Applications Reopen: Fellowship Backed by Pillars Fund and Riz Ahmed’s Left Handed Films Supports Muslim Directors and Screenwriters

As Hollywood writers return to work, the 2024-25 Pillars Artist Fellowship is reopening applications for Muslims behind the camera.

 

CHICAGO — After a five-month hiatus due to the Writers Guild of America strike, applications for the 2024-25 Pillars Artist Fellowship are reopening today for Muslim directors and screenwriters in the U.S. and U.K. through October 31.

Building on a successful inaugural year in 2022 and sponsored by Netflix and Amazon MGM Studios, the 2024-25 Pillars Artist Fellowship supports Muslim creators whose presence behind the screen will be game-changing for the entertainment industry. Selected fellows will each receive an unrestricted award of $25,000, high-quality one-on-one mentorship, professional development in their field and access to a trailblazing advisory committee of award-winning actors, directors, producers, and writers.

“Muslim artists are the past, present, and future of entertainment,” says Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Fund Co-founder and President. “We are proud to invest in storytellers that are telling joyful, honest stories about our communities.”

“The 2022-23 Pillars Artist Fellowship was an exciting achievement: Our fellows joined prestigious writers’ rooms, sold their work to major companies, and won awards at competitive festivals.” says Arij Mikati, Pillars Fund Managing Director of Culture Change. “We hope to build on this experience to support even more Muslim talent.”

  • To qualify for the fellowship, applicants must meet the following criteria:
  • Applicants must be directors or screenwriters who identify as Muslim.
  • Applicants must live in the U.S. or U.K. Citizenship is not required.
  • Applicants must be adults 18 years old or older.
  • Applicants must be emerging artists. The Pillars Artist Fellowship defines an emerging artist as a storyteller with some experience who meets one to three of the following criteria:
    • Has an agent or manager
    • Has directed a short or feature in the past five years
    • Has won a screenwriting award in the past five years
    • Has participated in another lab/fellowship in the past five years
    • Is a member of a professional guild or organization (for example, DGA, WGA, Directors UK)
    • Has staffed on a television show or received a writing credit on a film
    • Has worked as an assistant in the entertainment industry for two or more years
    • Has worked in another field in the entertainment industry for two or more years

Applications are due October 31, 2023, at 5 p.m. Central Daylight Time / 11 p.m. British Summer Time.

More details about the fellowship can be found on this web page.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND
Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $9 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. Pillars invests in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim storytellers, and organize Muslim donors to give together strategically. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

ABOUT LEFT HANDED FILMS
Left Handed Films was founded by Academy Award winner Riz Ahmed with a mission of stretching culture through telling fresh stories in bold ways. In early 2021, it was announced that Left Handed Films had signed a first-look TV deal with Amazon Studios and hired former AMC exec Allie Moore to oversee production and development. THE LONG GOODBYE, a short film produced by Left Handed Films and written by/starring Ahmed, won the 2022 Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action). Left Handed Films also produced Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s FLEE, which made history as the first movie to earn Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and International Feature. In 2020, the company produced MOGUL MOWGLI, directed by an exciting new voice in Bassam Tariq, which won the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, was nominated for a BAFTA Award for ‘Best British Film,’ and received six British Independent Film Awards nominations, with the film taking home ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for Ahmed and ‘Best Music.’ Left Handed Films currently has a wide-ranging slate of upcoming projects including an adaptation of EXIT WEST for Netflix in partnership with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions and Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO, a reimagining of HAMLET, and the comedy series THE SON OF GOOD FORTUNE for Amazon alongside Lulu Wang’s Local Time.

Pillars 2023 National Convening: Meet Our Speakers

This September, Pillars Fund will gather in Atlanta with our grantee partners, fellows, partners, and supporters for the Pillars 2023 National Convening. This convening was created to bring together Muslim leaders and artists to feel rooted in a larger movement, equipped to confront the challenges ahead, and energized to work toward a collective future.

Our sessions will include a workshop focused on radical self love, exercises to hone our story-listening skills, an insider look at funding and philanthropy, a panel featuring Atlanta-based organizers talking Atlanta-focused issues, a mother-daughter dialogue about intergenerational movement making, a film screening and talkback with a Muslim filmmaker, and a visioning workshop to help us build a collective, imagined future.

Learn more about the brilliant artists, speakers, and facilitators headlining our convening:

 

Featured Artists

Our featured Muslim artists are infusing our convening with music, poetry, art, and film.

Kelly Crosby headshot photo

Kelly Izdihar Crosby is a multimedia artist and freelance writer. She is inspired by multiculturalism, faith, beauty, and color. Her work celebrates many issues that are dear to her heart: the beauty found throughout our world, uplifting depictions of women of color and Muslim women. A New Orleans native, she obtained her master’s degree in arts administration from the University of New Orleans. Kelly Izdihar has displayed her artwork in various art shows and venues throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates. She was a 2018 Sacred Cypher Creative resident artist for the Inner-City Muslim Action Network and had her first solo exhibition in 2018 at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. She is currently living in Atlanta, Georgia, and manages her online business, Kelly Crosby Art, where she sells her original works, prints, and merchandise. She is also a contributing writer for Halal Consumer magazine.

Imran J Khan headshot photoImran J. Khan is a 2022-23 Pillars Artist Fellow and has written and directed a number of award-winning short films including “Timmy II,” “The Drone and the Kid,” and “Prom.” His short films have screened at major film festivals, broadcasted nationally on PBS’s Film School Shorts, and been awarded Vimeo Staff Pick. Imran is a former assistant editor at Walt Disney Animation Studios and has previously assistant edited a number of films including “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” He is a graduate of NYU’s MFA Film production program and a San Francisco Bay Area native. His semi-autobiographical coming-of-age debut feature, “Mustache,” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival

Omar Offendum wearing a red fez singing into a microphoneOmar Offendum is a Syrian-American rapper, spoken word poet, theatrical storyteller, and Pillars Muslim Narrative Change Fellow. Over the course of his 20-year career, he’s been featured by BBC, PBS, and the LA Times; lectured at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford; and helped raise millions of dollars for humanitarian relief groups. Offendum was recently invited by the Qatar Foundation to perform during the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Doha. He was also named a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, and a member of the RaceForward Butterfly Lab cohort for Immigrant Narrative Strategy. He currently resides in the great state of New York with his wife and two little children, while daydreaming about the jasmine tree-lined streets of Damascus.

 

Featured Speakers & Facilitators

Our featured speakers will graciously share their valuable wisdom and insight with our communities.

Zaheer Ali headshot photo

Zaheer Ali is a Pillars Muslim Narrative Change Fellow and the inaugural executive director of the Hutchins Institute for Social Justice at The Lawrenceville School, a secondary education initiative advancing social justice teaching and practice through scholarship, programming, and experiential learning. In addition, he is an executive producer of “American Muslims: A History Revealed,” a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded series of digital short films exploring important episodes of American Muslim history; and is the creator and curator of the Prince Syllabus, which explores the life and work of musical artist Prince as a catalyst for social change. He brings to his work more than two decades of experience leading nationally recognized and award-winning public history and cultural heritage initiatives, including Columbia University’s Malcolm X Project and the Center for Brooklyn History’s Muslims in Brooklyn. He serves on the national council of the Oral History Association and is a 2020 recipient of the Open Society Foundation’s Soros Equality Fellowship for his work on leveraging the power of storytelling and listening for social change.

Hibah Berhanu headshot photo

Hibah Berhanu is an organizer, writer, and filmmaker based in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. Her work explores Muslim communities, intersectionality, and movement building. Hibah was a BIPOC Community Organizing Fellow with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a research fellow with the Race, Religion, and Democracy Lab. Her project “Black Muslims and the American Surveillance State” is featured on the Muslim Justice League website, and her latest article “Hijabi Natural Hair Care: How I Regained Pride & My Go-To Protective Style” can be found on the UK-based Muslim women’s magazine Amaliah. During Hibah’s time at the University of Virginia, she chaired the Minority Rights Coalition and directed the Muslim Institute for Leadership in Empowerment. Hibah is cultivating a nonpartisan political home for Georgia Muslims through Pillars grantee partner Georgia Muslim Voter Project (GAMVP)’s Community Conversations and Membership Development programs. Hibah is the creator of GAMVP’s Muslim Civic Leadership Luncheon Series as well as the first annual Mobilize 4 Muslims: Summer Organizing School.

Maha ELKolalli headshot photo

Maha A. ELKolalli, Esq., is a solo practitioner in the areas of family law and civil litigation. She is part of Imam Jamil’s legal team and has worked closely with Imam Jamil’s son, Kairi Al-Amin, Charles Swift from the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, and National Muslim Organizations to coordinate efforts to assist in the Imam Jamil Al-Amin case. In addition, Ms. ELKolalli is a public speaker presenting at various colleges and universities nationwide. She is an adjunct professor at the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University. Prior to attending law school, Ms. ELKolalli was a child protective supervisor with ChildNet, was a family services counselor for the Department of Children and Families, and served as a government analyst for the Department of Juvenile Justice. She is a graduate of the State University of New York in Albany, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Psychology and in Sociology, and graduated Magna Cum Laude receiving a J.D. from Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law School. Ms. ELKolalli has been recognized with various awards and honors including the Women of Impact Award resulting in Miami-Dade County proclaiming March 13, 2018, as Maha A. ELKolalli, Esq. Day; the Greatness of Service Award; the CAIR Florida Community Service Award; the Helping Hand Award; and the State of Florida Child Advocate of the Year Award.

Keyanna Jones headshot photo

Keyanna Jones is a political and social justice activist and community organizer, who is a staunch advocate for quality, affordable childcare and equity in education. She currently works with Community Movement Builders to educate, engage, and empower the Black community in Atlanta, Georgia. Before moving back to Georgia in 2020, Keyanna was a community organizer in Roselle, New Jersey. It was there that she began her life of advocacy and resistance to the notion of white supremacy and oppressive systems. She is an ordained minister and proprietor of E Equals MC Squared Educational Services, LLC, where she works as a homeschool curriculum consultant, IEP advocate, and German translator. She is a proud daughter of East Atlanta, an old-school hip-hop lover, and the biggest fan of her Granny, Mary Kate Thomas.

Maheen Kaleem headshot photo

Maheen Kaleem (she/her) is the vice president of programs and operations at Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC). She has almost twenty years of experience supporting youth and families impacted by interpersonal and state violence, and making way for those traditionally marginalized from formal sites of power to lead efforts to advance racial and gender justice. Prior to entering the philanthropic sector, Maheen worked as a direct service provider, organizer, policy advocate, and human rights and movement lawyer. Her work has led to the passage of several pieces of legislation addressing the treatment and criminalization of children impacted by sexual violence, trafficking, and exploitation. She currently serves on the boards of several nonprofits, including Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and co-leads donor organizing efforts to support abolitionist approaches to ending gender-based violence with Funders for Justice. Maheen has always grounded her work in the wisdom of women and girls of Color who have survived the carceral system, sexual exploitation, and abuse. Maheen holds bachelor’s and law degrees from Georgetown University.

Noorain Khan headshot photo

Noorain Khan is director of the Office of the President at the Ford Foundation, where she oversees the foundation’s global discretionary grantmaking and leads cross-foundation strategic initiatives. Noorain served as a key partner on the foundation’s historic $1B social bond offering in 2020 that drove major investments in organizations to combat the crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism. Noorain also launched and oversaw Ford’s work in disability rights, growing it into the largest private funder of disability in the world. She is the subject of a Harvard Law School case study on public sector leadership. In 2023, Noorain was elected Girl Scouts of the USA’s 27th National Board President, making her the chief volunteer of the largest girl-led organization in the world. She previously served on the boards of the New York Women’s Foundation, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Association of American Rhodes Scholars. Noorain has received the George Parkin Service Award for outstanding contributions to the Rhodes Trust and was honored by Rice University’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality with its Distinguished Alumna Award. She appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for law and policy in 2014 and was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Angelica Lindsey-Ali headshot photo

Angelica Lindsey-Ali, known as The Village Auntie™️, is a renowned certified sexual health educator, public health equity specialist, women’s health and wellness catalyst, and an authority on intimacy and emotional well-being. With more than 20 years of experience in women’s wellness, she is the founder of The Village Auntie Institute, a globally recognized platform for women’s learning. Through her extensive clinical, cultural, and religious training, Lindsey-Ali has become a leading voice in traditional approaches to spirituality, love, intimacy, relationships, and sexuality. Her exceptional work has garnered a massive following of more than 50,000 women worldwide, and she has facilitated more than 100 workshops on traditional approaches to spirituality, love, intimacy, relationships, and sexuality. Her unique approach to these critical topics has been praised by many as innovative, empowering, and transformational. Her contributions have graced the pages and airwaves of notable media outlets such as BBC, ABC, NPR, Vogue Arabia, and Cosmopolitan UK, among others. Her expertise in sexual health education, combined with her engaging storytelling and exceptional writing skills, make her a sought-after speaker and thought leader in her field. Her contributions to the field of women’s wellness have been widely recognized, and she continues to be a driving force for positive change in the lives of women everywhere.

Headshot of Aseelah Rashid, director of IMAN Atlanta

Aseelah Rashid is the newly appointed director of IMAN Atlanta (Inner-City Muslim Action Network), a Pillars grantee partner, where she stewards IMAN’s holistic model of bringing access, education, and revitalization to the southwest community of Atlanta through arts and culture, behavioral health, and community organizing. Aseelah is a co-founder of The Muslim Mix, a social organization cultivating leadership and connection among young adult Muslims. As an organizer within the Muslim and interfaith community, Aseelah is well-known for her exceptional leadership in community building and activism within the United States and abroad. She has curated and convened high-quality, high-impact programming for people in Georgia and across the region and has traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East to build bridges and amplify female voices across religious, cultural, and ethnic lines. During the social and racial reckoning of 2020, Aseelah alongside her mother, Okolo Rashid, and a circle of dynamic Muslim women co-founded Era of Woman as a convening and call to action of women dedicated to amplifying the voices and leadership of African American Muslim Women for justice and social change.

Okolo Rashid headshot photo

Okolo Rashid is executive director/CEO and co-founder of Pillars grantee partner International Museum of Muslim Cultures (IMMC). Born as the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, Okolo has been a life-long advocate for education, human dignity, and social justice. She is the visionary co-founder of IMMC, America’s first Muslim museum, which opened in Jackson, Mississippi, April 2001. Okolo has had a varied career and an established track record as an activist, strategic thinker, teambuilder, interfaith and broad-base community organizer, and historic preservation advocate for more than 45 years. She is a graduate of Mississippi’s community college system (Hinds Community College in 1970) and among the handful of African Americans who integrated it. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics and public policy at the HBCUs of Tougaloo College and Jackson State University, respectively. Okolo traveled to Timbuktu in the Republic of Mali, West Africa, in 2004 with her husband (Sababu), where they negotiated a partnership with the Mamma Haidara Memorial Library to bring ancient manuscripts from Timbuktu to Jackson, MS, and premiered the Legacy of Timbuktu Exhibition in 2006. The Timbuktu Exhibition emphasizes Islamic West Africa’s sophisticated, highly literate culture of great scholarship, wealth, and empire-building, which contrasts significantly with the predominant historic narrative that begins, most often, with African enslavement in America.

Juilee Shivalkar headshot photo

Juilee Shivalkar is part of a two-year legal fellowship by Pillars grantee partner Project South to investigate state surveillance of Muslim, immigrant, and Black communities. Juilee recently graduated from NYU School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar. Born in Mumbai, India, Juilee grew up in Iowa, North Carolina, and Georgia. Prior to law school, Juilee earned a BA from Wake Forest University and worked on civic education programming at a refugee resettlement agency in Atlanta. During law school, she served as an articles selection editor at the NYU Review of Law and Social Change and a student staff editor at Just Security. She also interned with Reprieve UK, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. In Spring 2022, she was a Pro Bono Scholar at The Door, where she assisted with humanitarian forms of immigration relief, particularly Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Robert Earl Sinclair headshot photo

Robert Earl Sinclair is a writer, artist, Future Architect, and world-builder and most recently an adjunct professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. He practices at the crossroads of art, culture, and technology with a dedication to beauty, justice, and inclusive imagination. A classically trained artist, Robert graduated from LACHSA and NYU and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. A founding member of GoFA’s Futurist Writers Room, Robert has created original contents, designed, and facilitated world-building workshops for NYU, Google Creative Lab, Sundance Film Festival 2020, For Freedoms’ Congress, New York Live Arts, The Doris Duke Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Guggenheim, The Africa Center, PopShift, Pop Culture Collaborative, Unfinished Live 2021, Imagine/IMAX’s upcoming film “Mars 2080,” and Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler, which premiered at Sundance 2021. He is also the co-creator of For Freedoms News, which launched with a residency at the Brooklyn Museum last October.

Nadra Widatalla headshot photo

Nadra Widatalla is a Sudanese-American storyteller, community-based organizer, and 2022 Pillars Artist Fellow. As a Sudanese woman, her goal is to continue to bridge the gap between global revolutions and grassroots movements happening in the United States, whether it be through on-the-ground organizing or sharing her voice in the Los Angeles Times, Teen Vogue, and more. Most recently, Nadra was a staff writer on the Peacock series “Mrs. Davis,” created by Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez. When she’s not on strike, she’s writing and developing projects for television and film.

 

Special Thanks

We are incredibly grateful to those who are feeding us during our time in Atlanta. In particular, a special thanks goes to Sister Jamella Jihad from the Springreens at Community Cafe team for offering their dining room and halal soul food to our attendees.

The Black Stone of Mecca | Audio Transcripts

Click through to access the audio transcripts for “The Black Stone of Mecca: Malcolm X, Prison Letters, Tasawwuf Poetry, and Ethical Texts,” published as a chapter in Khayál: A Multimedia Collection by Muslim Creatives.

