Blog / Community Philanthropy

Native and Muslim Americans: Two Marginalized Communities Find Similar Hurdles in Engaging Philanthropy

By Roohi Younus and Cynthia Soto
Native and Muslim Americans: Two Marginalized Communities Find Similar Hurdles in Engaging Philanthropy

What does it mean to authentically know a community and invest in its progress and growth?

This is the question we ask ourselves as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community leaders working to mobilize our communities and mainstream our issues.

In order for foundation leaders to become allies and demonstrate commitment to the communities they intend to support, they must understand the complicated histories, cultures, and self-determination of these vital communities… all of which take time.

“In order for foundation leaders to become allies and demonstrate commitment to the communities they intend to support, they must understand the complicated histories, cultures, and self-determination of these vital communities… all of which take time.”

What is common knowledge to marginalized communities needs to transfer as common knowledge to foundation leaders. In “Making the Invisible Visible; A Policy Blueprint from Urban Indian America,” the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) has gathered many data points that might surprise readers. For example:

  • 67 million people in the United States identify as American Indian and Alaska Native, alone or in combination with one or more other races (American Community Survey 2019).
     
  • According to the U.S. Census (2010), 78% live outside of tribal lands. Chicago is one of the top 10 cities with a large Indigenous population. Nearly 27,000 people identifying as American Indian and Alaskan Native, including those of more than one race, call Chicago home.
     
  • According to NUIFC (2015), 30% of the native population is under the age of 18, compared to 21.6% of the white (non-Hispanic) population. However, 32.1% of the American Indian and Alaska Native youth population live under the poverty level, compared to 17.8% of white (non-Hispanic) counterparts.
     
  • Furthermore, Scarborough et al. (2019) reported that “the wage increase associated with a college degree is lower for Native Americans than for all other race groups in Chicago” (p. 3).

At Muslims in America: A Year of Learning for the Philanthropic Community inaugural program, Outreach Coordinator Petra AlSoofy from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) explained “The largest ethnic population of Muslims in the U.S. are African Americans (Younis, 2009).” Islam in America goes back 400+ years to the transatlantic slave trade where as many as 30% of all enslaved people brought to the U.S. from African countries were Muslim (Khan, 2019).
 
Screenshot of panelists from the Muslims in America: A Learning Launch for the Philanthropic Community, a webinar on February 18, 2021

Panelists in the “Muslims in America: A Learning Launch for the Philanthropic Community” webinar on February 18, 2021. Clockwise from top left: Monique B. Jones (Forefront), Arshia Ali-Khan (Muslim Legal Fund of America), Jawaad Abdul Rahman (Unity Productions Foundation), Mohamed Gula (Emgage USA), Nareman Taha (Arab American Family Services), and Daniel Ash (The Chicago Community Trust).

The Pew Research Center estimates that there were about 3.45 million Muslim Americans living in the U.S. in 2017. Muslims are the most ethnically diverse religious community in the U.S. (ISPU, 2019). This community is also relatively young, with 35% of the population between the ages of 18-29 (Pew Research Center, 2017). American women who are Muslim are one of the most educated female religious groups in the United States (Gallup). They also overwhelmingly view their faith as a source of happiness and a part of their identity for which they feel a great deal of pride (ISPU, 2018). Nearly 90% of Muslims in America are American citizens (ISPU, 2017). And, American Muslims take pride in their American identity (ISPU, 2019). In fact, a strong Muslim identity is directly correlated with a strong American identity (Mogahed et al., 2018; ISPU, n.d.). Americanness and Muslimness are NOT mutually exclusive.

While one-third of Muslim households in America experience living in poverty (Chouhoud, 2019), Muslim communities are also incredibly generous. In a 2015 study of Muslims in Michigan, $117 million was donated to charity (Muslims for American Progress).

In both cases, the facts are obvious to the communities themselves; however, the minimal awareness from philanthropic leaders creates an ongoing challenge. Leaders of marginalized communities are tasked with the extra challenge of eradicating stereotypes about their people before mission-related conversations can even begin. The Chicago Native American community decided to change that.
 

Native Chicagoland: A Day of Learning for the Philanthropic Community

The Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative (CAICC) comprises 16 community organizations with leadership focused on providing services and building capacity for long-term success. These leaders and organizations face various challenges in uplifting and empowering our youth, elders, and community members.

