On/File: A Continuing Record of Groups, Movements, People, and Events Impacting Religion

1. The American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI) is one of the country’s most influential networks of American Muslim civic leaders. Founded in 2006, AMCLI is based at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. The Carnegie Foundation helped inaugurate the program with an initial $50,000 grant, followed by a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Since its first cohort graduated in 2009, more than 250 Muslim activists have attended its training programs. Part professional development, part support group, AMCLI has trained national and regional cohorts in intensive sessions led by interfaith organizers, academics, and activists. Among AMCLI alumni are Linda Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., and attorney Rabia Chaudry.

AMCLI alumni represent the broad diversity found in the American Muslim population at large: men and women, Sunni, Shia and Ismaili, gay and straight, urban and rural. Many of them are non-profit leaders and founders working in philanthropy, politics, public policy, immigration rights, social justice advocacy—people primarily working outside of mosques to promote social change. The network is also playing a role in developing new leadership programs. Kashif Shaikh’s Pillars Fund is supporting a new Auburn Seminary initiative to provide two-day intensive media and story-telling training to a cross-section of 120 Muslim leaders. The training workshops will be led by Wajahat Ali, an attorney and writer who has become a popular spokesman on topics relating to American Islam.  (Source: Religion & Politics, January 17)

2. The recent founding of Secular Rescue can be considered the secular counterpart to the Western Christian effort to rescue fellow believers facing religious persecution. The initiative, launched in 2016, is run by the Center For Inquiry (CFI), a U.S.-based non-profit organization that aims to promote secular values, with the support of such prominent atheists as Richard Dawkins. “It’s really an underground railroad of sorts for non-believers in countries where simply expressing doubt about religious belief is a criminal offense or where it may lead to grave physical harm,” says Robyn Blumner, the president and CEO of CFI. The organization doesn’t only target religious countries but also secular societies where atheists still face prejudice or violence from vigilante groups. One of the worst offenders in terms of government complicity against secularists and religious dissenters is Bangladesh, which has seen the murder since 2015 of at least 10 writers who had questioned religious dogma, with little response by the government. (Source: The Atlantic, January 18)