Zaheer Ali: Malcolm as a Poet (Excerpt)
Maytha Alhassen: Malcolm’s Writing as Poetic
Zaheer Ali: Black People of America + the Black Stone
Hussein Rashid: The East
Maytha Alhassen: No Pork + No Cigarettes
Maytha Alhassen: Uncovering Sourcing for Poetry
Zaheer Ali: Malcolm’s Demonstration of “Literary-ness”
Omid Safi: Hafiz + Translations
Maytha Alhassen: Malcolm’s Writings as Poetic
Zaheer Ali: Malcolm as a Poet
Zaheer Ali: Even Malcolm’s Name is Poetic
Zaheer Ali: First Revelation
Omid Safi: Sa’di + The Rose Garden—The Text Whereby People Learn to Read and Write
Zaheer Ali: IYKYK
Omid Safi: Adab Tradition
Zaheer Ali, Maytha Alhassen: Learning from Incarcerated Muslims
Hussein Rashid: Ethical Poetry
Omid Safi: Omar Khayyam
Maytha Alhassen: Multiple Literacy Exploration
Omid Safi: Poetry—A Way of Imagination
Maytha Alhassen: “Prison, Thanks to Islam, Has Ceased to Be a Prison”
Zaheer Ali, Maytha Alhassen: The Power of Signs
Zaheer Ali, Maytha Alhassen: In the Name Of
Zaheer Ali, Maytha Alhassen: Medina Letter—Seeking Refuge

 

Zaheer Ali, Malcolm as a Poet (Excerpt)

There is a kind of structure to Malcolm’s most famous addresses. So like we think of “Message to the Grassroots” and “The Ballot or the Bullet.” And even fast forward to like why I think Malcolm is sampled so much in hip hop. I never thought of Malcolm as a poet, and I wonder what kind of space that opens up if we think about Malcolm as a poet. He certainly understood alliteration, right? So like the ballot or the bullet and the idea of repetition. I think there’s something rich here to see the growing mind of Malcolm as a poet and his appreciation of the power of not just words but how those words could be arranged.

Maytha Alhassen, Malcolm’s Writing as Poetic

That analysis had me thinking throughout the trajectory of Malcolm’s writings and the way poetry, not just functioned for him. It made me see his writing in terms of being poetic.

Zaheer Ali, Black People of America + the Black Stone

I think first we should think about what is the story of the Black Stone in Mecca that Malcolm is thinking about when he asks this question. For people who don’t know, the Black Stone is something that was used by Abraham to build the first house of worship that Abraham built. You go back further, it is believed to have been, you know, some particle of an asteroid or a meteorite that fell from the sky, right? Like there’s this theory that that’s what it is. Like how did this particular stone become so special? And that’s because it came from the sky. It was a meteorite or something like that. But then there’s the story of Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, who is because of the trust that he is given by the community is given the task of carrying the stone in the rebuilding. And he’s the one that places the stone in the corner of the rebuilt house.

He receives his prophetic mission, right? Like this is when this community of rebuilding the house. And then you think about how Malcolm at this point in time understands Elijah Muhammad’s role and history and the idea of that a or the Muhammad will use or build the house of God or the next house of God or the foundational house of God by taking the Black Stone and putting it in its proper place as the cornerstone of that house. So when Malcolm’s asking this question, he’s referencing this framework that sees Black people of America as the essential cornerstone to the reestablishment or establishment of Islam in North America. That Black people are that stone that had been displaced from its proper place and had to be restored to its proper place in order for that house to be built. And that the person to do it would be a Muhammad or the Muhammad. With this line in 1950, we are all already getting into the figurative engagement with poetics essential to Malcolm’s way of understanding and explaining Black people and Black people’s role and relationship to Islam.

Hussein Rashid, The East

If you look at the language and the text that somebody like Noble Drew Ali, for example, is referencing—the knowledge that Elijah Muhammad had as he talks about in the early Nation of Islam, right? It does seem like this is part of the zeitgeist. Now, I don’t wanna make a direct line between Elijah Muhammad and Noble Drew Ali and the Theosophical Society. I think the Theosophical Society is simply representative of this larger interest in, you know, what Noble Drew Ali calls the Moorish world, where somebody like Elijah Muhammad is looking outside of the United States. And this is coming out of slightly earlier, where you have a group like the Shriners, who post Civil War were also very actively looking towards the East and the 1893 Parliament of World’s Religions. That sets up the sort of Turkish zone that, you know, Americans are sort of fascinated with. It’s very clearly part of the American discourse in the early part of the twentieth century, and it feels like that is a natural growth, right? I mean, particularly for Malcolm, who’s very interested in knowledge, in literacy, both before and after becoming Muslim, and really participating and partaking of what is considered good literature from across the world at this point, particularly in English.

Maytha Alhassen, No Pork + No Cigarettes

That letter to his brother Philbert in 1950 is during this time he’s in a place called the Norfolk Prison Colony, which Garrett Felber, who is a colleague of Zaheer’s and I’s and from the Malcolm X project. He wrote this excellent book about Black Muslims and the carceral state. And he delves deep into what Norfolk in Massachusetts was trying to present itself as, which was this liberal approach to prison as this community prison. They didn’t call cells “cells,” they called them dormitories. There was more time, and Malcolm brings this up in his diaries, outside of the prison walls to be outside. And then the really important point in this moment is that Malcolm gets access to an excellent library. And so we’re gonna see what comes out of that.

Malcolm is incarcerated in February 1946, a sentence of 8 to 10 years for breaking, entering, and larceny. Four counts served concurrently with his friend Malcolm Jarvis, known as Shorty. They initially go to Charleston, which is a state prison, and they’re put into solitary confinement for 24 hours in the beginning of that term. And he writes when he learns about Norfolk, requesting a transfer. He gets transferred to Concord, which is in West Concord, Massachusetts. And then eventually in 1948, March 31, 1948, with the help of his older sister Ella, gets transferred to Norfolk. So this is all 1949, and as I mentioned, he moves to Norfolk. The year prior, Philbert is hardcore preaching to Malcolm of the teachings of the NOI, and it kind of turns Malcolm off actually. And then his brother Reginald tries a softer approach. Hey, just stop eating pork and taking in tobacco. And he does. And then his sister Hilda suggests that he starts corresponding with Elijah Muhammad. And then towards the end of the year, this is what’s happening. So as we see this is the beginning of 1949, there’s something different brewing for him. And as he says in one of these letters from these two in February, he apologizes because in this new prison scenario, he’s been able to be outside more often and access the library. So he hasn’t been corresponding as much, and it’s in these winter months that he
s reaching out to his family.

Maytha Alhassen, Uncovering Sourcing for Poetry

“O time of broken vows that none would mend!
The bitter foe was once a faithful friend.
So to the skirts of solitude I cling,
Lest friendship lure me to the evil end.”

Now, what’s interesting about this is there’s no citation, right? And when I read this as I was sitting, and some of you here know the process of going through microfilm and microfiche and you’re wondering like, okay, this looks like it could be a pretty famous poem. And then I was able to identify that this is actually from Hafiz.

Zaheer Ali, Malcolm’s Demonstration of “Literary-ness”

Malcolm’s desire to be literary. It’s not just writing a letter. There is a demonstration of literacy in writing the letter. But there’s also a demonstration of not just literate-ness but, and I don’t know if this is a word, but literary-ness, like there’s a demonstration of being familiar with the literature or of the literature. Someone said to him or wrote to him, his siblings wrote to him or even when he encountered the visitor, I think it was an Ahmadiyya visitor that visited him and Shorty. So he hears this word Islam and he’s like, I gotta go find everything I can find about this thing, right? Wherever I can find it. And even if it’s being translated through the kind of texts that would have been available in a prison library in 1949. This is a demonstration of his capaciousness, of his expansiveness with which he is embracing this idea. And this way of sharing it is not overly didactic.

He isn’t like, here y’all, I want y’all to read this cause I found this thing and this is what it means. He is putting it there to, I think, practice, model, and demonstrate his literacy with, and I put in quotes “Islam,” because I know that that’s a construction. But he’s doing that in this way. And he’s doing that with an assumption that his readers know that’s what he’s doing. He’s doing that with an assumption that this will be another thing. You know, it’s kind of like if he were to open a letter with “In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful” or greetings of peace, there is an assumption that his readers, in this case his siblings, would automatically know where that’s coming from. There’s a sort of telegraphing that’s happening here. And he doesn’t know what they know or don’t know. He’s just assuming they are also diving into this Islam thing as much as he is. And hey, here’s this thing I found, and this is why I think he opens, or you know, starts his letter with this.

Omid Safi, Hafiz + Translations

Hafiz, in particular, there’s a really amazing quote about him that is in the book of Shahab Ahmed, the late Shahab Ahmed, called What is Islam? And he calls Hafiz the most widely copied, widely circulated, widely read, widely memorized, widely recited, widely invoked, and widely proverbialized book of poetry in Islamic history. He is someone who is simultaneously spiritual, sensual, erotic, mystical. And of course, his name means someone who’s memorized the whole Qur’an. It’s fascinating that, you know, someone like Malcolm, Brother Malcolm, would have been quoting him because Hafiz in so many ways disrupts our ideas about what Islam is and has been historically. And there are a whole lot of really juicy and wonderful debates about how Muslim really was he? How Sufi was he really? But none of that challenges his extraordinary popularity in South Asia, in Iran, in the Ottoman Empire, right until today.

The places that Malcolm is getting his quotations of Hafiz from, which is the writings of someone named Syed Abdul-Majid. It’s very interesting if you read the introduction, he spends pages and pages discussing where Islamic mysticism or Sufism comes from. Is it Greek? Is it Christian? Is it Indian? And then of course, he ends up by saying, no, no, no, it actually comes from Islam. But the very fact that he has to spend all that time answering this question tells you a little bit about the Orientalist context of early twentieth century, where many people simply couldn’t bring themselves to believe that something so beautiful could have arisen out of what they had already deemed to be the dry, barren desert of Islam. There’s a book that is published in 1912 called The Ruba’iyat of Hafiz, and this translation seems to have come from there. It’s translated and introduced by Syed Abdul-Majid. It says, rendered into English verse by L. Cranmer-Byng. It’s published in London in 1912. That seems to be as early of a way that I can trace it to.

Maytha Alhassen, Malcolm’s Writings as Poetic

Malcolm X is transcribing from what appears to be shared in Charles Sylvester’s The Writings of Mankind, volume two, Arabia, Persia, Egypt, the Near East, Hebrew literature, and the excerpt goes:

“Allah did not forget thee in that term
When thou wast but the buried, senseless germ:
He gave thee soul, perception, intellect,
Beauty and speech and reason circumspect:
By him five fingers to thy fist were strung,
And thy two arms upon thy shoulders hung.
O graceless one! what cause has thou to dread
Lest he remember not thy daily bread?”

Malcolm continues in this letter to Philbert with a philosophical revelation about poetry, and he says, “I’m a real bug for poetry. When you think back over all of our past lives, only poetry could best fit into the vast emptiness created by man.”

Again, that’s a letter to Philbert, February 4, 1949, and that analysis had me thinking through the trajectory of Malcolm X’s writing, speeches, commentary, and how poetry not just functioned for him, but it made me see these discursive interventions made by him as poetic.

Zaheer Ali, Malcolm as a Poet

There is a kind of structure to Malcolm’s most famous addresses. So like we think of “Message to the Grassroots” and “The Ballot or the Bullet,” and even like fast forward to why I think Malcolm is sampled so much in hip hop. And it’s partly because, I’ve never thought about it this way until this conversation, but I think Malcolm, when he’s like, “I have a real, bug for poetry, when you think back over all of our past lives, only poetry could best fit into the vast emptiness created by man.” I never thought of Malcolm as a poet. And I wonder what that, what kind of space that opens up if we think about Malcolm as a poet.

He certainly understood alliteration, right? So like the ballot or the bullet and the idea of repetition. So throughout that speech, for example, he’s like “that’s why I say it’s the ballot or the bullet.” And he goes, he goes on, he goes and he comes back and he’s like “that’s why I say it’s the ballot or the bullet.” And there’s a rhythm in his lecture or in his talks or in his speeches. There is the construction of a slogan or a phrase that has stickiness to it that could be a refrain that you kind of come back. In “Message of the Grassroots,” he’s like “the Negro revolution versus the Black revolution.” He’s like “the house slave and the field slave.” There’s this playing with duality, this playing of tension, this playing of parallels, and the idea that when you’re giving a talk, it’s not just a straight line. You kind of do have to circle back, and you do have to bring, it’s almost like you have to introduce a tension into the ideas that your audience are considering, and then you have to introduce a way to resolve that tension. You bring it to a peak, and then you have to leave your audience in a kind of place.

And I say all of that to say, I’ve often thought of what it would be like if Malcolm was a musician. And I know that Manning Marable talks about Malcolm taking on this persona of Jack Carlton as a drummer, a short-lived drummer, but that Malcolm was very fond we know of music and paid very close attention to music and paid very close attention to the movements and shifts that were taking place in jazz. And that jazz artists also reciprocated that attention when you look at someone like Max Roach or Abbey Lincoln and the ways that they would appear at rallies and stuff that Malcolm spoke at.

And so there is, I think here, I think there’s something rich here to see the growing mind of Malcolm as a poet and his appreciation of the power of not just words but how those words could be arranged, right? To convey ideas both directly and indirectly. And how there’s a play with suspense and tension. I’m just thinking about some of his famous clips that have stuck in my head over the years. And the reason why they stick in my head is not only because of the power of the ideas that he’s conveying, but because of the way he does it. That can be at times funny. That can be at times inspiring. That could be at times empowering. That can be at times, you know, depressing. That could be at times enraging. But you know, someone who understands it’s not just the power of the ideas. It is the words as containers of those ideas. And I think what we see here is Malcolm practicing that containment. I mean, when he is saying like “poetry could best fit into the vast emptiness created by man,” he’s thinking about what can carry these ideas. And I think that’s why he’s drawn to these poems and using them as introductions, as bridges, as carriers to get from one point to the next.

Zaheer Ali, Even Malcolm’s Name is Poetic

He understood the power of symbols. And you know, I think whether it is, I mean even, and we know that the concept of taking on the “X” is not something that he originated. We know that that comes from the Nation of Islam’s tradition. But that Malcolm is drawn to it, that Malcolm is drawn to the power of naming, that Malcolm is drawn to what information is carried in a name. It has me thinking of Ruha Benjamin’s notion of “the name as a code” and what does the name encode, right? What history is carried by a name? And so I think even, you know, even “Malcolm X” is poetry. Like that name is poetic, right? And whether or not he intended it this way, the choice of Malik as his Arabic name. I don’t know that etymologically, Malcolm and Malik are related, but in sound they are, right?

Because they have those three consonants, the M, L, and K, right? And we know in Arabic that the trilateral roots, you know, convey the meaning. And so it’s almost that Malcolm is in that name being given or chosen by him or given to him. It’s that that name is sonically related to Malcolm. And just even that’s like a poetic thing, right? Because the thing with poetry is that it’s not always literal. It’s like word play. And then the word helps shift the meaning, right? So we go from Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcolm, to Malik, right? And that’s the bridge. It’s a sound bridge, right? Sometimes it’s not an ideas bridge. And so thinking of like, even how he’s using these poems in his letters.

They have different kinds of functions. And sometimes it’s not just about literary continuity. Sometimes it’s about, oh, you ended with this letter, you start with that letter. And that’s no less significant, right? But it is an art. It’s a sort of constructive art. And so I think even his name as, I mean, and there’s like a whole thing, it’s also just a wonderful coincidence that the name that Malcolm chooses sonically is related to Malcolm in Malik. And then of course, Malik, the trilateral roots of Malik are, you know, mim, lam, kaf. And so it’s M, L, K and that’s Martin Luther King, and who’s king? And it’s just like [laugh], for someone who is an artist who is looking at this moment, it’s just like, beautiful. You know? And I don’t even think that can be intentionally created completely, but that’s what a poet would do, right? Like a poet is, they’re gonna, there’s a kind of poetry that’s gonna make associations that may not necessarily be obvious or may not even make literal sense or ideological sense, but in their arrangement together invites us to think about something more differently and more profoundly. And this comes back to when Malcolm is like, so we’re the Black Stone, we are the East. Outside of understanding that framework, it’s like, what is he talking about? But if you allow yourself to be engaged by that, what does it invite you to think about? What if we are the Black Stone? What does that mean? What does it invite us to think? And so I think just that kind of, I feel like Malcolm’s engagement with poetry invited that, right?

It’s why, you know, in his speeches, whether or not the word negro actually is etymologically related to the word necro. Whether or not that is the case, that association invites us to think about the ways that quote unquote negro was rendered social death, right? You have all these like Afro-pessimists right now talking about the social death in the afterlives of slavery. And Malcolm introduced this idea of negro and necro. And whether or not it was etymologically correct, that wasn’t the point. The point was, let me do this poetry here of bringing these two words together, and you will remember these two words together because of their sonic relationship, because of their visual relationship. And the point that I want you to walk away from is to never call yourself by a name that you yourself did not create or was given to you, right? And a name that has socially come to mean social death. So that I think is what I think about when I think about what does it mean to think about Malcolm as a poet.

Zaheer Ali, First Revelation

When I read this passage that Malcolm has quoted in this letter that talks about the creation of the human being, the two things that resonate with me are the first revelation in the Qur’an. Chapter 96, The Clot, or Surah al-‘Alaq, which you know, starts with “read in the name of your Lord, who created you from a clot.” And then there’s another section in the Qur’an, Surah al-Muʼminun, or The Believers, which is Chapter 23, which gets into even more detail. “We placed in him as a drop of sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then we made it into a clot. Then from that clot, a lump.” And there’s like this whole evolution of the human life that God is governing. So that’s what I’m thinking about when Malcolm uses this passage or quotes this passage.

And again, I think from the poetic mind, we have to think about what these associations mean and what do they invite us to think about. And you know, certainly Malcolm’s growing literacy with the pen is being encouraged and guided in part through his encounter with Islam, right? And it’s almost that he is responding to that first revelation of “read in the name of your Lord who created you.” That’s this, that’s what we see happening here. Malcolm is reading, Malcolm is using the pen. Malcolm is understanding that he is a being in evolution. And I think, you know, even with the Chapter 23, The Believers, Malcolm is in the process of becoming a believer or understanding himself as a believer. And that is what I see here, why he uses this passage or why this passage speaks to him.

