A Blueprint for the Shia Muslim Community of North America
Developed by I.M.A.M. 2011 | Updated 2021
Almighty God says, “… cooperate…” [Quran 5:2]
As a community and as a whole, we are just like a mechanical engine that contains many cogwheels. Each one plays its role and every wheel is counted. It is makes no difference if the wheel is large or small for if a single one gets damaged, it will cause the entire machine to stop.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) said, “God’s hand [support and power] is with unity and cooperative work.” There is no way to succeed without cooperation. So, “cooperate” as God says.
This document is a repository of ideas that illustrates how Shia Muslims in the United States of America and Canada view the path forward and the future of their communities, and what these communities should resemble within the scope of the guidance of the Supreme Religious Authority.
The first draft was prepared by the Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya (I.M.A.M.) in 2010 after consulting more than a hundred professionals, experts, and key leaders from the Shia Muslim community in the United States and Canada. It was called “The Shia Roadmap”.
In 2011, the Roadmap was presented to The Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America during its 11th conference held in Dearborn, Michigan where it received the Council’s endorsement.
Since then, this detailed vision has been reformulated into a universal blueprint that describes the key elements necessary for the Shia Muslim community at large to thrive and advance in North America. This initiative needs further development by the next generation of young professionals to become a comprehensive plan. There is no single organization, institution, or group that can take on this huge project alone. All Shia Muslim organizations are like the individual parts of one body that will carry the community members to their destination. Almighty God says, “… Cooperate with each other in righteousness and piety…”. [Quran 5: 2].
I.M.A.M. is providing a concise summary of this Blueprint with the goal of fostering cooperation and collaboration on mutually beneficial endeavors and to create a platform for anyone who is interested to come together and work on one or more of the tasks in this immense project. I.M.A.M. is privileged as the Liaison Office of the Supreme Religious Authority to bolster and support this initiative to the fullest and will work tirelessly, sparing no expense to make it happen.
As Shia Muslims, we come together as a community based on our religious beliefs. We look to engrain within ourselves the morals and teachings of the Holy Qur’ān and the Ahl al-Bayt (pbut). Over time, the religious leadership, as a continuum and representation of our 12th Holy Imām (p), has worked tirelessly to provide direction to the community and its decisions are made by consulting experts in different focus areas, which demonstrates the importance of outreach to those knowledgeable in various fields.
As the Liaison Office of the Supreme Religious Authority, I.M.A.M. serves the community by implementing the strategic vision of our religious leadership or marjaeya. This vision is to serve the collective advancement of the Shia Muslim community of North America.
We see a promising future for the North American Shia community based on our presence amongst the Shia communities and our interactions with the leaders across the continent. Still, there is a vital need for further development, maturation, and growth. Cooperation and collaboration among local Shia entities is lacking and underdeveloped. Furthermore, the talents, skills, capabilities, and overall potential of the Shia are not being optimally utilized and invested. The need for a cohesive and outlined strategic vision for the Shia Muslim community is dire and one that must be developed immediately in order to streamline our efforts and serve the advancement of the community.
Thus, we have created “The Blueprint for the Shia Muslim Community of North America”, a strategic document that provides a framework for professionals and community leaders to work towards mutual goals and objectives. As such, our analysis of the current state, aided with the recommendations of experts and professionals from around the continent, resulted in the creation of several focus areas.
This document is a collection of key elements in several focus areas that have a direct impact on our future development. It serves as a vehicle to foster the discussion of our strategic goals and objectives to help us progress as a community. I.M.A.M. has adopted it as its strategic vision for the future.
I.M.A.M. is taking this bold step in order to invite experts from various disciplines and professions and solicit their expert insight and participation in developing a future plan of action.
