”

As’salamu Alaikum, my name is Shomaila Riaz Khan and I am a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent. I spent my childhood in Saudi Arabia and moved to Canada as a teenager with my family, who still live there. I then moved to the USA as a young adult and call this place my home. As many women do, I wear different hats in my life. I’m a daughter, sister, wife, mother, healthcare professional, and founder and executive director of a local non-profit organization. I am honored to be part of the Islamic Speakers Bureau’s Leadership Institute (ISBLI) class of 2020, which consists of a group of exceptional leaders who are already making such a great difference in their communities.

I benefited immensely from ISBLI’s program in so many ways. Their partnership with CIFAL Atlanta, the United Nations training agency housed at Kennesaw State University, provided us with valuable opportunities to engage with some of Atlanta’s most respected leaders, influential speakers, and professionals. This helped us develop the skills and gave us the confidence to do more in our communities. Throughout my life, I have had so many positive influences that have inspired me to engage in community/charity work. From the beginning, my parents inspired me to help others by assisting their relatives going through hardships and through their volunteer work at the local mosque. As a result, in high school, I started volunteering at hospitals and elderly care facilities. My passion to help others even influenced me to pursue a career in health care. I worked at a Cardio-Pulmonary department as a respiratory therapist at Emory, where I was exposed to many challenges as first responders in a critical care situation. I have also studied medicine from  Medical University in St. Kitts & Nevis. Life throws unexpected yet amazing surprises sometimes. I got married and had two beautiful children upon leaving the Caribbean island.

It seems the stage has always been set for me to move on to my next role, and so with my health care background, I took the opportunity to volunteer at ICNA Relief’s Shifa Clinic where patients without insurance and from different backgrounds receive free care. My tasks were to help assist in running the clinic, manage and train new volunteers, and triage patients, and be a physician’s assistant. This wasn’t the only instance I was pushed to take a leadership role. At the same time, another great project called Apna Ghar, a Michigan-based home health care for the elderly, was established in Georgia for a few years. The idea for this came while I was volunteering at the Shifa Clinic every Saturday for a few years. I noticed that the elderly population was struggling to get much-needed help at home because many of their families work full time. I felt that the Muslim community in Atlanta could benefit from elderly care based on traditional values, where their cultural background, language, and religion are understood by trained and certified caregivers.

I was inspired to do charity work by Abdul Sattar Edhi, a great philanthropist from Pakistan who started the Edhi Foundation. Due to learning about Mr. Edhi’s successful charity work, I started volunteering for projects with various nonprofit organizations. Then in 2013, I used social media to start my own Facebook page called Helping the Community, to post about events and fundraisers that were going on in the community both locally and globally. Helping the Community began as an informative page posting about families in need facing hardships so others could help. Once the page built a larger following, I started posting about small community events as well. Soon this page became a platform where people got informed, learned about volunteer opportunities for various projects/events, or sent monetary donations to reach those in need. By God’s grace and my team’s dedication, the page continued to have an impact and grow its following. Helping the Community is now a Muslim-woman-led, nonprofit Organization that became officially registered in 2015. Now I have a wonderful team of board members and advisors who share the same passion and have similar goals. I make sure my team knows I value their input and efforts. We have a relationship of trust and we resolve any conflicts that come our way in a group setting. As a leader, I wanted to become better and decided to learn from other wonderful leaders around me! My intention was to network and do more collaborative work in in order to have a greater impact on our community.

I decided to join the ISBLI program because I have always admired the work that ISB has done to change the narrative through educating and leading by example in our community. Through this program, I was hoping to achieve the knowledge and skills to polish my leadership abilities. Especially now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a greater need to look at the world’s problems and focus on the solutions to overcome them together. In the past, there have been enormous shifts in power to benefit humanity and it can happen again! Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it is done!”

Over the past 11 months, the Islamic Speakers Bureau Leadership Institute Blue team was tasked with developing a sustainable mentorship program for Al Falah Academy’s High school students. The aim of the program is to support the high school students as they transition into their post-high school life by pairing them with a mentor in their area of interest and possibly giving them the opportunity for an internship. The developed program embodies the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: quality education, decent work, and economic growth, industry innovation, and infrastructure. This group experience helped me to understand that leadership isn’t a profession. My team for this project is a group of amazing leaders that are serving their communities with the aim of meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) of creating sustainable cities and communities; eliminating poverty and hunger; helping to build infrastructure; and providing education, vocational training, and good health care.