He doesn’t quote the Qur’an, but the Qur’an is the reference for this, right? The Qur’an is the source of this. It is the framework for this understanding, and it’s why he’s drawn to it. Because he would have, by this point in time, I’m almost certain, and we know that he was given a Qur’an. And so knowing that Malcolm is now engaged in this really intense, dedicated devotional study inspired by his siblings calling him to Islam, you know, it makes perfect sense that he is now looking and going through the world, drawing and identifying and picking on and picking out the things that echo that Islam. We see this in his activism in 1950, where, and the years following, where he’s requiring or requesting a pork-free diet, where he wants a space where he can face the east to pray. That even though there are all of these ways that people see the Nation of Islam as different from how they understand Sunni Islam, that that is not relevant to Malcolm. In this stage, Malcolm is in the process of becoming a believer. And everything that he sees, that’s gonna be his touch point, his touchstone. And I think that whether, anything that Malcolm encounters of Islam, he is going to process through his experience, life, and identity as a Black man in America. And anything that he encounters as a Black man in America, he is now processing through his encounter with Islam. And that’s what we see here.

Omid Safi, Sa’di + The Rose Garden—The Text Whereby People Learn to Read and Write

Sa’di simply is the author of the single most important work of prose in, again, the Eastern, the Persianate half of Islamic civilization. It’s a work called The Gulistan, The Rose Garden. And The Rose Garden, which is written in the late 1200s, right up until today, is the text whereby people learn how to read and write. We really have no analogies to its influence in the English-speaking world. I sometimes tell people it’s not even like teaching second graders Shakespeare. It would really be much more akin to teaching second graders Chaucer. The Rose Garden, which is Sa’di’s masterpiece. He’s also an extraordinary writer of love poetry. And fascinating again that Malcolm would be quoting from him because Sa’di becomes the epitome of what you could call a humanistic tradition in Islam. His most iconic line, which is sometimes used a lot by human rights organizations, is a paraphrase of a hadith of the Prophet, which interestingly enough, is actually much more well known in Sa’di’s retelling than it is actually as a hadith of the Prophet, in which he says that, you know, human beings are like members of one body. And if any parts of the body hurt, the whole body experiences pain. And that if you’re not moved by the suffering of others, you are maybe unworthy of the name human.

So Sa’di really becomes the paradigm of this kind of ethical voice that transcends narrow religious and national kind of considerations. And the quote that he has for Sa’di that comes out of Charles Sylvester, The Writings of Mankind. This is the sort of great Orientalist effort to catalog all the great literature of humanity. It’s kind of that evolutionary Darwinian tradition applied to literature. And so let us catalog the great writings of the Africans and the Indians and the Persians and the Arabs. Oh, my! So Sylvester’s book seems to be, what is, I’m guessing given the fact that he’s narrating these kind of verbatim, I would guess, that he somehow had gotten access to this 1924 book by Charles Herbert Sylvester. The Sa’di translation comes from, these are really great Orientalist works. They don’t give us a way of going back to the original, but the book is called The Writings of Mankind in 20 Volumes. Volume two deals with Arabia, Persia, Egypt, the Near East, and Hebrew Literature.

Zaheer Ali, IYKYK

Even though he says in this letter “and most of the time I put down poetry to take up space, so it will look like I’ve written a long letter so I can receive a long letter in return.” Like even as he says that, and there is, I guess, a way to diminish the meaning and intentionality of this, right, of his use of poetry. He ain’t quoting Robert Frost. [Laugh] There is still a very intentional selection here. We could look at this as like, I don’t know, like you think of sampling. And I know that we’ve talked, other conversations we’ve had about Malcolm as a sampler, as a remixer. You think of people who are hip hop artists who sample, they are looking for something that’s gonna carry the song, right? So they’re looking for a beat. And sometimes they find the beat in the most unexpected of places.

At the height of hip hop sampling, there was this thing that everyone sampled, but then there was an art where people were trying to find the most obscure thing to sample, and then sample it in a way that you couldn’t recognize where it came from. And it wasn’t an attempt to steal or be a thief of authorship. It wasn’t an attempt to not cite your sources. It was an attempt to, I bet you don’t know where this came from. And it was a test too of your own musical literacy, that you could hear that and be like, oh, I hear James Brown, or I hear Parliament-Funkadelic, or I hear like something even more rare. And so it was this ability to create a different kind of literacy. And so, you know, as we think about Malcolm quoting these poems but not saying who the writers are, there’s this kind of, creation of a, it’s like he’s sub-tweeting.

There’s a way of “if you know you know.” A reliance on your knowledge, a reliance on your intimate knowledge of this thing. That if you don’t, you’re like, okay, cool, this is poetry that’s just taking up space. But if you do, you’re like, what we just did, you’re like, oh, I hear the Qur’an in that. Or I hear this concept of what Malcolm is trying to do, or I hear Malcolm growing in his own kind of word usage. Or I hear Malcolm, you know, looking at questions of beauty and existence and brotherhood and friendship. And that’s what I hear because I know something different. And I think Malcolm is relying on his siblings to do some of that as well.

And for the people who don’t, he’s just like taking up space, right? And so you think about the work of sampling. Yeah, there was sort of like meaningless sample of, oh, this does this, this is a good beat. But sometimes the sampling was done to recreate a different kind of world. A world that was accessible to people who shared something with you, right? And when you think about, you know, the work of art or culture creation or artistic creation, some of the best art has these multiple meanings. And so everyone isn’t going to get everything and that’s okay cause they still get something. And maybe if they come back to it, they’ll come back to it with a different set of resources that they’ll get something more, right? Or something different. And I think that’s one of the lessons I take away from this.

I’m not saying that that’s what this letter is, but I do think as an archive, if you come to this with very little knowledge of Malcolm, you’re gonna walk away with something. If you come to this with a better understanding of Malcolm, you’re gonna get something else. If you come to this with an understanding of Malcolm and maybe some Islamic history, you’re gonna be like, oh, I see something else happening here. If you come to this with an understanding of Malcolm and Islamic history and what’s happening in prison activism, you’re gonna be like, oh, this is how we understand this and the books that were available. And if you come to this with Malcolm and Islam and Black America and the Nation of Islam and their theologies, then you’re like, oh, I see all this is happening here. And I think that’s what you get when you have a rich archive that has mixed in all of these different elements.

Omid Safi, Adab Tradition

The people that you’re kind of asking about: Hafiz, Omar Khayyam, and Sa’di. I mean these are in different ways, some of the really great giants of the adab tradition, the fine tradition of literature. And they’ve kind of been really the marker, particularly Hafiz and Sa’di, of what it has meant to be a literate Muslim in the eastern half of the Islamic world. So really everything from Bangladesh to Bosnia, if you wanna think of it that way. Loosely speaking, the Persianate world. In Hafiz, we’ve got the sort of supreme ambiguous, sensual, erotic, mystical Muslim poet. And in Sa’di, we’ve got the ethical, humanistic work of poetry. And even though they write in Persian, their influence is not restricted to modern-day Iran because at this time Persian is really the literary high culture language of the majority of the Islamic world.

Almost all the great empires and dynasties—the Ottomans, the Safavids, the Mughals, and others—they have Arabic as the obviously religious language for Qur’an and prayer and certain religious discourses like law and theology. But it’s really Persian that is the language of literature and high culture in a way that far transcends contemporary national boundaries. So there’s a lot more Persian being composed in India, for example, than there is in modern-day Iran at this time. And the Ottoman Sultans are composing poetry in the Persian language. All of which is kind of saying that, you know, I find it fascinating that these lines of poetry, poorly perhaps translated, maybe not very poetically translated, hard sometimes to track down. But they’re still showing up in Malcolm, and I think that’s significant.

Zaheer Ali and Maytha Alhassen, Learning from Incarcerated Muslims

Maytha: We see people mining through his archive of books and other references. Why hasn’t this been of scholarly interest or intrigue? Or maybe, I don’t know.

Zaheer: Well, one, I don’t think people would have even recognized the poems without citation, right? If you don’t know, you don’t know. And we know that there has been a lot done on Malcolm by people who really understand Black history and the Black experience. There’s been less, but some, done on Malcolm by people who understand Islam, but don’t understand the Black experience and are not, you know, I don’t think are looking this far. I don’t think, you know, for people who think about Malcolm as a Muslim, many of them because they are coming to their study of Malcolm from the perspective of Sunni Islam, they’re not interested in a Malcolm before he is, in their minds, having satisfied the requirements of their understanding of Islam. Which is in 1964 when he announces he’s leaving the Nation of Islam and makes the Hajj. That is for them when he is a person worth looking at as a Muslim.

And so for people who have looked at Malcolm while he is in prison, and maybe reading his letters, they would not have been able to identify. Like the way you said about that first passage, you were like, “I know this was,” or “this reminded me of.” I wouldn’t have even known that, because that’s not what I’m steeped in, right? That’s not my reference. It’s like if you’re listening to a hip hop song, if you don’t have the knowledge of the samples and where they come from, you might think this is a new production, right? You might be like, oh, this is a jam. And then somebody’s like, oh, that’s actually from 30 years ago, or that’s actually from, you know, 50 years ago. And you’re like, oh wow. I didn’t even know that, right? So I think, you know, that is part of it, is that people don’t have that literacy. But I think the other part of it is that people don’t have that curiosity. They don’t have those questions guiding them. And I think this is uncharted and new, and so I don’t know that people would even think to ask these kinds of questions about Malcolm. I think people also just narrowly constrain Malcolm to a certain kind of intellect that would not allow for him to be a writer or to be interested in poetry or to be interested in beauty or to be interested in the kinds of things that they don’t see directly tied to a really narrow idea of Islam and/or liberation.

Maytha: And as you were speaking about that, thinking if people are coming in from a semi-orthodox lens, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re familiar with Sufi poetry, tasawwuf poetry.

Zaheer: That’s right.

Maytha: Or the ethical treatises that we just read. But also a Malcolm that’s incarcerated as a Muslim, right? Or seeking out Islam. And there’s something that feels like too much tension to explore what that means to think about people within the ummah incarcerated as people we learn from.

Zaheer: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Hussein Rashid, Ethical Poetry

At the time Malcolm was writing the letters that you shared with me is sort of this time in amongst American belles lettres that they’re looking to the East, right? People like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who obviously is a little bit earlier, but, you know, people would be reading his material. People like Ralph Waldo Emerson are fascinated with this Urdu poet Ghalib or this Persian poet Hafiz, and are translating his work. You know, there are these translations that are circulating in this time period in English of really important Persian works. I’ve seen works by Razi that are being translated in this period, who is this important philosophical thinker. Shabestari, who’s this monumental Persian poet slash philosopher, and he’s writing things that, you know, we consider ethical guidance.

And I think what I would be cautious of is trying to distinguish between poetic and ethical traditions, right? These poets saw themselves often when they were writing in a religious vein, which many of them were, or at least the ones who were being translated to English at this time, were. They saw themselves as transmitting and participating in an ethical worldview. So their poetry is deeply ethical in this process. You know, we look at somebody like Sa’di Shirazi, who writes this text The Gulistan, The Rose Garden, which is, you know, in the genre in English, it’s called the Mirror for Princes. You know, if you’re a ruler, you should behave like this. And then it intersperses prose and poetry as sort of giving this ethical guidance. And that’s probably one of the more explicit points where you see somebody walking into this and saying, I am giving you an ethical document, or a guidance document. But oftentimes the poets didn’t feel the need to make that statement. What they were doing was an ethical act and ethically edifying. So I just wanna be cautious about trying to make that distinction.

Omid Safi, Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam is sort of a fascinating case scenario because it really shows you that even when we think we’re talking about great Muslim figures, we’re never entirely free to do so on our own. And there’s always the watchful gaze of the West that is kind of present with us, and it’s just a matter of how we negotiate it. So Omar Khayyam was historically not known as a poet. He wrote poetry because that’s what every literate Muslim did. [Laugh] Poetry was the Muslim imagination. And up until the twentieth century, the vast, vast, vast majority of our literature is poetry. It’s not prose. Prose was seen as too didactic, and even when someone like al-Sa’di writes prose, to a certain extent it’s an imitation. It’s an echo of the Qur’an, in the sense that the Qur’an itself insists that it’s not poetry per se, but it’s saj’. It’s rhymed prose. So it’s a kind of prose text that has these internal rhyme and meter. And that’s what the prose tradition in Islam often has been.

To come back to Omar Khayyam, he’s a mathematician, and he’s an astronomer. The calendar that much of the Islamic world used was one that he revised in the late 1090s. And he worked at a great astronomical facility. The knowledge of the stars was, of course, something that every Muslim ruler was interested in. They wanted to do things that were auspicious. And so he’s a mathematician, he’s an astronomer. There was no line between being an astronomer and an astrologer. And he wrote poetry because that’s what all the great gentlemen did. And then in the nineteenth century, poetry attributed to him, as we say wallahu a’lam, becomes translated quite beautifully by Edward FitzGerald. And by some accounts it becomes the bestselling literature, poetry of English language in the nineteenth century. So that has a lot more to do with the inner dynamics of Victorian society, 1860s, and after, their fascination with something that is skeptical, humanistic, erotic, sensual, than it necessarily tells us anything about the historical Omar Khayyam. And not only do we see Omar Khayyam showing up in Malcolm. Omar Khayyam shows up in Dr. King’s writings as well.

Maytha Alhassen, Multiple Literacy Exploration

This is where we’re looking at the shift from the sampling to him being the writer, the poet. And being inspired by the poetry he’s written and the poetics of the faith that he is unearthed or uncovered in this multiple literacy exploration that he’s undertaken.

Omid Safi, Poetry—A Way of Imagination

The important thing to remember about poetry in Islam is that ultimately, ultimately, even though our poets are extraordinary masters of rhyme and meter, imagine someone like a Rumi writing 60,000 lines of poetry following a certain meter of dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah. And it’s almost, you know, similar in that sense to iambic pentameter, and, you know, these kinds of meters that you find in a Western tradition as well. But what makes poetry poetry is not the rhyme and it’s not the meter. It’s actually a way of imagination.

It’s not for nothing that the word for poetry, shi’er (شعر), in Arabic and Persian, in Urdu, in Turkish has something to do with sha’oor, which is consciousness. So I think it’s more useful to think about poetics as a different way of talking about God and a different way of talking about humanity and a different way of talking about love and reality that it’s not theology and it’s not restricted by theological ways of reading it. But it’s a suggestive language. It hints rather than spell out. And it leaves so much to the imagination. And it’s daring and bold and willing to push the boundaries far beyond what conventional philosophy and theology of the ulama’ would allow. And of course, what’s so interesting is that many of the scholars themselves are writing this kind of poetry. So imagine someone like a Rumi who in a daytime is teaching classes on hadith and on law, and then at nighttime he’s singing and composing poetry. Another reminder that our civilization was never characterized by dichotomy of something that we could call quote unquote orthodox and something that we could call mystical poetry. Things are much more interwoven, interconnected, fluid.

Maytha Alhassen, “Prison, Thanks to Islam, Has Ceased to Be a Prison”

You kind of see this change in the prose of Malcolm’s letters as he’s encountering the poetry. And you can see this melding of his poetics and of the way he uses it to have an analysis around the prison condition and faith. He actually gets transferred from Norfolk to another prison. And what he has basically communicated the reason behind that is he actually wants to practice kind of prison ministry and spread the faith and also change the conditions of folks in those prisons in Charleston that don’t have access to the material that he was given. And so he says “in this prison, thanks to Islam, has ceased to be prison… for I have learned to love the pricelessness of pure solitude.” He makes this reference point when he’s in Medina to this moment to the kind of solitude he was offered.

Zaheer Ali and Maytha Alhassen, The Power of Signs

Maytha: Well, and there’s this, that’s why I’m calling it “Poetics of Faith.” At the end of this letter, he’s, as you said, digesting the poetry and the Qur’an as exploration, talks about people outside hearing the thunder, not taking heed, getting wet, relating it to the signs of what he calls the final disaster. And wondering if people will see and bear the signs that are inevitable around them, but not take heed. This feels like a really poignant moment of him thinking about what it takes to make the signs to make it plain, right?

Zaheer: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Again, I think about the Qur’an, right? We know that ayat means sign, right? And so much of the Qur’an is like: Did you read the sign? Did you see the sign? Did you see the sign we sent you? These are all signs to those who know, right? So Malcolm, he wants to be one of the people who can read the signs, right? And so here’s that. He’s looking at the thunder, and he’s like that’s a sign for those who know. That is straight out of the Qur’an, right? That sort of thinking and formulation is like, this is a sign for those who know. There’s so many times where that’s said in the Qur’an. It’ll tell you this story, and it’ll be like, this is a sign for those who know, right? And you think about what signs are and signifiers are and language and the word as a sign and symbolism. And even semaphores and just the basis of language as a sign. I think that’s how Malcolm, I think one of the ways why he was so effective is because he understood the power of signs.

Zaheer Ali and Maytha Alhassen, In the Name Of

Zaheer: This particular opening and this style of opening would be really common in the Nation of Islam, of how ministers would open up their talk or their lecture. And it’s an introduction, right? And it’s an introduction of a kind of… I don’t wanna say traditional, I don’t wanna say archaic, but, and I’m not trying to be funny. But you know how the Game of Thrones, the person is introduced with all of their titles? So this is an introduction with all of the titles, right?

So it’s introducing God, “the All-Wise God, the Almighty Lord and Savior of the Black Nation, the Merciful Master of this Final Day of Judgment.” And so all of these different names. And then “In the Name of His Last and Greatest Prophet, the First Begotten of the Dead, Our Guiding Light in this wretched darkness of hell, the Door by Whom we must all Pass to Enter the Complete paradise, the Most Meek and Humble of the Faithful.” Right? Yes, this is poetic. This is like, let me find all of the different ways to lift up and even just the ways that some of this is coming from the Bible, some of this is coming from the Qur’an, some of this is coming from, you know, a Black poetic tradition of naming. And some of this is that, right? You see the ways that these words are put together to build on this introduction. So I think, you know, all of that just to “I’m happy to greet you in Their Great Name… As-Salaam-Alaikum.” And this becomes an opening song or opening line for every speech.

And sometimes it would get so long that by the time the person has completed the introduction, they have to remind you, oh, this is who I’m talking about. Because they’ve added so many accolades to it. And so, you know, that’s why he says I’m happy to greet you once again cause you already said as salaam alaikum, but you done like, built this whole opening into it. You done gotta bring us back. And so this becomes the building of that common introduction of how much praise can we give? And of course, again, there’s a Qur’anic model for this, right? The bismillah, the “In the name of Allah,” and it’s not just in the name of Allah, right? It’s “Bismillah, al-rahman al-rahim in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” and then in Sura Fatiha, it’s like “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the world, the Beneficent, the Merciful, the Master of the Day of Judgment.” You know, all of the accolades. This is the opening, this is Malcolm’s opening. I’m not gonna say it’s Malcolm’s Fatiha and get people all bent outta shape, but it is his opening.