In order for the Shia community in North America to be more cohesive, influential, and effective in its advancement, there needs to be a concerted and collaborative effort and dedicated resources in the following areas:
- Educational standards and tools for learning
- Religious and spiritual maintenance, preservation and growth
- Fostering identity at every life-stage
- Social engagement and empowerment
- Coordinated humanitarian services
- Public relations and outreach
- Civic involvement
- Cultural development and heritage preservation
- Legal guidance and networking
- Financial invigoration and support
- Reinforcing organizational infrastructure
- Capacity-building and leadership
The A Blueprint for the Shia Muslim Community developed from a fundamental goal within Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya (I.M.A.M.) to advance the cause of the Shia Muslim community in North America. There was a growing concern that Shia organizations across the continent were insular and working in isolation and duplicating each other’s efforts. Therefore, I.M.A.M. embarked on this effort in order to coalesce the efforts of Shia Muslims in North America, foster communication and cooperation, and efficiently advance towards our common long-term goals. This can be achieved by focusing on the following areas:
Educational standards and tools for learning
Education and learning play a vital role in the development of the global Shia Muslim population. As a community, we must dedicate significant effort into delivering the best education to all members of the community. This will be achieved by establishing:
- K-12 schools
- Schools for higher education
- A nationwide Shia Muslim Education Council to examine the state of all the Shia Muslim schools in North America and to help establish and maintain such entities in their own localities
- Think tanks and institutions for advanced and strategic studies
- Resources to create a scholarship fund to aid Shia Muslim students in North America
- Academic credentials for our hawza-educated scholars
- A Shia university on par with top universities in the continent
Religious and spiritual maintenance, preservation and growth
Religious and spiritual development must be in accordance with the Qur’ān and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) and the twelve Imams (pbut), and must focus on the individual Shia Muslim as well as the community at-large. This can be achieved by:
- Establishing mosques and centers
- Recruitment and development of qualified scholars or imams for mosques and centers
- Organizing regular religious programs including daily prayers, Friday prayers, and the commemoration of important religious occasions
- Acquisition or development of high-quality resources for all age groups and in all forms of media (print and digital).
- Establishing high-quality weekend Islamic Schools
- Acquisition or development of Islamic curricula to serve weekend schools, private schools, online learning and homeschools.
- Promotion of Islamic extra-curricular and recreational activities such as scout programs and afterschool clubs
- Establishment of adult education classes for born-Muslims and converts
Fostering identity at every life-stage
It is critical that Shia Muslims in North America feel a true sense of belonging to the community in which they live. Therefore, the principles and responsibilities of good citizenship must be explained further so that it becomes clear and well-understood. We need to also focus on providing younger generations with a clear understanding of their identity, which must be shaped by our belief system while also taking into account that it is culturally diverse and blended. Based on a true realization of the North American Shia Muslim identity, it is important that we fulfill our obligations, not only to the community, but to the broader society. These obligations include:
- Identity development programs based on the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt (as) which emphasize creed:
- The purpose of existence
- How to realize one’s own purpose in life and navigate through various crises
- How to establish positive relationships with the Creator, oneself, and others (whether Muslim or non-Muslim)
- The concept of mercy and justice
- Emphasizing the principle of citizenship in our teachings
- Stressing integration into the larger society while preserving our identity
- Promoting individual positive heritage and background
- Providing, through various means, an understanding of what it means to be a North American Shia Muslim
- Building a strong sense of community amongst all Shia Muslims in North America and other vibrant communities through communication and collaboration.
Social engagement and empowerment
Our faith addresses what we aspire towards and provides solutions for social issues that exist in society. Thus, it is important that we provide the following services:
- Anti-violence programs against women and children
- Drug- and sex-addiction rehabilitation programs
- Foster care programs for migrant women and children
- Senior citizen homes
- Hospice care
- Diversity training programs for Islamic centers and organizations
Coordinated humanitarian services
We should emphasize the importance of serving and caring for those who are disadvantaged and help them by establishing the following:
- Initiatives to support orphans
- Infrastructure to support refugees
- Senior home-care programs
- Mechanisms to aid those affected by catastrophes or natural disasters
Public relations and outreach
It is essential that we strengthen our networks so we can voice our concerns and viewpoints, and disseminate sound information to the Shia Muslim community continent-wide as well as non-Shia Muslims and non-Muslims. Moreover, we should promote dialogue and cooperation on mutual goals. This could be accomplished through the following:
- Use media to communicate new developments and reach out to all Shia Muslims in North America.
- Create a platform where Shia Muslims can enter information regarding their profession or area of expertise so that it can serve as a resource for networking and collaboration.
- Develop a unified platform to denounce extremism and false depiction of Islam and Shiism.
- Establishment of outreach programs to engage non-Shia Muslims and non-Muslims through intra/interfaith conferences.
