Contemporary Role Models of a Contemporary Religion

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(Note: this article is part of Volume 18, Issue 2 publication, to view other articles click here. To view the ISSUU version of the magazine click here)

by Amina Mohamed There is this trend in the academic community where Islam is discussed as a religion of the past. Despite its influence in every region, or the fact that it is the largest and fastest growing religion, it seems Islam’s triumphs and successes are still deemed to be hundreds of years in the past. All our major scholars, calligraphers, architects and so on, according to contemporary consensus, are all dead.

How depressing.

Alhamdullilah that is not the case. It is far too easy to get caught up in these misconceptions. Far worse is the notion that Muslims must always be on the defensive – that we have little, if anything, to offer to the modern world – why we are part and parcel of the world, literally. While we may not live in a time of a vast Islamic empire, it is safe to say Muslims in every corner of the world have been contributing positively to society, as much as some would love to have you believe otherwise.

Behold a short list of Muslims whose talents are as diverse as the Islamic community to which they belong.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: Currently the first democratically elected secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the second largest intergovernmental organisation after the UN.

Ihsanoglu is a global authority on Turkish-Arab affairs. He is the author of numerous books, papers and articles on several topics including the relations between the Muslim world and the West, the history of science and Islamic culture.

During his tenure as secretary general, Ihsanoglu has taken many steps to bring about a significant shift of paradigm within the OIC. He has initiated the creation of new departments in the General Secretariat such as the humanitarian and family affairs departments, the establishment of new institutions within the OIC system such as the ‘OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission’ (IPHRC), the ‘Science, Technology and Innovation Organization’ (STIO) and the ‘Special Organ for the Development of Women’.

From 1980 to 2004, he served as the founding Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), an intergovernmental research centre and subsidiary organ of the OIC.

Ihsanoglu has gained international recognition for his work in the rapprochement of cultures, particularly between the Muslim world and the West. He is one of the signatories of “A Common World”, an open letter to Christian leaders calling for peace and understanding.

Sarah Joseph: Founder and editor-in-chief of Emel magazine, the UK’s largest Islamic publication; broke barriers surrounding the discussion regarding Muslims in the West.
Having reverted to Islam in 1988 at the age of 16, she sought to increase the amount of positive dialogue between cultures and religions in an effort to reconcile her British identity with her new Islamic one.
Emel has promoted the development of new perspectives surrounding intercultural dialogue. Describing itself as “vibrant and dynamic”, the magazine has exceptional quality and its relevant subject matters allow it to live up to the hype.

With hardcopies available in over 30 countries and subscribers in more than 60 nations, Emel has worked its way into the heart of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is currently the only Islamic magazine with a significant non-Muslim readership.

Joseph is the recipient of a Sony Gold Award for her radio work in ‘Beyond Belief’ with Ernie Ray.

Ruh al-Alam and Abdul Hamid: Web designers who started Make Me Believe, a successful web designing company with a plethora of prestigious clientele. They are especially well known for their work within the Muslim and Arab community, but also companies including Sony and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office have noticed the quality of their efforts.



Ingrid Mattson: Former president of ISNA, Mattson was the first female, as well as the first convert to serve as president of the organisation. From 2001 to 2006 she served as the vice-president, and was promoted a year later.

She reverted to Islam in her youth and went on to earn her doctorate in Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago. In 1995 she was an advisor to the Afghan delegation at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She founded the Islamic Chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary, the very first Islamic Chaplaincy program in the US, which she continues to run. She currently stands on the ISNA executive council.

In the athletic department:

  • Hakim Olajuwan: NBA all-star, former centre for the Huston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors
  • NazeemKadri: Centre for the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Hussein Abdullah: NFL player, free safety for the Kansas City Chiefs
  • Bernard Hopkins: Boxer, former undisputed Middleweight Champion of the World
  • The Muslim community is as far-reaching and outstanding as ever, as illustrated by these talented individuals. It is important to note that there are far more noteworthy Muslims that were not mentioned in this article. They are in every field and in every sport, if one is willing to take the time to find them. The beauty of Islam manifests itself especially when one takes a step back to admire how diverse our Muslim community is – if we may take a hint from the University of Toronto – boundless. Islam is everywhere. Muslims are everywhere. And while we may come from different nations and tribes, disciplines or social groups, we are all bound together under the banner of Islam.

    The successes in our past are no less amazing, but they belonged to an emerging religion – one that was, for the most part, regional. Today, from Alaska to Timbuktu, one can find a Muslim and a masjid with ease. We are a community one billion strong, and that number grows every day. And yet, by the grace and glory of Allah, we are as tightly knit as we were at the beginning. Perhaps one day you too will join the ranks of those who bring glory to our community. InshaAllah.