Maytha: This reminds me of how Goodie Mob basically rapped or spoke the translation of the Fatiha. Where it could have been unmistakable for a series of monikers, right?

Zaheer: Yes, yes, yes. If you don’t know that’s what it is, you’re like, oh, okay, all right. [Laugh] And then what’s interesting is that, of course, the Goodie Mob’s version is a Nation of Islam version. So that line where it says “nor upon those who go astray,” that’s the Qur’an. After hearing your teachings, that’s the Nation of Islam, right?

Maytha: It is, and there’s that remix in this preamble, right?

Zaheer: Yes, yes, yes. This is…

Maytha: Because there’s the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is in there as well.

Zaheer: Yes, yes. This is a remix, if we wanna call it that. This is the remix of Al-Fatiha.

Maytha: I mean, you can use a better word. I don’t wanna impose.

Zaheer: No, no, no. I like that. But this is the remix of the Al-Fatiha. This is that, this is that opening, right? Where you can see that here. This is someone who’s been digesting the Qur’an. This… when were the other, okay, so the other letter.

Maytha: So this comes after.

Zaheer: So okay.

Maytha: Those were in February. So this is August.

Zaheer: So this is clear that Malcolm’s reading of that poetry and his writing of that poetry, which is a kind of embodiment, right? To rewrite something in your own hand is a kind of internalizing of that, right? So it’s his reading of that poetry, it’s his reading of the Qur’an. His exposure to the particular rhythms of the Nation of Islam’s language and, you know, the ways that the Nation was formulating these ideas and these words. So like “all-wise,” that’s a Black Muslim thing. That’s an NOI thing, right? The all-wise. Another one, which doesn’t appear here, but you will hear often is “the true and living,” right? That’s a community-rooted thing. But “Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding,” those three things together, that’s a very, you know, Black Muslim thing.

But you see the poetics here, and I think the genealogy also comes through the translations, right? Whoever’s translating the Qur’an has provided, you know, here’s the palette with which you’re going to color with, right? Because whoever said it was “merciful” and whoever… “Beneficent” was not a word in circulation, right? Until we read that as part of the Qur’an. We read that in the translation, right? So whoever the translator was, whether it’s, you know—at that time probably Maulana Muhammad Ali or Yusuf Ali or Muhammad Pickthall—the choice of words are shaping the framing here, right? So you’re getting words being introduced into the language or introduced into usage because of their showing up in these translations, right? Mercy, merciful, beneficent, all-wise, right? These are things that are coming out of that encounter with Islam. And I think shows that Malcolm is taking it in, right? And he’s taking it in, and he’s formulating it as someone who has read those earlier poems, right? The poems that he quoted earlier.

Zaheer Ali and Maytha Alhassen, Medina Letter—Seeking Refuge

Zaheer: When he says my prison years in quotes, it’s like I know I’m using a shorthand, but I don’t want to give prison that power. Like it isn’t prison that, he said “prison thanks to Islam has ceased to be a prison,” right? So it isn’t that prison did these things for him. It is Islam that did these things for him. So I think that he wants to be really clear that he’s not crediting prison, right? Because we know Malcolm’s use of quotations are very intentional. Like in his Letter from Mecca, he is like “white” in quotes, right? So I think like that’s what’s really important here is like I haven’t felt like this since quote: “my prison years when I would spend days upon days in solitude, hours upon hours studying and praying. There is no greater serenity of mind than when one can shut the hectic noise and pace of the materialistic outside world and seek inner peace within one’s self.”

If we didn’t have this letter, we would just say, he’s like for lack of a better term, we’re gonna call it my prison years. But that’s not really what it is. But just cause that’s what we’re gonna call it. And then we have this letter where he’s like, “prison thanks to Islam has ceased to be prison.” Like he’s really talking about Islam here, right? And how Islam transformed that experience. That’s the thread, right? It’s Islam that connects that experience of pure solitude with this experience of pure solitude.

Maytha: Exactly. And then here, of course, we noticed a lot as he’s traveling around the Muslim world, some of his great pains are seeing the materialism and not connecting back to the first explorations he started to have around Islam providing that solitude, that break from industrial urbanity.

Zaheer: And that’s why I think those quotes are so important. Cause he’s like, don’t get it twisted, I don’t want to go back to prison. And I don’t think prison is a place for any human being to be. But I do want us to go to Islam.

Maytha: As a refuge. And that’s the refuge within the prison. And that’s the refuge within America. And that’s the refuge within this dunya.

Zaheer: And, you know, in the Nation, they often didn’t just open up with the bismillah, they opened up with the auzubillah. They would open up with “say: I seek refuge in Allah from the cursed Satan.” And of course that has all kinds of meanings in Nation of Islam theology, right? But this idea of Islam or Allah being a source of refuge is something that Malcolm first articulated in 1950 and is revisiting 14 years later. This… it doesn’t work, right? It doesn’t work if it can’t reach the human condition. And that is why the Qur’an is revealed through a form of poetry, right? Like God’s revelation comes in the form of poetry because it’s not just instructive, it’s beautiful. Right? And that Malcolm, when he taught, wasn’t just instructive. He was funny. He was moving. He was beautiful. He made people feel beautiful. He moved people. And that’s the poetics, right?

It’s a handful of scholars who will sit around the table and be moved by just ideas, right? But the masses of the people, your politics have to have a poetry to it. It has to have a beauty to it. It has to have, you know, a joy. It has to have imagery, it has to have rhythm. It has to have, you know, play with words. It has to be interesting. And I think that’s what you see in these early letters. Malcolm is looking at, and again, he’s very intentional about what kind of poetry he’s paying attention to. But he’s looking at how these poets are doing what they’re doing. And he, I don’t know that he would ever say that he himself was a poet, but he absolutely used the poetics of language. And that’s why he’s an effective speaker. He wouldn’t have been otherwise. And so, no, it’s not a jump at all.

Pillars Artist Fellowship Call for Applications Paused

In response to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, the call for applications for the Pillars Artist Fellowship will be paused until further notice. We plan to resume the application process at a later date and will share an update as soon as applications reopen. Applications submitted to date will not need to be resubmitted.

To learn more about our Pillars Artist Fellowship, visit our FAQ page.

Call for Applications: Fellowship Backed by Pillars Fund and Riz Ahmed’s Left Handed Films Supports Muslim Directors and Screenwriters

Sponsored by Netflix and Amazon Studios, the 2024 Pillars Artist Fellowship supports Muslims behind the camera.

 

CHICAGO — Applications for the 2024 Pillars Artist Fellowship are now open to Muslim directors and screenwriters in the U.S. and U.K. through May 31. 

Building on a successful inaugural year in 2022, the 2024 Pillars Artist Fellowship supports Muslim creators whose presence behind the screen will be game-changing for the entertainment industry. Selected fellows will each receive an unrestricted award of $25,000, high-quality one-on-one mentorship, professional development in their field and access to a trailblazing advisory committee of award-winning actors, directors, producers, and writers. Committee members include Riz Ahmed, Bisha K. Ali, Mahershala Ali, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Yann Demange, Mohamed Diab, Sarah Goher, Lena Khan, Nida Manzoor, Hasan Minhaj, Nijla Mu’min, Amina Munir, Jehane Noujaim, Bassam Tariq and Ramy Youssef.

“Muslim artists are the past, present, and future of entertainment,” says Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Fund Co-founder and President. “We are proud to invest in storytellers that are telling joyful, honest stories about our communities.”

“The 2022 Pillars Artist Fellowship was an exciting achievement: Our fellows joined prestigious writer’s rooms, sold their work to major companies, and premiered their stories at competitive festivals,” says Arij Mikati, Pillars Fund Managing Director of Culture Change. “We hope to build on this experience to support even more Muslim talent.”

To qualify for the fellowship, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Applicants must be directors or screenwriters who identify as Muslim. 
  • Applicants must live in the U.S. or U.K. Citizenship is not required.
  • Applicants must be adults 18 years old or older.
  • Applicants must be emerging artists. The Pillars Artist Fellowship defines an emerging artist as a storyteller with some experience who meets 1-3 of the following criteria:
    • Has an agent or manager
    • Has directed a short or feature in the past 5 years
    • Has won a screenwriting award in the past 5 years
    • Has participated in another lab/fellowship in the past 5 years
    • Is a member of a professional guild or organization (i.e., DGA, WGA, Directors UK)
    • Has staffed on a television show or received a writing credit on a film
    • Has worked as an assistant in the entertainment industry for 2+ years
    • Has worked in another field in the entertainment industry for 2+ years

Applications are due May 31, 2023, at 5 p.m. Central Daylight Time / 11 p.m. British Summer Time.

More details about the fellowship can be found here.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $9 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim storytellers, and organize Muslim donors to give together strategically. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

 

ABOUT LEFT HANDED FILMS

Left Handed Films was founded by Academy Award winner Riz Ahmed with a mission of stretching culture through telling fresh stories in bold ways. In early 2021, it was announced that Left Handed Films had signed a first-look TV deal with Amazon Studios and hired former AMC exec Allie Moore to oversee production and development. THE LONG GOODBYE, a short film produced by Left Handed Films and written by/starring Ahmed, won the 2022 Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action). Left Handed Films also produced Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s FLEE, which made history as the first movie to earn Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and International Feature. In 2020, the company produced MOGUL MOWGLI, directed by an exciting new voice in Bassam Tariq, which won the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, was nominated for a BAFTA Award for ‘Best British Film,’ and received six British Independent Film Awards nominations, with the film taking home ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for Ahmed and ‘Best Music.’ Left Handed Films currently has a wide-ranging slate of upcoming projects including an adaptation of EXIT WEST for Netflix in partnership with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions and Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO, a reimagining of HAMLET, and the comedy series THE SON OF GOOD FORTUNE for Amazon alongside Lulu Wang’s Local Time.

Pillars Fund Grants $2 Million to Muslim Nonprofits Leading Social Change

The Chicago-based foundation distributed grants to 31 Muslim-focused nonprofits fueling social transformation across the United States.

 

CHICAGO — Today, Pillars Fund is excited to announce the recipients of the 2023 Pillars Catalyze Fund grants, an annual initiative that supports a vibrant group of Muslim civic leaders in the United States. This year, Pillars is supporting 31 Muslim-focused nonprofits with a combined $2 million in grants.

Pillars is a Chicago-based foundation, and its community of Muslim donors has been supporting Muslim-led social change for more than a decade.

“Muslim-led organizations are severely underfunded in philanthropic spaces. We work to fill that gap at Pillars,” said Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and President of Pillars Fund. “In amplifying the transformative power of our grantee partners, we hope other funders will recognize the brilliance of Muslim leadership.”

Pillars grantee partners are challenging the status quo when it comes to mass surveillance, immigrant detention, mental health, suicide prevention, voter engagement, and so much more.

As cities across the country gear up for key mayoral races, Pillars grantee partners are laying the foundation for strong Muslim civic participation through voter registration and candidate training. Pillars grantee partners are educating community members on how to hold local law enforcement accountable and representing Muslims caught in the cross hairs of unlawful government oversight and surveillance. And Pillars grantee partners are publishing rigorous research on suicide and using this information to train religious leaders on what to do during a mental health emergency.

“Muslims have always been at the forefront of social justice movements in the United States,” said Amirah Fauzi, Program Director of Catalyze Fund at Pillars Fund. “Our leaders are working toward solutions that reach across race, religion, class, and gender. It’s a privilege to support the innovative work of our Catalyze Fund grantee partners.”

“There are so many forces that are unseen and dark when it comes to politics and our democracy work. And often it is targeted at Muslim candidates and leaders,” said Ghida Dagher, CEO and president of 2023 Pillars grantee partner New American Leaders. “To be able to say that there is an institution that is behind you, that is supporting you, that is empowering you, is something that I think builds a lot of courage.”

To all of its grant recipients, Pillars offers flexible funding, professional development opportunities, digital media support, and networking within nonprofit and philanthropy spaces to develop relationships with established institutions.

“Pillars Fund is at the forefront of an ideological change that we are beginning to see in philanthropic circles across the U.S. They have recognized that unless funders have real relationships with the people that they’re funding, and unless programs are looked at as a learning opportunity where funders and awardees move forward together, that they are just repackaging the same problematic top-down systems that have failed our communities. Those systems do not lead to real change,” said Khalid Alexander, founder and president of 2023 Pillars grantee partner Pillars of the Community.

The 2023 Pillars grantee partners include the following organizations:

More information about Pillars grants is available on our portfolio page.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND
Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $9 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim storytellers, and organize Muslim donors to give together strategically. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

New Report Reveals Muslim Characters Are Erased and Painted as Extremists in Popular TV

The newest report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, supported by Riz Ahmed, Left Handed Films, Pillars Fund and Ford Foundation, investigates Muslim characters across 200 popular episodic series. 

 

LOS ANGELES – September 7, 2022. Islam is the fastest-growing world religion, but you’d have no idea this was the case if you watched popular television from four countries whose content is broadcast around the globe. A new study reveals that not only are Muslims nearly absent from episodic content, they are still stereotyped in negative ways.

The report, Erased or Extremists: The Stereotypical View of Muslims in Popular Episodic Series comes from Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative with support from Academy Award winner Riz Ahmed and his production company Left Handed Films, the Ford Foundation and Pillars Fund. The study explores quantitative and qualitative aspects of Muslim representation in 200 top-rated television shows from 2018 and 2019 aired in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. The findings of the study highlight the disheartening reality of Muslims on screen.

“Muslims make up 25% of the world’s population, yet were only 1.1% of characters in popular television series,” said Al-Baab Khan, the study’s lead author at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. “Not only is this radical erasure an insult, it has the potential to create real-world injury for audiences, particularly Muslims who may be the victims of prejudice, discrimination, and even violence.”

Across the 8,885 speaking characters identified across the sample, there were nearly 90 non-Muslim characters for every 1 Muslim character seen on screen. There was no progress over time in the depiction of Muslim characters– 2% of characters in 2018 and less than 1% in 2019 were Muslim. Additionally, no differences were observed between U.S. and international (U.K., Australia, New Zealand) series.

Other figures from the study emphasize that Muslims were rendered invisible in popular television content. Of the 200 series examined, 174 or 87% did not feature any Muslim characters. Only 16 or 8% of shows examined had one or more Muslim characters in the plot.

Muslim characters were constrained to fit a particular profile in popular television series. More than two-thirds were male while only 30.6% were female. More than half (52%) were Middle Eastern/North African, while 28.6% were Asian and 13.3% were Black. In terms of age, 48.5% of Muslim characters were young adults while 25.8% were middle aged. No Muslim characters were young children (age 0-5), and only 2 elderly Muslims appeared in the sample.

“The findings in this study reveal how rarely content creators think about including Muslims in popular storytelling– particularly girls and women,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founder, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. “As a result, viewers would have to watch hours and hours of content before seeing even a single portrayal of a Muslim character– with even more time required to find a portrayal that is not linked to violence or extremism.”

The study’s qualitative findings demonstrate that stereotypes continue to be a hallmark of Muslim representation on screen. Muslim characters were often linked to violence. Over 30% of the 98 Muslim characters evaluated were perpetrators of violence while nearly 40% were targets of violent attacks. 

Popular series not only linked Muslims to violence, they often tied Muslims to “foreign” locations through story settings and language. Nearly two-thirds of Muslim characters were native speakers of a non-English language. Nearly half of those individuals spoke only in non-English languages (e.g., Arabic, French, Urdu, Hausa), while more than half used accented English. 

The occupations held by Muslim characters were also explored. Sixty percent of Muslim characters were employed. Male Muslim characters were far more likely (78.4%) than female Muslim characters (21.6%) to be shown with a job. The largest percentage of Muslim characters with a job were criminals (37.2%) while 15.7% worked in law enforcement. These figures demonstrate that popular series continued to reinforce old notions, often pitting “good” Muslims against “bad.”

Stereotypes about Muslim women were also present in the content. More than half of Muslim girls and women in the sample were shown wearing a hijab, even though Muslim boys and men were shown wearing a diverse range of attire (e.g., topis, kurtas, jeans, t-shirts, etc.). Muslim women were often depicted as fearful and submissive to their male counterparts. Nearly all of the Muslim women shown with a job in the study were employed in the medical field, though male Muslim characters worked in a wider variety of professions.  

“TV shows are the stories we bring into our homes. They play a big part in shaping how we understand the world, each other, and our place within it. This study reminds us that when it comes to Muslim portrayals, we’re still being fed a TV diet of stereotyping and erasure,” said Academy Award-winner Riz Ahmed. “For Muslims this sends a message that they don’t belong or don’t matter. For other people, we risk normalising fear, bigotry and stigmatisation against Muslims. Networks and streaming services need to embrace their responsibility to ensure Muslims of all backgrounds see themselves reflected in our favourite TV shows. And they would be wise to embrace this gigantic opportunity to reach and connect with an underserved global audience – not just as part of a passing diversity fad but as a decisive shift towards inclusive story-telling.”

The results on television mirror the findings from a study released by the same groups in 2021 on the prevalence of Muslim characters in popular films. That report also demonstrated the near absence of Muslims in popular content and the stereotypical portrayals that occurred when Muslims were on screen. The newest study offers solutions to increase the representation of Muslims in entertainment, including telling stories focused on Muslim characters, deepening the richness of portrayals for supporting Muslim characters, and casting Muslims to emphasize their participation in broader society. The report notes the need for inclusion policies and practices across entertainment to incorporate faith-based communities in addition to race/ethnicity and other identity groups.

“The Erased or Extremists study reveals the full extent of the problem facing Muslims in television, and the urgent need for solutions that allow for a more expansive landscape of stories,” said Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Fund Co-Founder and President. “With the Emmy Awards just around the corner, it couldn’t be a more appropriate time to examine whose stories get told on-screen. We hope television industry leaders take the necessary steps to improve their industry’s standards, using resources like this study and The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, which provides concrete recommendations for production companies, drama schools, casting directors, and others who are seeking to support Muslim storytellers.”

The full report is available here.