Over a year ago, CAICC worked with the Spencer Foundation and Field Foundation to sponsor a Day of Learning to expose the philanthropic community to the multiplicity of experiences and needs in our communities. The interactive day included learning about family stories from various community members with an interactive game and listening to various panel discussions from challenges faced in the community to how to support and collaborate on different projects. One of CAICC’s goals for the year was to host a donors’ forum and continue to engage with the philanthropic community. The Day of Learning has been instrumental in building ongoing relationships with various foundations.

The forum provided Native leaders with an opportunity to own narratives and push the envelope on what a successful funder-fundee relationship looks like. Foundations and community organization collaborations are based on open communication, learning about histories, and engaging in ongoing relationship building. The organizations have the knowledge, stories, and information on how to work within and support families, students, and community members. Providing the resources to do the work is what makes the funder-fundee relationship successful. Because of the relationships built, CAICC was able to secure over $200,000 to directly assist families across the 16 organizations with financial relief funds during the pandemic.

“The organizations have the knowledge, stories, and information on how to work within and support families, students, and community members. Providing the resources to do the work is what makes the funder-fundee relationship successful.

The CAICC and leaders from the Muslim community both share the same goals of bringing together leadership to highlight the resiliency and strengths of our communities. Both communities are composed of various organizations focused on cultural programming, youth development, wellness and health services, homeownership, leadership development, spiritual and religious services.
 

Muslims in America: A Year of Learning for the Philanthropic Community

Through the Field Foundation, a mutual supporter of both communities, Muslim leaders were introduced to the Native Day of Learning. Following several conversations and analysis, Muslim leaders began realizing their collective power and also banding together. “There is a well-funded network that grooms Islamophobic attitudes, making it difficult to find sound information on Islam and Muslims” Dr. Shariq Siddiqi from the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy explained to this article’s authors. “We need an equally well-funded and well-organized effort to counter that narrative.”

Muslim leaders and allies have come together from across the country to plan a series of programs in 2021 entitled Muslims in America: A Year of Learning for the Philanthropic Community. In February, the virtual launch event brought together more than 300 people from the philanthropic community, Muslim leaders, and allies. Participants received a demographic overview of Muslims in America, had the opportunity to network with fellow participants on personal histories, and journey into virtual Muslim experiences led by cultural producers in film, comedy, music, art, and history.

A panel discussion on what successful engagement looks like revealed that there was a fear of being offensive that may prevent some from engaging meaningfully. Muslim panelists responded by expressing how they love answering questions and would prefer to be the source of inquiries that lead to better understanding. Furthermore, there was strong encouragement for philanthropic leaders to see Muslim-led institutions as valuable and supportable.

The launch was designed to create an understanding of who Muslims are today, the issues that drive them, and the challenges they face which require philanthropic investment for long-term impact. A recent report by The Bridgespan Group (2021) provides context to the under-investment in faith-inspired groups by nearly all major foundations (Queenan, et al). Among the six cities surveyed, the report found that faith-inspired organizations are trusted spaces that provide 40% of social safety net services. Conversely, the 15 largest private foundations grant only 12% of their safety net funding to faith-inspired organizations. The study finds that faith-inspired organizations have an intimate knowledge of their communities and should be considered innovative partners in meeting human needs.

“Muslim leaders and their allies have recognized the need for improving fact-based knowledge and removing the systemic barriers that historically prevent Muslim American nonprofit organizations from acquiring equitable opportunities to build relationships and receive funding and resources.”

Throughout the Year of Learning, Muslim leaders and their allies have recognized the need for improving fact-based knowledge and removing the systemic barriers that historically prevent Muslim American nonprofit organizations from acquiring equitable opportunities to build relationships and receive funding and resources.
 

Shared Recommendations from the Native and Muslim American Communities

Discussion between the authors found that there are commonalities in the experiences of their respective communities. What advice can leaders from these communities provide?

  1. In the upswell to support BIPOC-led institutions, don’t skip the knowing. Take the time to learn about the nuances of the community you are trying to support. Muslims and Native people are not monoliths. No one person can speak for the entire community. Seek guidance from multiple leaders.
     