What helped break the ice working with my team was behavioral analysis techniques. Behavioral research suggests that the most effective people are those who understand themselves, both their strengths and weaknesses, so they can develop strategies. Great leaders are able to envision the end goal. They are able to see a clear picture. Al-Falah Academy and its guided learning activities gave us the opportunity to discover this first hand, and this has been the epitome of our experience. One of the things I took advantage of while being part of the Islamic Speaker’s Leadership Institute program, was the opportunity to build bridges through networking with other organizations in community efforts. During the early days of the pandemic, I led a 10-week long Initiative called “Curbside Hot meals” that served over 5000 Hot Meals to first responders and families in need in the metro Atlanta area who have been impacted by covid-19. This initiative was possible due to Helping the Community’s collaboration with several nonprofit organizations, sponsors, volunteers, and participating restaurants. The ISBLI program has shown me a step-by-step process for how to build and run a successful and effective team.

The Islamic Speakers Bureaus Leadership program’s opportunity could not have come at a better time for me. ISBLI was quick to adapt to the current changes in the world and successfully make this program virtual after reassessing the critical skills necessary to succeed and lead authentically, helping provide resources that will assist me in advance my own organization’s goals. This has been a challenging, yet one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. My time at ISBLI has been very constructive. ISBLI has taken on the task to produce driving leaders all over the globe, especially when leaders are faced with decisions and situations that are testing what good leadership looks like! My experience at ISBLI will help me better myself and any organization I am affiliated with. Leadership is about service to ourselves, our families, and our communities! We need to rise up and take the lead and tackle the issues we are facing as a community!




ISBLI Reflection – Lola Owokoniran

February 8th, 2021 by

I feel more confident in my leadership skills and more importantly, I am eager to continue my growth as an effective leader as continue to progress in my career.

I am a proud Nigerian-American woman who grew up in a dual-religion household in North Carolina. Growing up in the South to immigrant parents that had to face certain racial, ethnic, and economic struggles due to their decision to seek a better life gave me an early understanding for how “being different” can be viewed by some in this country. I also learned the value of hard work, the beauty of being unique, and the benefits of having a rich heritage. I have challenged myself to live in different cities in the U.S., to travel to unique countries, and to apply for significant positions and programs like the Islamic Speakers Bureau Leadership Institute (ISBLI). I wanted to gain more experience in conflict resolution, non-profit management, transformative leadership, and network building.

Throughout the program, our 2020 ISBLI class had a variety of valuable sessions with a number of high-level speakers on topics from Personal Leadership to Leadership Principles – Nonprofit Governance & Management. The academic approach of each session was complemented by the discussions offered from effective leadership practitioners dedicated to the improvement of our community. We strengthened our understanding of peace and strong institutions through the collective belief in the power of global and local partnership to reduce inequalities in order to transform our world for the better. This mindset was consistently presented throughout ISBLI and enhanced our ability to be sustainable change makers in our local communities.

Through the group project, I had the opportunity to work closely with incredible team members to further amplify the great work of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project. This group experience not only built my own network, but reestablished for me the true strength in collaboration and partnership. I fully believe that through this program I am able to tap into my full potential and I now feel worthy of calling myself an active community leader. I more feel confident in my leadership skills and more importantly, I am eager to continue my growth as an effective leader as continue to progress in my career. I know that many years into the future, I will be thinking about my time in this program and about the paths that I choose due to this experience.




ISBLI Reflection – Ashraf Imad Abukhalaf

February 8th, 2021 by

The ISBLI 2020 experience sharpened my leadership skills and provided me with the tools I need to continue working on building bridges of understanding between people.

I was born in the US, started school in Georgia, and with my family moved to Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia for my middle and high school years. I returned to the US to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University. I am a Muslim, Palestinian, Jordanian, American who had the privilege of experiencing different cultures growing up.

When I heard about ISBLI, I knew that this program is going to be of high quality, and will be of great value and benefit to me and my community. With my background in Civil Engineering, I have strong mathematical and scientific knowledge/skills. However, my job also requires that I communicate with stakeholders clearly and effectively, and to have good emotional intelligence when dealing with contractors. While I still don’t have much experience in public speaking, thanks to ISBLI I now have the essential skills needed for one-on-one conversations and for presenting to an audience.

The ISBLI 2020 experience sharpened my leadership skills and provided me with the tools I need to continue working on building bridges of understanding between people. Both the ISBLI presentation sessions and ISBLI group project were filled with valuable gems in leadership. Whether it was about Personal Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Conflict Resolution, Business Communication, or any of the other sessions, they all have honed my leadership skills and abilities in their respective topics. The group project also gave me the experience of working with team members giving us the space to apply what we learned from the ISBLI sessions.