 

ABOUT USC ANNENBERG INCLUSION INITIATIVE
Launched more than 10 years ago by Founder Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is globally recognized for its valuable and sought-after research and solutions to advance equality in entertainment. The Initiative’s research studies span on-screen and behind-the-camera patterns in film and episodic storytelling; artists, songwriters, producers, and executives in music; economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films; industry-based research on animation and visual effects, and barriers and biases facing creatives across industries. The Initiative’s studies often focus on the prevalence and portrayal of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, disability, age, mental health, and faith-based communities. In 2015, LA Weekly named Dr. Smith the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles, and she has spoken at multiple high-profile engagements ranging from the TED Women stage to the United Nations. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR, among others. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s research reports include the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD), multiple landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, an annual investigation of on screen and behind the camera roles across more than 1,500 top-grossing films, and groundbreaking studies examining Netflix content, music executives, and the portrayal of specific racial/ethnic and faith-based communities. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is generously supported by The Annenberg Foundation, Pivotal Ventures, Netflix, Paramount, Spotify, Snap, Universal Music Group, Women in Animation, and other corporate and individual sponsors. To learn more, visit http://annenberg.usc.edu/aii or follow on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $7 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim stories, and organize Muslim donors to give together strategically. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

 

ABOUT FORD FOUNDATION

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

 

ABOUT RIZ AHMED

Actor, writer, producer, musician, and activist, Riz Ahmed, won the 2022 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film alongside director Aneil Karia for the short film “The Long Goodbye,” making Ahmed the first Muslim actor to win in this category. Ahmed was also nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and SAG Award for his lead performance in Amazon Prime Video’s SOUND OF METAL. He won the National Board of Review, IFP Gotham Award and Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor, as well as more than fourteen leading critics groups. Ahmed was named British/Irish Actor of the Year at the London Critics’ Circle 2020 Awards for his work in SOUND OF METAL and MOGUL MOWGLI. Ahmed became one of Hollywood’s most sought-after artists following the explosive success of HBO’s THE NIGHT OF (written and created by the legendary Steven Zaillan), for which he won an Emmy Award, and was Golden Globe and SAG Award nominated. Previously, Ahmed starred in successful feature films including Disney’s ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, Jacques Audiard’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS and Sony/Marvel’s VENOM. He first garnered industry attention in festival favorites FOUR LIONS and NIGHTCRAWLER. As a vocal advocate for inclusion, Ahmed published an award-winning piece in the Nikesh Shukla; the edited collection of essays “The Good Immigrant” has been described as “essential reading.” In spring 2017, he spoke at the prestigious British Parliament’s House of Commons about diversity and representation. That same year, he graced the cover of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. 

 

ABOUT LEFT HANDED FILMS

Left Handed Films was founded by Academy Award winner Riz Ahmed with a mission of stretching culture through telling fresh stories in bold ways.  In early 2021, it was announced that Left Handed Films had signed a first-look TV deal with Amazon Studios and hired former AMC exec Allie Moore to oversee production and development. THE LONG GOODBYE, a short film produced by Left Handed Films and written by/starring Ahmed, won the 2022 Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action). Left Handed Films also produced Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s FLEE, which made history as the first movie to earn Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and International Feature. . In 2020, the company produced MOGUL MOWGLI, directed by an exciting new voice in Bassam Tariq, which won the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, was nominated for a BAFTA Award for ‘Best British Film’, and received six British Independent Film Awards nominations, with the film taking home ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for Ahmed and ‘Best Music’. Left Handed Films currently has a wide-ranging slate of upcoming projects including an adaptation of EXIT WEST for Netflix in partnership with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions and Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO, a reimagining of HAMLET, and the comedy series THE SON OF GOOD FORTUNE for Amazon alongside Lulu Wang’s Local Time.

Back-to-School Reading List, Brought to You by Pillars Staff

One of the best ways to widen your perspective on social justice and community issues is through reading, listening, or watching new content. It could be a fantasy novel filled with metaphors or a documentary film about an extraordinary historical figure—new media introduces you to concepts and ideas you might never have considered before. 

Whether you’re returning to school or looking for the next best thing to read, Pillars staff has your back! We’ve asked our staff to recommend one piece of media that informs their work at Pillars. This back-to-school reading list has topics that range from what it means to be Muslim in the United States to why it is essential to start prioritizing mental wellness. Take a look below:

 

Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America by Vivek Bald

Recommended by: Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and President 

“One of my favorite quotes is from my dear friend and Pillars Muslim Narrative Change Fellow Hussein Rashid, who says there has never been an America without Muslims. This book captures some of that rich history of Muslims in America with such clarity and rich detail. We just recently passed the 75th anniversary of the partition of India, and one of the things that often gets overlooked in that history is the cruelty Bangladeshis faced in particular that eventually led to their sovereignty. Vivek Bald captures so much of the lost histories of South Asians in America that reframes how we understand both immigration and the role immigrants have played in shaping modern day America.” 

 

Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani 

Recommended by: Rimsha Ganatra, Development Manager

I still repeat things I learned from this book three years after reading it! It empowers you to look beyond your mistakes and think about growth as something agile and variable rather than linear. Pillars was created from a brave idea, and since its inception, we have encouraged our grantees, fellows, and peers to lean into their own brave and bold ideas to inspire and support others.”

 

Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire by Deepa Kumar

Recommended by: Kalia Abiade, Vice President, Programs

Dr. Kumar so clearly lays out how ‘Islamophobia’ is so much more about racism than it is about religious intolerance or hate. Yes, hate crimes and hate speech are real and experienced, but the roots are so much deeper and tangled. Anyone involved in the work to advance social justice would benefit from Dr. Kumar’s explanations of anti-Muslim racism as not only included in the project of empire but essential to it.”

 

The Nine Lives of Pakistan by Declan Walsh

Recommended by: Ali Reza Malik, Creative Producer

“This is actually the next book on my queue, after enough book-trusted friends of mine recommended it to me. It chronicles Declan Walsh’s ten-year journey throughout Pakistan distilled into nine essays, each highlighting a separate individual he encountered. On one hand, I’m intrigued to read an outsider’s perspective on the country, as sometimes I feel like an outsider myself, not having visited Pakistan in 18 years. On the other hand, I approach the book with reluctance, wary of any exoticism Declan’s perspective may inadvertently bring to these retellings.”

 

“The Nobel Lecture in Literature” in The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Recommended by: Katie Grimes, Communications Manager

Toni Morrison is a legend and a literary icon. While she can do no wrong, in my opinion, I especially recommend her Nobel Lecture in Literature, which can be found in this collection of her essays and speeches. Ms. Morrison won the Nobel prize for literature in 1993, and her speech at those awards was a love letter to language and the power it holds. It is here she pens her oft-quoted line: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Her approach to word-smithing is inspiring for the work we do every day at Pillars to explain the vision behind our actions.”

 

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Recommended by: Muaz Aznan, Program Associate

“Much like our work at Pillars Fund, A People’s History of the United States focuses on uplifting the voices and efforts of those who strive to make America better, but are often forgotten from common narratives of history.”

 

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People by Jack Shaheen

Recommended by: Arij Mikati, Managing Director, Culture Change

Reel Bad Arabs was my first conscious introduction into how film and television reinforced, and sometimes created, the beliefs that society held about me as an Arab woman. Since then, I have deepened my knowledge on how all marginalized communities suffer the consequences of the dominant culture’s gaze through art. The heart of our work on the Pillars Culture Change team is to change these rules and create a world where we can write our own stories that tell the truth about our communities, whether we are Muslim, Black, Brown, disabled, LGBTQ, undocumented, or all of the above and, beautifully, much more. P.S. If movies are more your thing, this book has been adapted into a wonderful documentary by the same title I highly recommend. Streaming on Kanopy for free!”

 

Self-Knowledge by The School of Life 

Recommended by: Bushra Aljaber, Digital Media Associate

The School of Life is known for its YouTube channel, where they help people understand themselves and those around them. Though tiny, this book is filled with multiple tools and questions to help us better understand our emotions when navigating complex situations. “ 

 

The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri

Recommended by: Nadia Z Ismail, Managing Director of People and Culture

The Ungrateful Refugee put into context a contemporary experience for refugees of my generation entering Western society. While I always grew up proud of who I was with no desire to assimilate, I understood that was a privilege as a person that didn’t need to assimilate to survive. This nonfiction helped me understand the (at time unfair) decisions refugees have to face when reckoning with their identity and their sense of belonging to truly succeed in Western society. As a professional that focuses on people and culture, any book like this one that helps me increase empathy for others experiences not like my own are books I recommend!”

 

The Whiteness of Wealth by Dorothy A Brown

Recommended by: Amirah Fauzi, Program Director, Catalyze Fund

The Whiteness of Wealth outlines how our current tax system privileges wealth patterns in historically white communities and penalizes wealth patterns in historically Black communities. Dorothy A Brown threads the book with her evolving understanding of finance—it isn’t the objective practice free of racism that she originally thought it was. As Pillars continues to grow our Catalyze Fund, The Whiteness of Wealth challenges us to rethink our systems and consider what gaps there may be between the communities we want to support and the communities who find ease in our processes.”

 

Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed 

Recommended by: Aya Nimer, Program Manager, Culture Change

Ahmed’s book was really formative for me— it gave me insight into how Islamic practice and traditions have evolved over time and how women were a part of that change. So much of our work in culture change is reframing our understanding of history and culture, and I believe this book does exactly that and informs my work at Pillars.”

Pillars Fund, MPAC and The Black List Announce Second Annual Muslim List

LOS ANGELES — Today, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Hollywood Bureau, Pillars Fund, and The Black List announced the ten writers selected for the second annual Muslim List. The Muslim List was first launched in 2020 to celebrate the array of diverse Muslim voices telling dynamic, honest, and complex stories, and highlights the very best emerging Muslim storytellers in film and television.

We are so pleased to announce the writers and projects selected for the 2022 Muslim List! In alphabetical order, they are:

ANDI, TODAY by Ida Yazdi
Andi Jamali, a 15-year-old Iranian American living in New Jersey, is suddenly reunited with her mother after ten years on a popular daytime talk show. After being apart for most of their lives, Andi and her mother, Maryam, must find a way to reconnect and make up for lost time.

ASTRAY by Faizan Kareem
A widowed Muslim doctor, also an aspiring Imam, grapples with his faith upon discovering his child’s transgender identity.

CHOKE by Rolla Selbak
Sara Beda is a martial artist whose dreams were destroyed, along with her family home, in the war in Syria. The story follows her and her family’s journey as Muslim refugees in the suburbs of America and her rise against adversity on her quest to become an MMA champion of the world.

CHOP CHOP by afshan d’souza-lodhi
CHOP CHOP is a dramedy that gives us an insight into the goings-on of an all-female halal butchers just outside the city. With Eid just around the corner and butcher shops nearby being closed down, the women won’t let anything, or anyone, get in the way.

COCOA DOLL by Jumai Yusuf
A young Black woman takes a nanny job for a rich white family, but soon uncovers that they’re hiding a deadly secret.

HEIRLOOM by Fawzia Mirza
Zareen, a queer, South Asian, Muslim woman, just got engaged to the love of her life. But when her mother refuses to let her wear the family heirloom jewelry at the wedding, she, her best friends, and fiancée turn their joint bachelorette party into a good ol’ fashioned heist.

LOST IN THE PINES by Chris Pickle & Asil Moussa
When a headstrong 14-year-old Muslim American girl Layla and her father, Will, crash their canoe on an epic backcountry camping trip, they are forced to hike 100 miles across the perilous forest to get help. Now in the unforgiving wilderness, they battle wolves, struggle against the elements, and join forces with a stray dog, all while finally coming to grips with their relationship after the death of Layla’s mother years earlier.

MIDNIGHT IN KANSAS by Malik Aziz
An established Black Muslim Hollywood attorney flies home to Kansas to defend his sister against her alleged attack on a white man.

RULES FOR CONDOMINIUM LIVING by Nastaran Dibai & Firoozeh Dumas
Set in Newport Beach in the late ’70s, this comedic coming-of-age story is told from the perspective of an Iranian teenager whose California dreams and family’s life are upended when Iran and America become official enemies due to the hostage crisis.

THE SKY WE LOOK UPON by Ali Imran Zaidi
On an overnight train through the rural Pacific Northwest, a newlywed couple returning home to feuding families is trapped in a bloody high-wire conflict — where they must choose a side to survive.

Additionally, we are pleased to share the following updates for alumni of the very first Muslim List:

  • Saleem Gondal (DRUM AND VERSE) was a finalist for the Pillars Artist Fellowship, and his MFA thesis film POST TERM was awarded the 2022 National Board of Review Student Grant.
  • The proof of concept short for Shireen Alihaji’s BLUE VEIL premiered at SFFILM and also screened at LALIFF. Shireen was chosen for the 2021 Cannes List, accepted to Athena Film Festival Workshop, was selected as a finalist for the Cassian Elwes Fellowship and the Chinonye Chukwu Emerging Writer Award, and was recently chosen to participate in the 2022 NALIP Media Market.

Participating organizations are thrilled to be collaborating on the Muslim List for a second year, and had the following to say about the partnership:

“Congratulations to the winners of our annual Muslim List. It’s so wonderful to be back for a second year. Each of the ten writers and their projects fills me with great hope for the future. We’re honored to be partnering again with the Black List and the Pillars Fund. Thank you to Franklin Leonard, Kate Hagen, the Black List team, Arij Mikati and the team at the Pillars Fund for their collaboration.” – Sue Obeidi, Director, MPAC Hollywood Bureau

“Congratulations to our 2022 winners! Once again, The Muslim List shows our communities are brimming with an abundance of creative talent and provides Hollywood with a remarkable opportunity to invest directly in this next generation of Muslim creatives.” – Arij Mikati, Managing Director of Culture Change, Pillars Fund

“I said last year that it was an honor to partner with both MPAC and Pillars Fund and it’s doubly so this year. These scripts and writers are incredibly exciting, and I look forward to seeing these and other stories on all manner of screens in the not too distant future.” – Franklin Leonard, CEO, The Black List

 

ABOUT MPAC
The MPAC Hollywood Bureau changes the narrative of Muslims in the entertainment industry so that audiences see Muslims as vital contributors to creating social and cultural change in America and around the world. They do this by engaging decision makers and creatives to improve the quality of authentic, nuanced, and inclusive depictions of Muslims and by creating opportunities for Muslim storytellers to tell their own stories.

ABOUT PILLARS FUND
Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $7 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim storytellers, and organize Muslim donors to give together strategically.

ABOUT THE BLACK LIST
The Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays, was founded in 2005. Since then, at least 440 Black List scripts have been produced, grossing over $30 billion in box office worldwide. Black List movies have won 54 Academy Awards from 267 nominations, including four of the last twelve Best Picture Oscars and eleven of the last 28 Best Screenplay Oscars. More information on the Black List is available at www.blcklst.com.

Call for Ideas: Pillars Fund Now Accepting Grant Submissions from Muslim Nonprofits

CHICAGO — Pillars Fund is now accepting ideas through September 1 for their 2023 Catalyze Fund grants.

Pillars is a Chicago-based foundation, and its network of Muslim donors has been supporting Muslim-led social change for more than a decade. In 2022, Pillars invested $2 million in organizations developing thoughtful, multidisciplinary approaches to inequity and injustice. In 2023, the foundation plans to distribute its largest annual funding amount to date.

To qualify for Pillars’ grants, organizations must meet the following criteria:

  • Prioritize Muslim leadership and serve Muslim communities
  • Be based in the U.S. and serve populations living in the U.S. 
  • Align with one of Pillars’ three focus areas: reimagining public safety, promoting mental health and wellness, or building civic power 
  • Have 501(c)(3) status or be sponsored by a fiscal agent by September 29, 2022

“Whether they are challenging systems of mass surveillance, cultivating stronger community civic engagement, or conducting research to better understand Muslim wellness, Pillars grantee partners are taking on our country’s most pressing challenges,” said Amirah Fauzi, Program Director, Catalyze Fund, Pillars Fund. “In this Call for Ideas, we look forward to hearing from transformative leaders, and we are excited to grow our grantee network next year.”

First-year grantees receive one-year awards starting at $25,000—exact amounts depend on a range of factors, including the project or organization need and available funds. Organizations that have already received Pillars’ grants are often eligible for increased award amounts when they reapply the following year. 

Alongside awards, Pillars offers all its grant recipients flexible funding, professional development opportunities, digital media support, and networking within nonprofit and philanthropy spaces to develop relationships among established institutions.

Grant submissions are due September 1, 2022, at 12 p.m. Central Time.

More information about Pillars grants and how to apply is available on the Pillars website

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $7 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim stories, and organize Muslim donors to give together strategically. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

Watch our Pillars Artist Fellows Sizzle Reel

Watch our sizzle reel video to meet the 2022 Pillars Artist Fellows!

These talented storytellers from the U.S. and U.K. inspire a bold vision for tomorrow, shaping narratives that help us see ourselves differently in this world and create a future of possibility.

This week, the fellows will be meeting each other for the first time in New York. During this time, they will learn from industry insiders and have the chance to explore the legacies of storytelling across Muslim experiences. The fellowship is part of a partnership with Left Handed Films and sponsored by Netflix and Amazon Studios.

Pillars Fund, Riz Ahmed and Left Handed Films Announce Inaugural Cohort of Pillars Artist Fellows

Pillars Fund, Riz Ahmed and Left Handed Films are thrilled to announce the inaugural cohort of the Pillars Artist Fellowship, an initiative sponsored by Netflix and Amazon Studios. Selected fellows include ten emerging Muslim directors and writers, seven from the U.S. and three from the U.K.

The Pillars Artist Fellowship champions and mentors Muslim directors and writers whose presence behind the screen will be game-changing for the film and television industries. In addition to an unrestricted award of $25,000, each fellow will receive mentorship from industry experts on how to navigate the business of Hollywood, professional development and creative guidance in their fields, and access to a trailblazing advisory committee of award-winning Muslim actors, directors, producers and writers. 

The 2022 Pillars Artist Fellows include the following artists:

  • Fateme Ahmadi, Director, London
  • Zeshawn Ali, Director, New York
  • Aqsa Altaf, Director, Los Angeles
  • Nausheen Dadabhoy, Director, New York
  • Imran J. Khan, Director, Los Angeles
  • Karim Khan, Writer, Oxford, U.K.
  • Myriam Raja, Director, London
  • Nadra Widatalla, Writer, Los Angeles
  • Farida Zahran, Director, New York
  • Ali Imran Zaidi, Writer, Los Angeles

“We spent months getting to know many talented candidates for the Pillars Artist Fellowship,” said Kashif Shaikh, Co-founder and President, Pillars Fund. “We are honored to work with these incredible artists and are excited to provide them resources to reach even greater heights in the coming year.”