  2. Refrain from funding one or two leaders or organizations that fit your mission and neglect taking the time to understand the ecosystem those institutions work in. It inadvertently creates competition within the network and in the end, will weaken the potential impact that can be made.
     
  3. Support marginalized communities who band together and collaborate to build collective power. Recognize the risk, courage, and trust it takes to build cooperation, partnerships, and collaboration.

Through our work, we are learning that we have more to do to create a baseline understanding of Islam and Muslims among philanthropic leaders. Conveners of the Year of Learning seek to create awareness and an environment conducive to learning, engage in dialogue, and uncover opportunities to connect deeply.

Learners at all levels are encouraged to join us for the next virtual program occurring on September 28, 2021 from 12–2 p.m. CST. Learning resources, prior event recordings, and more information can be found at ayearoflearning.org.
Roohi Younus
Program Manager & Facilitator, Community Collaboration Initiative, Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy
Roohi is a Muslim American of South Asian descent, born and raised in Illinois. She works with Muslim-led institutions, bringing together stakeholders around common goals, and is a co-founder of MUSE Bookings, a platform to uplift Muslim artists and academics.
Cynthia Soto
Initiatives Manager, Spencer Foundation
As an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation and Puerto Rican, born and raised in Chicago, Soto has spent decades working in education with the Native American community and is a founding member of the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative.

References

Chouhoud, Y. (2019, November 26). The majority of Muslims believe poverty is the result of bad circumstances, not bad character. American Muslim Poll 2019 Secondary Analysis. Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. https://www.ispu.org/the-majority-of-muslims-believe-poverty-is-the-result-of-bad-circumstances-not-bad-character/

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research. (n.d.) Engaging American Muslims: A briefing book for policymakers. https://www.ispu.org/briefing-book/

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. (2018). American Muslim Poll 2018: Pride and prejudice [Graphic]. https://www.ispu.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/AMP-2018-Infographic_5.pdf?x46312

Khan, S. A. (2019, April 11). Muslims arrived in American 400 years ago as part of the slave trade and today are vastly diverse. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/muslims-arrived-in-america-400-years-ago-as-part-of-the-slave-trade-and-today-are-vastly-diverse-113168

Mogahed, D., Chouhoud, Y., & Buageila. (2018). American Muslim poll 2018: Pride and prejudice. Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Retrieved from https://www.ispu.org/american-muslim-poll-2018-full-report/

Muslims for American Progress. (2017). An impact report of Muslim contributions to Michigan. https://www.muslimsforamericanprogress.org/an-impact-report-of-muslim-contributions-to-michigan#philanthropy

Muslims in America: A Year of Learning. (2021). University of Illinois Chicago. https://yearoflearning.uic.edu

National Urban Indian Family Coalition. (2015, June). Making the invisible visible; a policy blueprint from urban Indian America. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b985402e17ba31b72a52f90/t/5baa51c0652deac39f3b7456/1537888709109/NUIFC_digital_Bookplain.pdf

Pew Research Center. (2017, July 26). Demographic portrait of Muslim Americans. https://www.pewforum.org/2017/07/26/demographic-portrait-of-muslim-americans/

Queenan, J. E., Grunert, P., & Murphy, D. (2021, January 28). Elevating the role of faith-inspired impact in the social sector. The Bridgespan Group. https://www.bridgespan.org/insights/library/philanthropy/role-of-faith-inspired-impact-in-the-social-sector

Scarborough, W., Kares, F. R., Arenas, I., & Lewis, A. E. (2019, June 7). Adversity and resiliency for Chicago’s first: The state of racial justice for American Indian Chicagoans. Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago. https://uofi.app.box.com/s/a6bmexkq3nad7h579in5v3wwrw3exlrg

U.S. Census. (2012, January). The American Indian and Alaska Native population: 2010. https://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-10.pdf

U.S. Census. (2019). American Community Survey demographic and housing estimates. 2019: ACS 1-year estimates data profiles. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?g=0100000US&tid=ACSDP1Y2019.DP05&hidePreview=true

Younis, M. (2009, March 2). Muslim Americans exemplify diversity, potential. Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/poll/116260/muslim-americans-exemplify-diversity-potential.aspx