ISBLI taught me about personal leadership and the importance of being mindful and creative when faced with a difficult situation. Completing the program has given me the tools I need to be an effective leader in almost any setting.




ISBLI Reflection – Tasnim Alamgir

February 8th, 2021 by

To me, leadership means the courage to overcome your fears, learn from failure, and inspire others to do the same.

My purpose is to show my individuality and to express myself. My parents immigrated to this country from Bangladesh many years ago and they brought along their culture which is a major part of my identity. I used to be a high school science teacher/guidance counselor; currently I sit on the board (CFO & Secretary) of Georgia Bright Futures Foundation which is a non-profit organization whose primary function is to facilitate education tax credits and promote scholarships.

As a leader, I have learned the importance of treating people with respect and keeping an open mind. I have also learned to be more compassionate, understand when to be compassionate, and then differentiate when I need to be more authoritative. Overall, from ISBLI, I have learned that a good leader in any social work sector will stay calm, focused, on task, and can understand the importance of boundaries. To me, leadership means the courage to overcome your fears, learn from failure, and inspire others to do the same.

It is best to continually put these leadership concepts into practice so that they become second nature. One of the most important things that I have gotten out of ISBLI is that I need to become more self-aware and examine my own motivations and attitude to create a culture of trust, transparency and respect.

The team project was one of the most practical, useful and challenging experiences I have ever had. The mentoring program we developed for Al-Falah Academy was delivered by our team with an extraordinarily high level of passion and enthusiasm. It was stimulating and challenging but above all a real learning opportunity. I learned that leadership is a fluid exercise, always changing, and accommodating others to elicit their best ideas and efforts.

Through the ISBLI readings, leadership activities, and the team project, I learned what makes a great leader, and understood more about my own motivation for being a leader. Leadership is about true passion coming to life.




ISBLI Reflection – Steffani Salter

February 8th, 2021 by

I use every single leadership principle that was taught in this year’s program as they are staples when it comes to leadership practices.

The ISB Leadership Institute (ISBLI) is an absolutely phenomenal training. I have made great connections with my classmates, the facilitators, the panelist, and the team at ISB. I believe this year’s ISBLI leadership training experience has been unique as we all have gone through so much. We faced a global pandemic, racial tensions, economic hardships, and so much more. Leadership development and community involvement has never been so critical. I will forever be grateful for the people that ISBLI has exposed me too. Having such a powerful and impactful network is the key to successful community efforts.

The topics that we covered paralleled what was happening in this country and abroad. Conflict Resolution, Business Communication, Habits of Personal Transformation, and Leading Inclusively, were all spot on. I shared every single training my organization’s members and with my staff as well. The principles were relevant to everything that we were either working on or about to work on.

I will admit at the height of the pandemic, I considered quitting ISBLI. I was feeling extremely overwhelmed, not only with my business but with community work as well. I am really grateful that I was able to stick it out and keep my commitment to ISBLI. I was able to ask the questions and to fully show up for the sessions. I am hoping that my classmates were enriched by my participation, as I have learned so much from them.

I use every single leadership principle that was taught in this year’s program as they are staples when it comes to leadership practices. I plan on growing my business and creating more platforms for people who work in the community as advocates, activist, and social workers, to help them and offer support. I am grateful for ISBLI for providing a leadership platform that advances those who are often not represented in leadership.




ISBLI Reflection – Omnia Abdel Gawad

February 8th, 2021 by

I could not have asked for better opportunity to interact, learn and create relationships with the brilliant individuals who are a group of change advocates who are equipping themselves with the tools to change the world.

I am a proud Muslim woman who trained as an engineer and had a professional career that spanned twenty-three years both in the US and the Middle East. In addition, I founded multiple successful start-ups working in the diverse fields of oil and gas services, environmental services, interior design and life coaching and consulting. So, when I read about the ISLBI program, it felt like a good opportunity to meet professionals and leaders in the Islamic and Atlanta community. The program offered a number of diverse topics, some of which were new to me, delivered by experts in their field. Our perspective changes as we analyze the experiences and opportunities in the context of a program like ISBLI as it invokes new learnings.

Going through the program, I gained numerous benefits particularly being able to contribute my experiences and skills to get more involved in the community. The knowledge I gained about non-profits triggered ideas and projects that will support my goal of empowering women. Understanding how a non-profit works and its dynamics made me feel more comfortable accepting an advisory role in a local non-profit. The skills and knowledge I gained through the different leadership sessions enabled me to address many of my personal and business challenges.