“There were hundreds of strong applicants from which this inaugural class of bold new voices was selected, crystallizing our belief that rectifying and reimagining Muslim representation in film means empowering Muslim filmmakers,” said Riz Ahmed and Allie Moore of Left Handed Films. “The talent is out there. Through the Pillars Artist Fellowship they will be supported in creating freely, navigating industry barriers, and building a community of peers and allies. We’re thrilled to see how their work will grow with the creative support and financial resources granted by the Fellowship, and the generosity of our sponsors, advisory board members, and creative allies.”

In addition to the financial award, the fellowship comprises eight months of programming, including retreats in London, New York and Los Angeles to learn, connect and create outside the boundaries of anti-Muslim bias.

“Muslims are the most racially and geographically diverse faith group in the world, and our inaugural cohort of Pillars Artist Fellows span multiple identities across race, age and gender and represent a range of experiences in their storytelling and points of view,” said Arij Mikati, Managing Director of Culture Change, Pillars Fund. “We are particularly proud to have six women among our ten fellows, who will bring an incredibly needed and valuable voice to writers’ rooms and decision-making spaces across the industry.”

The cohort members’ expertises span medium and genre, including fellows with experience in documentary, short film and feature film. Learn more about each fellow here

 

The 2022 Pillars Artist Fellowship was generously made possible by: Netflix, Amazon Studios, A24, WarnerMedia

The 2022 Pillars Artist Fellowship Advisory Committee includes: Riz Ahmed, Bisha K. Ali, Mahershala Ali, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Yann Mounir Demange, Lena Khan, Nida Manzoor, Hasan Minhaj, Nijla Mu’min, Jehane Noujaim, Bassam Tariq, Ramy Youssef

The 2022 Pillars Artist Fellowship Industry Mentors include: Sydney Coleman, A24; Aaron Janus, Netflix; Kauveh Khozein Carrera, Netflix; Gabriella Kramer-Khan, Sky; Jessica Sharzer, Screenwriter; Dan Silver, Netflix; Hilary Tholen, A24; Bradford Young, Cinematographer

We would like to acknowledge the incredible 2022 Pillars Artist Fellowship runner-up applicants: Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Riffy Ahmed, Saleem Gondal, Justin Mashouf, Fawzia Mirza, Kashif Pasta, Tamer Shaaban, Samira Thomas

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $7 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim stories, and organize Muslim donors to give together strategically. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

 

ABOUT LEFT HANDED FILMS

Left Handed Films is the production company started by Riz Ahmed, focused on stretching culture through telling fresh stories in bold ways. In January 2021, it was announced that Left Handed has a first-look television deal with Amazon Studios and hired former AMC exec Allie Moore to oversee production and development.

The company has two films currently nominated for 2022 Academy Awards, including The Long Goodbye which is nominated for Best Short Film and Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, which made history as the first movie to earn Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and International Feature. Their most recent film, Mogul Mowgli, directed by an exciting new voice in Bassam Tariq, won the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, was nominated for a BAFTA Award for ‘Best British Film’, and received six British Independent Film Awards nominations, with the film taking home ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for Ahmed and ‘Best Music’. 

Left Handed Films has a wide-ranging slate of upcoming projects including an adaptation of Exit West for Netflix in partnership with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions and Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO, a reimagining of Hamlet, and the comedy series The Son of Good Fortune for Amazon alongside Lulu Wang’s Local Time. 

Pillars Fund Announces Grants for Visionary Muslim Nonprofits

Today, Pillars Fund is honored to announce the recipients of the 2022 Pillars Catalyze Fund grants, an annual initiative that supports a vibrant group of Muslim civic leaders. This year Pillars is supporting 32 Muslim-led nonprofit organizations with a combined $2 million in grants, the largest funding amount in the foundation’s history.

Pillars is a Chicago-based foundation, and its network of Muslim donors has been supporting Muslim-led social change for more than a decade. These organizations are addressing mass surveillance, immigrant detention, money bond, religious discrimination, mental health, and voter engagement, among other urgent issues. 

“Our country is in desperate need of leaders to help us build safer, more healthy, more equitable communities. Muslims are at the forefront of these challenges. Pillars Fund is honored to stand behind our grantees, whose transformational leadership is changing the game for all of us,” said Kashif Shaikh, Co-founder and President, Pillars Fund.

Pillars grantee partners are taking on our country’s most pressing challenges. With midterm elections approaching, Pillars grantees are already cultivating stronger community civic engagement in Georgia and other areas notorious for voter disenfranchisement. As criminal justice reform continues to be a national conversation, Pillars grantees are building on wins in Illinois to challenge money bond systems nationwide. And during a pandemic that continues to wear upon mental health, Pillars grantees are conducting research to better understand what healing and wellness can look like for Muslims in the U.S.

“Today’s Muslim leaders are continuing a long legacy of organizing movements across this country,” said Kalia Abiade, Vice President of Programs, Pillars Fund. “Pillars grantees have bold ideas that deserve our attention and full support. When so many of us long for a more just society, we are excited and honored to fund these Muslim leaders who are envisioning and driving that future for us all.”

This year, Pillars is awarding larger multi-year support to ten organizations to equip them with the resources they need to build stronger organizations and transform society. The goal of this support is to allow organizations to grow and build movements that outlast the current moment. To all of its grant recipients, Pillars offers flexible funding, professional development opportunities, digital media support, and networking within nonprofit and philanthropy spaces to develop relationships among established institutions. 

The 2022 Pillars grantees include the following organizations: 

  • Action Center on Race and the Economy
  • American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute
  • American Muslim Health Professionals
  • The Appellate Project
  • Believers Bail Out
  • CUNY’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility Project
  • Dream of Detroit
  • Emgage Foundation
  • Faith in Action’s Muslim Power Building Project
  • Georgia Muslim Voter Project
  • Global Deaf Muslim USA
  • Hurma Project
  • Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition
  • Inner-City Muslim Action Network
  • Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
  • International Museum of Muslim Cultures
  • Inverse Surveillance Project
  • Justice for Muslims Collective
  • MALIKAH
  • Maristan
  • MPower Change
  • Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative
  • Muslim Wellness Foundation
  • National Immigration Project
  • New American Leaders
  • Pillars of the Community
  • Project South
  • Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment
  • Sapelo Square
  • Stanford Muslim Mental Health and Islamic Psychology Lab
  • Vigilant Love
  • Yemeni American Merchants Association

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $8 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim stories, and give collectively to generate resources within Muslim communities for our common benefit. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

Presenting The 2021/2022 Muslim List

The Muslim Public Affairs Council, Pillars Fund, and The Black List Present The 2021/2022 Muslim List

In partnership with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Hollywood Bureau and Pillars Fund, The Black List today announced the opening of submissions for the second annual Muslim List. Following the GLAAD List, CAPE List, Latinx Feature and TV Lists, the Disability List and the Indigenous List, this is the blcklst.com partnership to exclusively highlight Muslim screenwriters. The top ten original feature films and pilot scripts submitted will be selected for the second Muslim List.

Submissions will remain open via blcklst.com from December 1, 2021 to February 28, 2022. Eligible writers may submit their scripts any time during that period, with an evaluations purchase deadline of January 28, 2022. For more information about requirements and eligibility, please read the FAQ.

Selected writers will be notified of their placement in spring 2022, with a public announcement to follow.

Requirements for The Muslim List are below:

  • Writers should identify as Muslim. While writers can be from any country of origin, they must currently reside in the U.S.
  • Writing teams are eligible as long as one member of the team identifies as Muslim.
  • Scripts can be multilingual as long as they are written primarily in English.
  • Feature films and original television pilots will be accepted, no web series or documentaries please.

Participating organizations are thrilled to launch the second edition of The Muslim List and had the below to say about the partnership:

“The 2020 Muslim List was a great success and we couldn’t be more excited to partner with The Black List and Pillars Fund on the 2nd annual Muslim List. American Muslim communities are rich with talent and we’re honored to provide opportunities that help move the needle forward. We are grateful to Franklin Leonard and the entire Black List team for elevating the voices, stories, and profiles of American Muslims through the list.” -Sue Obeidi, Director, MPAC, Hollywood Bureau

“We are delighted to bring back The Muslim List for a second year. This is an incredible opportunity for Hollywood to support talented Muslim voices and to see what is possible when they pass us the mic.” -Arij Mikati, Managing Director of Culture Change, Pillars Fund

“It remains disappointing that lists like this and others remain so necessary in the film and television industries in 2021, but one silver lining is that it gives us a good excuse to partner with extraordinary folks like MPAC and Pillars in increasing the visibility of a wide variety of scripts from Muslim writers. I’m very much looking forward to reading the work of the writers we find this year and, even moreso, seeing the films and television that they write beyond that.” -Franklin Leonard, Founder, the Black List

Additionally, writers from the inaugural Muslim List have found success since being announced in May of 2021:

  • Shireen Alihaji’s BLUE VEIL, also placed on the Cannes List, was developed and workshopped as a part of the Athena Writers Lab, and is a finalist for the Cassian Elwes Independent Screenwriting Fellowship. A proof of concept is also available and playing film festivals this fall. 
  • Nabeel Arshad is currently developing his script ULTIMATE SUCCESS with Ahmed Musiol at Familiar Stranger, and is staffed on COCOMELON.
  • Nadra Widatalla is in development with a major studio.

For more information, please contact Kate Hagen (kate@blcklst.com)

 

ABOUT THE BLACK LIST

The Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays, was founded in 2005. Since then, at least 440 Black List scripts have been produced, grossing over $30 billion in box office worldwide. Black List movies have won 54 Academy Awards from 267 nominations, including four of the last twelve Best Picture Oscars and eleven of the last 28 Best Screenplay Oscars.

In October of 2012, the Black List launched a unique online community where screenwriters make their work available to readers, buyers and employers. Since its inception, it has hosted nearly 80,000 screenplays and teleplays and provided more than 130,000 script evaluations. As a direct result of introductions made on the Black List, dozens of writers have found representation at major talent agencies and management companies, as well as sold or optioned their screenplays. Several films have been produced from scripts showcased on the website including Golden Globe nominated NIGHTINGALE, starring David Oyelowo.

Currently, the Black List hosts over 5,000 scripts by approximately 3,700 writer members. These scripts are available for download by industry professionals ranging from agency assistants, to studio and network presidents, to A-list actors and directors.

The Black List’s first feature production, COME AS YOU ARE, debuted at SXSW in 2019 and is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (98% Critics, 80% Audience). Its second feature, BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY, directed by Oscar-nominated director Tate Taylor and starring Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, and Juliette Lewis, was released in February 2021 by MGM Studios.

More information on the Black List is available at www.blcklst.com. For regular updates, join our mailing list or follow the Black List on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

ABOUT THE MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL (MPAC)

MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau changes the narrative of Muslims in the entertainment industry so that audiences see Muslims as vital contributors to creating social and cultural change in America and around the world. They do this by engaging decision makers and creatives to improve the quality of authentic, nuanced, and inclusive depictions of Muslims and by creating opportunities for Muslim storytellers to tell their own stories.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND 

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since its founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $6 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. Pillars invests in community-focused initiatives, pushes back against harmful narratives, uplifts Muslim stories, and gives collectively to generate resources within Muslim communities for social good. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

 

New Personnel Database For Muslims In Film Addresses Inequality Behind The Screen

Today, Pillars Fund announces the launch of the Pillars Muslim Artist Database, a professional network created to bring more Muslims into the filmmaking process. The database was created in collaboration with and support from The Walt Disney Company. 

The new database includes profiles for actors, directors, cinematographers, sound technicians, and other Muslim professionals working below and above the line in the filmmaking industry in the United States. The network is accessible to directors, producers, and casting directors who can search the profiles and invite artists to collaborate on their projects. 

“Our communities have largely been missing from behind and in front of the camera for decades. Not only has this led to terrible misrepresentations of Muslims on screen, but there is an entire demographic of talented artists who have been underutilized,” says Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Fund Co-founder and President. “Pillars is incredibly grateful to Disney for partnering with us on this important and historic resource. We are making it easier than ever before to find Muslim professionals to work on a film or television project.”

A groundbreaking study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released in June revealed the extent to which Muslim characters are missing on screen and are depicted with dangerous stereotypes. In response to these stark findings, Pillars Fund published The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, which encourages industry leaders to hire Muslim crew members so that talent behind the scenes can improve the quality of portrayals on screen. The Pillars Muslim Artist Database offers the entertainment industry an easy way to start making these connections.

“As part of our Reimagine Tomorrow endeavor to amplify underrepresented voices and untold stories, we are honored to support the new Pillars Muslim Artist Database,” said Latondra Newton, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of The Walt Disney Company. “The database is an additional tool for our teams and creatives across the industry to use as they develop more inclusive stories.”

“There is an abundance and richness of talent in our communities, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to invite the industry to learn from and work with us,” says Arij Mikati, Pillars Fund Managing Director of Culture Change. “Sourcing diverse talent is a crucial part of moving the film industry into a future that better reflects the demographics and experiences of our present.”

The Pillars Muslim Artist Database adds to an existing cohort of personnel databases that lift up creators from underrepresented backgrounds, including Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Crew and NALIP’s Latino Media Resource Project.

More details about the database can be found at artists.pillarsfund.org.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $6 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim stories, and give collectively to generate resources within Muslim communities for social good. Learn more at pillarsfund.org

Call for Applications: Pillars Artist Fellowship

Pillars Fund, Riz Ahmed and Left Handed Films partner to support Muslims behind the camera with new fellowship for Muslim directors and screenwriters.

 

Applications for the Pillars Artist Fellowship will be open to emerging Muslim directors and screenwriters July 29 through September 1 at 4:59 p.m. CDT.

The Pillars Artist Fellowship is a first-of-its-kind program to support Muslim directors and screenwriters on their pathways to success. Selected fellows will each receive an unrestricted award of $25,000, high-quality one-on-one mentorship, professional development in their field and access to a trailblazing advisory committee of award-winning actors, directors, producers, and writers. Committee members include Riz Ahmed, Bisha K. Ali, Mahershala Ali, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Yann Mounir Demange, Lena Khan, Nida Manzoor, Hasan Minhaj, Nijla Mu’min, Jehane Noujaim, Bassam Tariq and Ramy Youssef.

“At Pillars, we seek to value Muslim artists as much as we value the art they give us,” says Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Fund Co-founder and President. “Investing in storytellers means investing in art that shapes our culture and our future.”

“Investing in storytellers means investing in art that shapes our culture and our future.”

The fellowship builds on findings from last month’s groundbreaking study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that revealed the extent to which Muslim characters are missing on screen and are depicted with dangerous stereotypes. In response to these stark findings, Pillars Fund announced the launch of The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion alongside the Pillars Artist Fellowship.

“The Pillars Artist Fellowship is not about creating ‘positive’ stories about Muslims. We developed this program to support Muslims who want to tell authentic and provocative stories, full of the mess, nuance and beauty that exists across the human experience,” says Arij Mikati, Pillars Fund Managing Director of Culture Change. “Muslim communities often face economic hardship—Muslims in the U.S. are the most likely faith community to live in poverty, and half of British Muslims live below the poverty line. Providing artists with the financial means to pursue their talents without worrying about paying the bills can be transformative.”

To qualify for the fellowship, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Applicants must be directors or screenwriters who identify as Muslim.
  • Applicants must be emerging artists. These are artists who are at a point in their career where they’re honing in on their style and have had 0–2 mainstream opportunities (such as being staffed on a major project in a writer’s room).
  • Applicants must live in the US or UK (citizenship is not required).
  • Applicants must be adults 18 years old or older.

More details about the fellowship can be found here.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND
Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $6 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim stories, and give collectively to generate resources within Muslim communities for Muslim communities. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

ABOUT RIZ AHMED
Riz Ahmed is an Academy Award nominated actor, writer, producer, and musician, as well as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People (listed in 2017). Themes of inclusion and representation run throughout Riz’s work as a creator and activist, from his roles in projects such as SOUND OF METAL, THE NIGHT OF, and MOGUL MOWGLI, to his essay in Nikesh Shukla’s “The Good Immigrant,” his 2017 address to Parliament on diversity in the creative industries, and his appointment to the Mayor of London’s 2021 Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Whether he’s using his power as a producer to bring refugee narratives to our screens via his production company Left Handed Film, writing about the inequalities of the Covid pandemic as contributing editor of British Vogue, or exploring Britishness through his critically-acclaimed music release “The Long Goodbye,” the Gold List A100 honoree is driven by a mission to stretch culture, reimagine our narratives and landscapes of belonging, and include rather than divide.

ABOUT LEFT HANDED FILMS
Left Handed Films is the production company started by Riz Ahmed, focused on stretching culture through telling fresh stories in bold ways. In Jan 2021, it was announced that Left Handed Films inked a first-look television deal with Amazon Studios and hired former AMC exec Allie Moore to oversee production and development.

Left Handed Films has several projects on the horizon including Mogul Mowgli, a genre-busting, culturally hybrid, and award-winning debut feature from an exciting new voice in Bassam Tariq. The film is co-written, starring and produced by Ahmed and premiered at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize. It was nominated for a BAFTA Award for ‘Best British Film’ and received six British Independent Film Awards nominations, with the film taking home ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for Ahmed and ‘Best Music’. Strand will release the drama in the U.S. this year.

Catalyze Fund: Apply for a Pillars Grant by August 3

Pillars is accepting your best ideas for the 2021-22 Catalyze Grant cycle for just two more weeks! This Call for Ideas is open to new applicants until August 3 at 5:00 p.m. Central.

APPLY NOW >

The Pillars Catalyze Fund is ideal for nonprofit organizations working in or closely alongside Muslim communities in the United States and aligned with at least one of our three focus areas:

  • Reimagining public safety – Work that strives to end the unjust criminalization of Muslim communities. This includes issues like mass surveillance, racial and religious profiling, immigrant detention and deportation, prisoners’ rights, and ending money bail.
  • Promoting mental health and wellness – Work to build mental healthcare systems that better serve Muslim communities and to reimagine what healing for Muslims can look like. This includes initiatives conducting research, building awareness, training and education, and coalition-building.
  • Building civic power – Work that supports Muslim leaders who are organizing communities, creating relevant civic media, training potential political candidates, mobilizing voters, and ultimately transforming our democracy to one that serves us all.