Become part of the policy-making process at the local, state/province, and federal levels of government to have a voice in our future. It is crucial that our voices are heard and our opinions are taken into consideration. Therefore, it is important to be part of the discussion on issues that affect us locally and nationally. This could be accomplished through the following:
- Emphasizing census participation
- Promoting civic duty and service
- Encouraging participation in voting so change can be effective to advance the Shia Muslim agenda in North America and to influence outcomes in our communities
- Defending the civil rights of Shia Muslims in North America
- Developing nationwide campaigns to educate the Shia on their rights and ability to advocate for decision-making matters.
- Supporting candidates for public office from our own communities and those who advocate for our rights.
Cultural development and heritage preservation
In strategic partnerships with public and private institutions, innovative cultural programs that support economic growth, social inclusion, and sustainability will need to be developed. We will become more competitive and resilient through programs and projects that help reduce poverty, improve the quality of life, and increase social equity. This can be accomplished through the following:
- Promoting sustainable tourism to holy sites with initiatives that strengthen cultural heritage and embrace geo-tourism as an effective and enduring form of economic and social development
- Preservation of culture depends not only on the conservation of tangible heritage but also by recognizing the value of knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation through religious practices, customs, and language and spreading it to our communities. Therefore, we must prioritize projects that focus on ingraining culture in the youth
- Establishment of cultural museums at local and national levels to preserve our cultural identity
Legal guidance and networking
We must understand and leverage our legal rights as citizens to preserve the status of Shia Muslims across the continent. To do this, we must:
- Educate and promote law-abiding citizenship
- Defend the rights of Shia Muslims by creating a Shia Muslim Legal Counsel in various areas where the Shia reside to take on cases concerning Shia Muslims and their rights
- Form a Legal Defense Council comprised of Shia lawyers
- Certify our centers’ leaders as licensed clergymen to gain legal status in all matters related to Shia Muslim social and family affairs
- Establish a scholarship fund to encourage a predetermined number of our young people to study law with the condition they serve the Shia community pro bono for 5 years after graduation.
- Create proper marriage and divorce processes that will protect the interest of all parties involved in civil court proceedings.
- Establish a Shia Muslim Divorce Committee to look into issues of divorce and receive the authority of the Jurist to execute a divorce
- Educate those involved in marriage and divorce issues of the relevant legal processes
- Align the legal process with the religious process so inheritance and wills are addressed clearly and to ensure the rights of Shia Muslims are not infringed upon because of negligence or ignorance in the legal process
Financial invigoration and support
The financial stability of the Shia Muslim and the community is essential. It is imperative to find proper legal and religious means to increase the wealth and assets of the Shia Muslim and community in order to provide stability in our journey to success. Some of the means through which this can be accomplished is by pursuing:
- Establishment of financial programs to overcome poverty and shift our community members off welfare
- Organization of the spending of religious dues in North America
- A network for the purpose of career development and job searches
- Establishment of sound financial planning to advance the causes of the Shia Muslim Community in North America
- Form a Business Advisory Council composed of Shia leaders and experts to advise and support individual and community initiatives.
Reinforcing organizational infrastructure
Organizational development is an attempt to encourage the members of an organization to expand their candidness with each other about their views of the organization, their experience during their involvement, and to take greater responsibility for their own actions as members. The assumption behind Organizational development is that when people pursue both of these objectives simultaneously, they are likely to discover new ways of working together that prove more effective for achieving their own personal and shared (organizational) goals. Our intention is to improve the effectiveness of people and organizations by:
- Establishing relationships and liaising with key personnel in the organization
- Researching and evaluating systems in the organization to understand dysfunctions and/or goals of the systems in the organization (“diagnosing” the systems in the organization)
- Identifying approaches (or “interventions”) to improve the effectiveness of the organization and its personnel
- Applying approaches to improve effectiveness (methods of “planned change” in the organization)
- Evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of the approaches and their results
Capacity Building and Leadership Development
An important task for us as Shia Muslims is capacity building in the various communities by maintaining and leveraging current expertise and grooming and developing the leaders of tomorrow. We can accomplish this by:
- Bridging the generation gap between current community leaders and youth groups
- Creating functional succession plans to ensure efforts persist at a high level
- Focusing upon fostering/developing female leaders
- Producing material for personal skills development
- Producing a plan for youth engagement in community affairs
- Empowering youth with community projects which match their passion and needs
- Consulting professional corporate experts to develop leadership protocols and education material within the context of our communities
- Developing a panel of experts to deliver leadership training
- Raising awareness of the need for leadership development programs
- Specifically developing the capacity of young professionals, women and any group that is disenfranchised or marginalized.