The conflict resolution session presented us with the concept of “interest versus position” which has been very useful as differentiator on how addressing arguments can either trigger conflict or create clarity. I have been putting this idea into practice in dealing with individuals who I know tend to get triggered easily. It is when I explain quickly the reason, it deflates the situation which have helped me avoid conflicts that normally would have taken place.

The team project is a main pillar of this program. While team projects are not new to me, the ISBLI project, the objective behind it, and the team dynamics made it a very different and very enjoyable journey. Creating a mentoring program for a local Islamic school is a project that made me feel proud. I could not have asked for better opportunity to interact, learn and create relationships with the brilliant individuals who are a group of change advocates who are equipping themselves with the tools to change the world.




ISBLI Reflection – Kelly Crosby

February 8th, 2021 by

At its essence, leadership is about service: to ourselves, our families, and our communities.

I’ve always admired the work that the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB) does to combat anti-Muslim sentiment, and I’ve done presentations for them on Islamic art. I joined the ISB Leadership Institute (ISBLI) to challenge myself and embrace the possibilities of leadership. I’ve always considered myself a team player, someone who prefers to be in the background rather than in the spotlight. Recently, in my professional life, I’ve been asked by managers and supervisors to take on more leadership roles and through ISBLI I started to explore my leadership abilities.

For this year’s ISBLI team project, I was assigned to the Blue Team to create a mentorship program for the juniors and seniors of Al Falah Academy. I was fortunate to have been a member of a wonderful team of civic leaders that are serving their communities in a myriad of ways. Previous experiences led to me believe that team projects would result in one or two people doing all the work while the others would slack off. But ISBLI taught me the method to building and managing successful, effective teams, an important skill to have.

As a volunteer coordinator, I’ve had to bring my creative and entrepreneurial spirit to the job. Now that I’m a manager, I’ve learned that flexibility and great communication skills are wonderful assets to have when working with volunteers. Despite busy lives, they give a few hours of time each month, dedicating themselves to the mission of the Center. ISBLI reinforced that the key to letting volunteers know that I value their time and effort is by keeping the lines of communication open and building a relationship of trust and openness.

I know that my experience in the ISBLI 2020 program will affect me personally and professionally for many years to come. Leadership is not simply having a commanding personality, or seeming to be comfortable as the center of attention. I didn’t see many examples of people like me; the introverted, quieter types. That is, until I joined the ISB Leadership Institute. At its essence, leadership is about service; to ourselves, our families, and our communities. I want to continue integrating my new leadership skills on the job, with my online art business and in my volunteer work.




ISBLI Reflection – Chenaz B. Seelarbokus

February 8th, 2021 by

ISBLI helped me understand the requirements and processes for being an effective leader within our current context of an increasingly diverse world.

One of the primary reasons for my participation in the ISBLI program was to learn from other professionals and to work collaboratively in a team. Making the decision to participate in ISBLI was not one that was taken lightly. However after careful deliberations, I thought that the program offered a great opportunity for personal growth and professional development, and I am glad to say that I benefited greatly from my participation in the program.

ISBLI helped me understand the requirements and processes for being an effective leader within our current context of an increasingly diverse world. As an instructor at Kennesaw State University, I consider myself to be a facilitator of my students’ learning. This means that I need to have good listening skills, and to be able to enhance learning through excellent questioning techniques. Participation in ISBLI helped me understand the value of transformative leadership, and to be attuned to others. I have enjoyed learning about the importance of executive presence, leading by design, and the value of inclusive leadership.

Without a doubt, current social conditions make a program such as the one offered by the ISBLI even more crucial: we need new leaders who are trained in inclusive and transformational leadership. Just being with the ISBLI participants helped me to be hopeful again. The participants are so dedicated to their various causes, and are so energetic that I felt myself being reinvigorated through a new sense of hope. Moreover, the resource persons have enlightened us – both through their knowledge and through their passion.

In the ISBLI sessions, I learned how to build a strong team foundation, how to strengthen accountability, how to set clear expectations, and how to “lean into my identity.” In the group project I refined my leadership skills in a very real sense. I decided to take up the challenge of l the Green Team believing that this was a great opportunity to apply the learning from the monthly sessions. The Green Team’s success has given me the confidence to be patient and persistent in getting team members to deliver on assigned responsibilities, and for the whole team to complete the project within the timeline given to us.

Overall, the ISBLI program has enriched me and has helped me in developing my skills for transformative and inclusive leadership. I am very grateful for the opportunity given to me to benefit from the excellent resource persons, the great participants, the wonderful project coach, and the supportive ISB team. This has been a wonderful experience for me. Thank you all very much!




A Year of Influence!

2019 Year in Review