The Catalyze Grant process involves two key phases for new applicants:

  1. Submit your idea. Nonprofit organizations aligned with Pillars mission and at least one of our three focus areas above submit an idea by August 3 at 5 p.m. CT through our grant portal. These submissions will be reviewed by a team of community reviewers and Pillars staff.
  2. If invited, submit a full proposal. In late August, Pillars will notify organizations about the status of their submission. Invited organizations will have about four weeks to complete a full proposal. Awarded grants will be disbursed in early 2022.

We look forward to learning more about your work and exciting ideas! Click here to get started and to create an online account. And, we’d love to hear from you. Please send any questions to our team at grants@pillarsfund.org.

A Gift from Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott

We are humbled to share that MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett have made an unrestricted $6 million gift to Pillars Fund. This is nothing short of transformative for Pillars and will have an effect that reverberates throughout the communities we serve. Muslims in this country face grave challenges that threaten our right to live joyfully and freely as ourselves. This gift is an affirmation of the communities we’ve been blessed to support and the commitment of our trustees and supporters to this collective effort. We are honored to have this opportunity to help transform our cultural landscape.

This gift will have a long-term impact for Pillars and our partners, but our first step will be to immediately add $1 million from this award directly into our Catalyze Fund in 2022. This means that more of our current grantees will get larger awards to continue and sustain the critical work they already do. We’ll also be able to expand our grantmaking to support more Muslim-led organizations and efforts. Second, we plan to launch a fellowship for Muslim civic leaders later this year. There is an ecosystem of gifted Muslim leaders who need support as they continue to fight for all of us. It has long been our goal to complement our grantmaking with a fellowship that provides these emerging leaders with financial and professional support, and this gift allows us to do that sooner than we anticipated. Finally, this award will help fortify our organizational and community infrastructure so we can all continue this work for years to come.

To learn more about Pillars grantmaking and how to apply, please visit pillarsfund.org/grants/apply/.

Coalition Unites to Define and Address Issues of Muslim Representation in Film

A new study Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative funded by the Ford Foundation reveals erasure and demeaning portrayals of Muslim characters across 200 top films.

Pillars Fund announces the launch of The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion and the Pillars Artist Fellowship in response to study findings.

 

Muslims are the fastest growing and most racially and ethnically diverse religious community in the world. Yet according to a new study released today, Muslim characters are missing on screen and when they do appear in popular movies, are depicted with dangerous stereotypes that can create psychological and physical harm.

The report, entitled Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies was released by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative with support from Academy Award-nominated actor Riz Ahmed, the Ford Foundation and Pillars Fund. The groundbreaking study includes a quantitative and qualitative exploration of Muslim representation in 200 popular films from the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand released between 2017 and 2019. The results point to the scope of the problem and have prompted action from this coalition of voices to tackle some of the underlying reasons for the lack of Muslims in popular movies.

“The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded,” said Academy Award-nominated actor Riz Ahmed. “The data doesn’t lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives.”

“The data doesn’t lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives.”

As Ahmed notes, the problem is vast. Less than 2% of more than 8,500 speaking characters across the films examined were Muslim. When the movies were examined by country of origin, 5.6% of characters in 32 Australian films were Muslim, as were 1.1% of characters in 100 U.S. movies, and 1.1% of characters in 63 U.K. films. None of the 5 movies from New Zealand featured a Muslim character in a speaking role on screen.

The overall percentages reveal one metric regarding the invisibility of Muslims, but the study also catalogues the erasure of this community in another way. Less than 10% of the 200 films studied– 9.5% or 19 movies– featured at least one Muslim character speaking on screen. In other words, 90.5% of movies did not include a single Muslim character in a speaking role.

“The erasure of Muslim characters is particularly notable in animation, where not one of the animated movies we examined featured a Muslim character,” said Dr. Smith. “Paired with the finding that only 7 Muslim characters were children, popular movies send a strong message to children that Muslims do not belong and are not worthy of inclusion in storytelling. Is this the lesson we want young viewers to learn about themselves or others: that if you are Muslim it is acceptable to be erased?”

The study also explored the intersectional nature of Muslim identity. The majority of Muslim characters were boys and men (76.4%) while 23.6% of all Muslim characters were girls and women. The majority (66.7%) of Muslim characters were Middle Eastern/North African, 20.8% were Asian, 5.6% were Black/African American, 4.2% where white, and 2.8% were multiracial/ multiethnic. Only 1 Muslim character was identified with the LGBTQ community and 1 Muslim character was shown with a disability.

When Muslim characters do appear in film, a set of qualitative findings from the report shed light on the ways that the community is stereotyped: as outsiders, threatening, and as subservient, particularly to white characters. Just over half of all Muslim characters appeared in films set in the past, and the majority were shown in the Middle East/North Africa, India, or Europe. Essentially, Muslim characters were primarily shown in places other than the countries whose films were included in the study.

“More than half of the primary and secondary Muslim characters in these films were immigrants, migrants, or refugees, which along with other findings in the study consistently rendered Muslims as ‘foreign,’” said Al-Baab Khan, one of the study authors. “Muslims live all over the world, but film audiences only see a narrow portrait of this community, rather than viewing Muslims as they are: business owners, friends and neighbors whose presence is part of modern life. By presenting Muslims in an abundance of storylines, audiences can see and resonate with the innumerable experiences of Muslims from all walks of life.”

The report also notes that roughly one-third of Muslim characters are perpetrators of violence, and more than half are targets of violence. Muslim primary and secondary characters are also likely to be shown in clothing or with artifacts that reflect their faith. Additionally, Muslim women continue to be shown in stereotyped and submissive ways. The few primary and secondary Muslim women characters were primarily shown as potential romantic partners or family members. Read the full report at http:///annenberg.usc.edu/aii.

In response to these findings, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative joined a coalition of partners spearheaded by Pillars Fund to create The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion.

“The Missing and Maligned study reveals the scope of the problem facing Muslims in entertainment, and the urgent need for solutions that increase the presence of Muslim voices in storytelling,” said Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Fund Co-Founder and President. “The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion offers a direct response to these findings by providing a broad set of recommendations for film industry professionals. We’re excited to support the industry to take practical steps towards more nuanced portrayals that amplify Muslim voices, from sunsetting terror tropes and signing first look deals with Muslim creatives to including Muslims in diversity, equity, and inclusion programming.”

The Blueprint includes short, medium, and long-term solutions for change, concrete recommendations for everyone from production companies to drama schools, and a suite of practical resources and contacts to support everything from script screening to casting. Read the full set of recommendations here.

In addition, Pillars Fund in partnership with Riz Ahmed and Left Handed Films is announcing an innovative new fellowship that seeks to transform the cultural landscape by creating opportunities for Muslim storytellers.

The Pillars Artist Fellowship will focus on Muslim artists in the U.S. and U.K. at the early stage of their career, offering multiple selected fellows an unrestricted award of $25,000 and career development support.

The Pillars Artist Fellowship will focus on Muslim artists in the U.S. and U.K. at the early stage of their career, offering multiple selected fellows an unrestricted award of $25,000 and career development support.

The hope is that substantial financial and professional support can create the kind of talent pipeline that will help shift on-screen representation. Championing the artist fellows will be an advisory committee of Muslim artists who have been trailblazers in the industry, including Riz Ahmed, Mahershala Ali, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Lena Khan, Nida Manzoor, Hasan Minhaj, Jehane Noujaim, and Ramy Youssef.

Designed as a multi-year program, the fellowship will focus in its first pilot year on directors and writers from film and television. In further years, it will expand to cover storytellers from other disciplines, including literature, music, and visual arts. In addition to the unrestricted grant, Pillars Artist Fellows will receive a curriculum of tailored professional development resources including workshops delivered by industry experts, fireside chats from the high-profile advisory committee, and proactive one-on-one mentorship.

“Muslim communities are bursting with talent—it’s our duty and privilege to support these incredible artists and provide them the opportunity to tell their own stories,” said Arij Mikati, Pillars Fund Managing Director of Culture Change. “Right now, a pathway to success doesn’t exist for many Muslim creatives. The Pillars Artist Fellowship addresses this by providing them the funds, connections, and high-support, high-challenge community needed to reach their greatest aspirations.”

“Muslim communities are bursting with talent—it’s our duty and privilege to support these incredible artists and provide them the opportunity to tell their own stories.”

Riz Ahmed added: “I know the industry has the imagination and the resources to fix this problem. Now it must show the will, and the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion can offer a practical roadmap for change. The Fellowship also offers a meaningful way to intervene. Having a source of unrestricted funding for Muslim artists and storytellers will be game changing. Muslim communities in the US and UK are amongst the most economically disadvantaged, and yet currently there’s nothing else out there like the Pillars Artist Fellowship which really invests and believes in the talent pipeline. Had I not received a scholarship and also a private donation, I wouldn’t have been able to attend drama school.”

“Film and television provide a powerful lens through which we see and understand the cultures and communities around us and relate to the world at large,” said Noorain Khan, director of the Office of the President for the Ford Foundation. “For too long, depictions of Muslims in entertainment have failed to match the richness and diversity of our lived experiences and we have felt the impact of these flattened portrayals firsthand. At Ford, we are proud to support the collective efforts of the Pillars Fund, Riz Ahmed, and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to clearly illuminate the extent of the misrepresentation and create a roadmap towards a more just future.”

Pillars Artist Fellows will be selected via nomination process and will be announced later this year. See here for more information.

 

ABOUT USC ANNENBERG INCLUSION INITIATIVE

Launched more than 10 years ago by Founder Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the Initiative is globally recognized for its valuable and sought-after research solutions to advance equality in entertainment. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examine gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, disability, and age on screen and gender and race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic and television content as well as barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the entertainment industry. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also conducts economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films. In 2015, LA Weekly named Dr. Smith the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles, and she has spoken at multiple high-profile engagements ranging from the TED Women stage to the White House and at the United Nations. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR, among others. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s research reports include the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD), multiple landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, and their yearly investigation of on screen and behind the camera roles across more than 1,100 top-grossing films. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is generously supported by The Annenberg Foundation, The David and Lura Lovell Foundation, and other corporate and individual sponsors. To learn more, visit http://annenberg.usc.edu/aii or follow on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook.

 

ABOUT PILLARS FUND

Pillars Fund amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States to advance opportunity and justice for all. Since our founding in 2010, Pillars has distributed more than $6 million in grants to Muslim organizations and leaders who advance social good. We invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, uplift Muslim stories, and give collectively to generate resources within Muslim communities for Muslim communities. Learn more at pillarsfund.org.

 

ABOUT FORD FOUNDATION

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

 

ABOUT RIZ AHMED

Riz Ahmed is an Academy Award nominated actor, writer, producer, and musician, as well as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People (listed in 2017). Themes of inclusion and representation run throughout Riz’s work as a creator and activist, from his roles in projects such as SOUND OF METAL, THE NIGHT OF, and MOGUL MOWGLI, to his essay in Nikesh Shukla’s “The Good Immigrant,” his 2017 address to Parliament on diversity in the creative industries, and his appointment to the Mayor of London’s 2021 Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Whether he’s using his power as a producer to bring refugee narratives to our screens via his production company Left Handed Film, writing about the inequalities of the Covid pandemic as contributing editor of British Vogue, or exploring Britishness through his critically-acclaimed music release “The Long Goodbye,” the Gold List A100 honoree is driven by a mission to stretch culture, reimagine our narratives and landscapes of belonging, and include rather than divide.

 

ABOUT LEFT HANDED FILMS

Left Handed Films is the production company started by Riz Ahmed, focused on stretching culture through telling fresh stories in bold ways. In Jan 2021, it was announced that Left Handed Films inked a first-look television deal with Amazon Studios and hired former AMC exec Allie Moore to oversee production and development.

Left Handed Films has several projects on the horizon including Mogul Mowgli, a genre-busting, culturally hybrid, and award-winning debut feature from an exciting new voice in Bassam Tariq. The film is co-written, starring and produced by Ahmed and premiered at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize. It was nominated for a BAFTA Award for ‘Best British Film’ and received six British Independent Film Awards nominations, with the film taking home ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for Ahmed and ‘Best Music’. Strand will release the drama in the U.S. this year.

Pillars Fund, MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau, and The Black List Announce Inaugural Muslim List

First reported last September by Deadline, The Muslim List is an initiative by The Black List, the Muslim Public Affairs Council Hollywood Bureau and Pillars Fund focusing on screenwriters who are practitioners or followers of Islam, an often dramatically underrepresented group in Tinseltown, to say the least. About 200 feature film and pilot scripts were submitted by the December 4 deadline, with evaluations conducted into early this year.

And now we have a list. Requests for the scripts themselves can be made through the Black List.

“On behalf of MPAC’s board and staff, congratulations to the 10 winners of the first-ever Black List Muslim List,” said Sue Obeidi, Director, MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau. “While not a surprise, the response to the competition was very strong,” she added.

“We were moved by the plethora of stories submitted, many of which were inspired by true events. Choosing the top ten was not easy, to say the least, but we are so proud of the final result. Many thanks to The Black List’s Franklin Leonard, Kate Hagen, and their entire team, and to Arij Mikati and the Pillars Fund team for their partnership.”

“Our inaugural Muslim List proves what we have always known to be true: Muslim writers are teeming with diverse stories that cut across genre, identity, and message,” added Arij Mikati, Managing Director of Culture Change, Pillars Fund. “We are thrilled that Hollywood has the opportunity to hear from and support these talented voices to share their narratives with the world.”

 

Read the full article on Deadline>>

Pillars Fund Named One of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Nonprofits

We are thrilled to share that Pillars Fund has been named number seven on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Not-for-Profit Organizations list of 2021!

First and foremost, this honor is a reflection of our community: the incredible work of our visionary grantees and fellows, the generous support of our trustees and partners, and the dedication of our staff. Thank you to all who make up this incredible community and work every day to build a more beautiful world.

It is encouraging for us to see Fast Company recognize an organization for and led by Muslims. Since the earliest days of our country’s history, Muslims have played a critical role in movements for justice. We are honored to work with organizations and leaders who are carrying this tradition.

“Our work at Pillars builds upon the legacy of generations who have paved the way for Muslim communities in the U.S. today,” says Kashif Shaikh, our co-founder and president. “This award is a testament to them and the courageous work of our grantees, trustees, fellows, and partners. We are excited to keep building, together.”

For more than a decade, Pillars has invested in Muslim-led initiatives across the country committed to creating a more just society for us all. We look forward to building upon this foundation as we continue to invest in organizations that are reimagining public safety, uplifting mental health, and building civic power. Our work is also expanding in new, exciting directions, including culture change programming that amplifies Muslim stories and artists. Later this year, we will unveil a brand-new artist fellowship that we hope will accelerate the career trajectories ​of ​emerging Muslim ​talent.

Announcing the 2021 Pillars Fund Grants

Pillars Fund is honored to announce the recipients of our 2021 Catalyze Fund, an annual initiative designed to support a vibrant, multidisciplinary network of Muslim leaders who advance social good. Impacting communities across the country, the 2021 Pillars Catalyze Fund supports 30 Muslim-led organizations with a combined $1 million in grants.

Pillars invests in a growing community of Muslim leaders who are developing thoughtful approaches to complex challenges of inequity and injustice and, in doing so, catalyzing just public policy and social good. The 2021 Catalyze Fund supports organizations that reimagine public safety, promote mental health and wellness, and build civic power.

“Pillars is proud to support a community of Muslim leaders and organizations who are at the forefront of movements for justice. This year’s grantee portfolio continues that tradition,” said Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Co-Founder and President. “For decades our communities have gone underfunded and unrecognized. By uplifting these initiatives, we hope the world takes notice of the abundance of talent Muslims in the U.S. have to offer.”

For the first time ever, Pillars is distributing a select number of multi-year grants to allow for sustainable, long-term growth of the organizations we serve.

Pillars grantees include: Action Center on Race and the Economy, American Muslim Advisory Council, American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, The Appellate Project, Believers Bail Out, CUNY CLEAR, Dream of Detroit, Emgage Foundation, Faith in Action, Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Global Deaf Muslim USA, Hurma Project, IL Muslim Civic Coalition, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, International Museum of Muslim Cultures, Inverse Surveillance Project, MPower Change, MUHSEN, Muslim Advocates, Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, Muslim Mental Health Lab, Muslim Wellness Foundation, New American Leaders, Pillars of the Community, Project South, Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, Sahaba Initiative, Sapelo Square, Vigilant Love.

Since 2010, Pillars has invested more than $6 million in grants to create opportunities for Muslims in the U.S. to tell their own stories, build community, and fight injustice through the media, arts, public discourse, and civil society.

“Muslims in the United States have long envisioned and acted to advance justice in communities across the country,” said Kalia Abiade, Pillars Vice President of Programs. “This is a critical time and exciting opportunity to invest in so many of today’s Muslim leaders who carry that legacy. They are not only changing the narrative around our most pressing issues—racial justice, gender equity, mental health and wellness, and more—but pursuing policy and societal change that will benefit us all.”

A Muslim Answers the Question: “What Can We Do About It?”

During the last hour of 2020, my 14-year-old, Adam, asked flatly, “Why do we do New Year’s Eve. Isn’t it just like any other day? What is the point?”

I smiled, but I didn’t answer right away. It was such an Adam question—and it was a fair one.

We were preparing for a quiet night in, just my husband, our three sons, and me, all already in pajamas. We were tired from the long day and from the weight of the year, but it felt important to stay up and officially say goodbye to 2020 together. Our 10-year-old, Musa, was joyfully arranging an assortment of sparkling juices, desserts, and a jar of sprinkles.

Adam looked at me for a response.

“That’s a good question,” I finally said. For our Muslim family, January 1 is not a holy day, as it is for many of our Catholic family members. But it is an opportunity to pause, reflect on the past year, and show gratitude for it. Yes, to his point, we can and should do this throughout the year. But, I told him, what’s special about New Year’s Eve is that we reflect together—not just in our home but with a broader community that includes our family and neighbors and people around the world.

My answer was enough to get us to midnight, but his words stayed with me. After a year full of heartache, loss, and plain confusion, I’ve gotten used to fielding a lot of my sons’ questions. When are we going back to school? When can I hang out with my friends? Why won’t people wear masks? How many people have died? When will this pandemic end? When will police stop killing Black people? Why is our president lying? Why is this election even a contest?

And, perhaps the most important question: What can we do about it?

Read the full article here >>

CUNY CLEAR Project to argue case before the Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court is considering whether Muslims are able to hold the U.S. government accountable for religious discrimination. The case, Tanzin v. Tanvir, was originally filed in 2013 by the team at CUNY CLEAR Project, a Pillars grantee partner.

The FBI placed three American Muslims on the No-Fly List in an attempt to make them spy on other Muslims, in violation of their constitutional rights. The men have lost their jobs, been marginalized in their own communities, and suffered in countless ways as a result of their refusal to be coerced.

Today, CLEAR’s founding director, Ramzi Kassem, will argue their case before the Supreme Court justices.

“Our clients were placed or kept on the No-Fly List not because they posed any threat to aviation security, but as a way to coerce them to become informants on their own communities,” Kassem told the New York Times earlier this year.

The justices’ decision on Tanvir will affect the way Muslims—and all people—experience religious liberty in this country. It will also be a statement on they ways our government perpetuates discriminatory policing, surveillance and profiling.

Today’s case is just one of several examples of the ways Muslims in this country are standing up every day to uphold fundamental rights. Today also reminds us why it is so important to pay close attention to who sits on the Supreme Court and to fight for a clear and fair nomination process. At Pillars, we thank Ramzi, the entire CLEAR team, and their partners at the Center for Constitutional Rights for their enduring efforts and courage to ensure our communities have a voice at every level of the court system.

NASDAQ profiles Pillars grantee Starfish, a first-of-its-kind creative accelerator

Starfish is a first of its kind, creative accelerator investing in premium IP from proven artists of color: no string attached, all trust, empowerment, and community. Starfish’s philanthropic partners, Pop Culture CollaborativeThe Doris Duke Foundation, and Pillars Fund, rather than take an insular, predatory, zero-sum approach to IP ownership, which is customary in Hollywood, have rooted Starfish in four core principles: radical ownership, authenticity, transparency, and community. Starfish launched its inaugural cohort in April of 2020.

Read the full article here

Fasting During Ramadan Takes On New Meaning During a Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it, and for millions, that means going hungry. As national lockdowns and social distancing mandates keep people home to protect public health, many have lost jobs and wages, agricultural production has been disrupted, and in the United States, more than half of low-income Americans say they’ll have trouble paying their bills this month.

Click here to read the full article

Impact Leaders Within The Country’s Largest Philanthropy Hub Rapidly Respond With Over $50 Million In COVID-19 Relief Funds

Within three weeks, Chicago’s top grantors rallied to provide over $50 million in support to meet COVID-19 challenges and needs. These foundations and their supporters were able to raise funding across a dozen funds to support nonprofits, families, students, artists, low-income and marginalized communities.

Click here to read the full article

Rapid Response Fund

We have created a rapid response fund to support the personal expenses of Muslim artists and activists whose livelihoods are being negatively impacted by this current moment. We will be making $500 grants to individuals through a short application process.

As we anticipate the secondary consequences of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of activists and artists, we know that the need will far exceed the current fund, and only continue to grow as time passes. For the first round of rapid response grants, Pillars distributed $15,000 in grants to 30 individuals. For our second round of rapid response grants, Pillars is distributing $25,000 to 50 additional Muslim artists and activists.

Click here to visit the Rapid Response Fund page

Oral history project preserves stories of black Muslim seniors amid pandemic

As the coronavirus outbreak takes a disproportionately deadly toll on seniors and African Americans, a new oral history initiative aims to train black Muslim youth to document their elderly community members’ stories.

The Wisdom of the Elders Project is a “long-overdue” effort to capture black Muslim seniors’ “past, present and uncertain future” before it is too late, coordinator Asha Noor said.

Click here to read the full article

What Awkwafina and Ramy Youssef’s Golden Globes 2020 Wins Mean for POC

On Sunday, Jan. 5, history was made at Golden Globes 2020. Awkwafina became the first person of Asian descent to win Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) for her performance in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. The film, about a 20-something struggling artist who ventures to China ahead of her impending grandmother’s death, was lauded for its strikingly honest perspective on identity and traditions.

Click here to read the full article

State scrutiny has not turned US Muslims away from giving

In 2010, Kashif Shaikh, then a programme officer at the Robert R McCormick Foundation, a Chicago-based charity, established an organisation to serve an under-represented philanthropic community: Muslim Americans. The Pillars Fund has so far given away more than $4m. And, at a time of rising Islamophobia, it is much more than a vehicle for charitable dollars.

Click here to read the full article

A Fund to Support the Muslim American Community, Inside and Out

By Paul Sullivan, posted on May 24, 2019

“After attaining professional success and wealth, Anas Osman, a technology entrepreneur and executive, turned to philanthropy. He wanted to help other Muslim Americans embrace the opportunities in the United States.

So he and some friends from Chicago, who had also achieved financial success, came up with an idea that was decidedly unconventional. They didn’t want to build an app for charity or introduce a new metric for giving. Instead, Mr. Osman and his friends, all Muslim Americans, created a model that more closely resembled a 19th-century benevolent society.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON THE NYT WEBSITE »

Peabody Launches New East Coast Board of Directors

Athens, Ga. – Peabody has established an East Coast division to its board of directors, a group of prominent media industry leaders who provide support for the organization’s initiatives. The board will provide intellectual and idea capital and actively assist with broadening the organization’s relations and visibility with media industries, nonprofits, policy makers and the public. Launched in 2015, the board of directors are separate from the traditional board of jurors that bestows the prestigious Peabody Awards for excellence in broadcasting and digital media.

READ FULL RELEASE »

Statement Regarding New Zealand Mosque Massacres

We are devastated by the news that a white supremacist has murdered 49 worshippers and injured dozens of others at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Our hearts go out to the victims as well as those most impacted by their tragic deaths, including their families, friends, coworkers, and classmates.

We encourage Muslims in our communities here in the United States, as well as around the world, to take care of themselves and to be aware of their surroundings. Secondary trauma affects many people in our communities. Muslim Wellness Foundation has created a helpful toolkit for coping with trauma that includes a section on “Coping with Traumatic Events & News.” We encourage anyone who may find it beneficial to have a look, and please share with others who may need it right now.

This is a heavy day for all Muslims, as well as all those committed to a safe, just, and inclusive world. It has underscored the reality that Islamophobia knows no boundaries, and that we must all remain collaborative and creative in our efforts to counter hate, whether promoted by politicians, media personalities, extremist groups, or individuals.

Download this statement in PDF format »

Ambassadors for Health Equity Fellowship

Pillars is happy to announce that our Executive Director Kashif Shaikh has been selected to participate in the Ambassadors for Health Equity Fellowship – a joint venture led by PolicyLink and FSG, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Kashif will join 23 other leaders in the public, private, and social sector to participate in the year-long program, which runs from February 2019 to February 2020. He looks forward to exchanging ideas and experiences, forging new alliances, and promoting a Culture of Health within Muslim communities and across networks.

To learn more, visit the Fellowship website here.

Meet Our 2019 Grantees

We are excited to share with you the 2019 grantees that Pillars will be supporting and collaborating with in the year to come. These 26 organizations are strengthening communities across the country through political and legal advocacy, health and wellness, research, storytelling, and leadership development.

Since our inception in 2010, we have been working hard to identify and invest in projects that are uplifting American Muslims. This task has only gotten more difficult because our communities are more active than ever. Last year, we received more than 200 letters of inquiry from prospective grantees. They gave us a deeper appreciation for the ingenuity, kindness, and talent that is so prevalent in American Muslim communities around the nation. We want others to be able to see what we’ve had the privilege of seeing, which is why we’ll be sharing our grantees’ stories and developments on social media throughout the year.

Over the years, Pillars has awarded $3.5 million in grants to elevate American Muslims. These grants are made possible by our trustees, a generous community of American Muslim donors who are committed to giving collaboratively and in partnership with our dedicated team. We look forward to continuing this investment in our communities, and building with our grantees and other funders to build a more just and inclusive society for Muslims and all people in the United States.

Visit our grantee portfolio for the full list of 2019 grantees. We encourage you to learn more about their work and join us in supporting their efforts.

See the press release announcing our 2019 grantees.

Beyond the Ban: Working in and with American Muslim Communities

By Kalia Abiade

We are in the midst of one of the most contentious and divisive moments in U.S. history, and Muslim communities are feeling the pressure. From hate violence to racial profiling to outright Muslim bans, physical and political threats against our communities have been anything but vague.

Case in point, this week the Supreme Court of the United States decided to uphold President Trump’s Muslim ban, further devastating and separating families due to xenophobia and bigotry. While we are disappointed in the Court’s approval of the ban, we know that this is not the first time they have been on the wrong side of history.

And yet with these difficulties, there are so many bright spots. At the Pillars Fund, we are fortunate to work with grantee partners, community members, and allies who fought hard against this unjust policy, and who will no doubt continue the struggle. American Muslim civic leaders are showing up with seemingly boundless energy and determination to defend our communities and work with the leaders of intersecting movements for social change. They’ve sharpened their skills in some of the toughest civil rights battles of our time and have become adept at quickly responding to frequent attacks on rights.

At the Pillars Fund, our duty is to ensure that American Muslim civic leaders have the support they need to resist the injustices of today while we harness the necessary resources to help our communities thrive for generations to come. Since 2010, Pillars has invested more than $3 million to support American Muslim civic leaders and institutions. We are working to ensure that our next wave of leaders is nurtured and equipped to continue expanding rights for all.

Some of our colleagues in philanthropy are taking note and taking action. Since 2016, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Nathan Cummings Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation have invested directly into Pillars to bolster American Muslim leadership and institutions. And other foundations and funding collaboratives are supporting community organizations beyond anti-bigotry measures and moving toward deeper engagement.

But there is so much more work to do. Right now, there is a well-funded, well-coordinated anti-Muslim industry that is putting tens of millions of dollars into this fight, passing harmful policies (including from the school board level), and putting dangerous proposals in front of the President himself.

We frequently get the same two questions from many of our colleagues in philanthropy: What is Pillars doing differently in this political moment? And how can we join this movement?

The answers are both simple and complex. Here are a few ways Pillars is grounding our work in the now and inviting you to join us as we plan for the future.

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Pillars’ mission and hopes for the future

Kashif Shaikh, our executive director and co-founder, discusses our mission to uplift Muslims in America because we believe in a more just and inclusive nation. Since our inception, we have invested more than $4 million in civil engagement, community service, and storytelling initiatives.

 

A Letter from Our Executive Director  //  November 14, 2018

It’s hard to believe that the midterm elections were just last week. As it has for much of this year, time has moved in ways that have made it hard to keep up. In 2018, so many communities from coast to coast said they were ready to break from the past by making space for fresh, bold leaders and ideas. Election Day was no different. We know that when Representatives-elect Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib walk the halls of Congress as the first two Muslim women to do so, it will be because of the years of preparation and the tireless efforts of community members in cities and towns around the country who challenged the status quo. And we know that this is just the beginning.

The injection of diverse perspectives that we’ve experienced this year is at the heart of what we stand for at Pillars and what we hope is just one more step on the journey to an even more just future.

Since our inception in 2010, we’ve invested nearly $4 million in American Muslim organizations and leaders who are telling our stories authentically and lifting up our communities through political organizing, advocacy, culture, and wellness programs. The Muslim community isn’t short on talent, which is why Pillars is providing resources, capital, and coordination to fuel organizations and help challenge the great barrier of institutionalized racism through the essential work of our grantees.

In 2018, Pillars also made a broader commitment to real, sustained culture change. We launched an exciting partnership with the Pop Culture Collaborative to curate and nurture a cohort of American Muslim stakeholders from social movements, entertainment, the arts, advertising, and academia who can participate in a long-term narrative vision and culture change strategy. We are incredibly eager to bring so many talented people together to tackle such a complex issue.

This is also a time to recommit to supporting organizations that have been innovators in their respective fields, long before there was a focus on growing the American Muslim nonprofit sector. This includes organizations like the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), right here in Chicago, which has provided health and housing services, arts programs, and political organizing power to heal and transform communities on the city’s South Side for more than 20 years. We stand behind Muslim Advocates as they tackle some of our country’s most pressing legal issues, including the Muslim ban, religious discrimination, and hate crimes. And we are privileged to support and directly benefit from the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI), which has been training American Muslim civic leaders for 10 years now. These are just a few of the organizations Pillars has had the honor of supporting.

It’s been almost nine years since Pillars Fund was just an idea. Since then, we have grown from a few volunteers to a small team of full-time professionals—and a widening network of organizations and individuals committed to a more inclusive and just America. I am constantly traveling around the country to connect with people who share this vision and want to be a part of our dynamic community of donors, partner organizations, and grantees.

The stakes could not be any higher. We believe our work to elevate the voices and creativity of American Muslims is a key step toward achieving justice for all people—and will shift us from being characters in someone else’s story to narrating our own collective future.

To those who’ve been with us on this journey, we are so grateful for your partnership. Going forward, we hope to widen this circle of incredible organizations and individuals who share our vision.

Kashif Shaikh
Co-Founder and Executive Director

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Muslims are Having a Hollywood Moment

By Leila Fadel

On the last day of taping for a new 10-part Web series called East of La Brea, the cameras are set up at a local mosque for a scene about a 20-something black Muslim woman who’s praying. Suddenly her phone rings and the quiet space fills with raucous and racy lyrics from a pop song. Around her, older women shoot her shady stares.

This show is one example of what appears to be a shift in Hollywood. On TV and on online streaming services, Hollywood watchers say more Muslim characters than ever before are showing up in sitcoms and dramas. The characters they portray are more nuanced and more complicated than usual. In part, that’s because many Muslims themselves are writing these shows and characters.

East of La Brea is a show about being in your 20s and figuring out life against the gentrifying backdrop of Los Angeles, told through two main characters, roommates who are Muslim. But that’s not the entirety of the women’s storylines, says Sameer Gardezi, a Pakistani-American screenwriter and the creator of the show.

“I really feel like when people watch this it’s going to feel like [it is] an LA story,” Gardezi says. “Being Muslim is part of them, we don’t ignore that, but at the same time their problems aren’t necessarily faith based; they are based on other aspects that I feel are more relevant to what it means to lead an American life.”

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Pittsburgh, Kentucky, and Overcoming Hate – Statement from Executive Director, Kashif Shaikh

Joyce. Richard. Rose. Jerry. Cecil. David. Bernice. Sylvan. Daniel. Melvin. Irving.

These are the names of the 11 Jewish worshippers who were gunned down yesterday in what’s being called the deadliest attack against Jewish people in U.S. history. The gunman had a history of displaying white supremacist hate online, slamming the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for simply helping refugees in need and spewing anger toward Jewish people and Muslim people.

Maurice. Vickie.

These are the names of the Black man and Black woman gunned down by a white supremacist Wednesday at a Kentucky supermarket. The gunman first tried to shoot up a nearby Black church but found the doors locked. Maurice was with his 12-year-old grandson buying poster board for his school project when he was fatally shot.

Just days earlier, a self-described white supremacist sent 14 bombs to 12 current and former public officials. The bomber, who drove a van with pictures of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Van Jones of CNN with crosshairs over them, had also posted anti-Muslim memes in the past.

This was one week in the United States.

Our hearts are hurting and we are still processing all that’s happened. But we are also more determined than ever to keep fighting for a more just and inclusive country where this sort of hateful violence is no longer so common. Everyone should feel safe in their house of worship, while shopping with their grandkids, or when opening their mailbox in the morning.

We are grateful to our grantees and partners of all faiths, who are paving the way to a better future at a time when hate feels so consuming. At Pillars, we remain committed to combating bigotry through our grantmaking and programming.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to talk about what’s happening. We are here to listen—and to continue finding ways forward together.

With love and in solidarity,
Kashif Shaikh and the Pillars Team

Can digital media forge a better understanding of American Muslims?

40 Under 40 – Crain’s Chicago Business 

Can digital media forge a better understanding of American Muslims? Kashif Shaikh thinks so, and that’s where he’s steering nonprofit Pillars Fund in the near future. Pillars Fund, which Shaikh co-founded in 2010, awards grants solely to organizations working to further the understanding of the American Muslim community. In seven years, he’s raised $5 million for Pillars, which has granted $2.5 million to organizations around the country.

The fund also provided seed money for an online documentary series, “The Secret Life of Muslims,” which premiered in 2016 and was released on Vox and the USA Today Network. The series has been viewed 35 million times since Election Day 2016. It has garnered tens of thousands of comments—some nasty, most positive—and was nominated for a News & Documentary Emmy for outstanding short documentary. That kind of attention has Shaikh seeking more storytelling opportunities. “We need to get American Muslim voices at the table,” he says.

Shaikh, a first-generation American Muslim, was born in New York to Pakistani immigrants and moved to Cincinnati early in life, when his father took a post as a packaging engineer at Procter & Gamble. He grew up speaking Urdu and English and steeped in Islamic culture. In April 2001, he was finishing high school when the shooting of unarmed black teenager Timothy Thomas by Cincinnati police caused riots across the city. “I went to college wanting to contribute to the greater good,” he says.

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A Secret Weapon In The Fight Against Islamophobia

By Hannah Allam

In Illinois, a mother’s heartache over her daughter’s autism led to a nonprofit that helps Muslims with disabilities. Out of Michigan, an activist network pushes Muslims across the nation to address racial injustices. And in California, a Muslim civic institute has trained more than 100 rising leaders.

Those three projects emerged in recent years as part of a boom in Muslim-led nonprofit work that counters ideas of Islam as foreign and dangerous. And all of them are connected by an invisible thread: Pillars Fund.

The Chicago-based charitable fund, whose name honors the five pillars of Islam, started seven years ago when a handful of wealthy American Muslims pooled their money and quietly began giving solely to nonprofit groups in the United States — no mosques, no overseas charities. Today, Pillars is emerging as a powerful, behind-the-scenes engine of Muslim activism, a secret weapon in the war against the multimillion-dollar “Islamophobia” industry.

Pillars donors rarely speak publicly about the fund; it’s unknown outside philanthropy circles, and that’s how they prefer it, out of privacy concerns as well as cultural traditions that frown on showy giving. In Pillars’ early years, nobody was sure it would even work, given all the potential pitfalls. There’s already a wariness about where charity dollars go, an issue seen most recently in questions about how the Red Cross and other agencies would handle donations to Texans dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. When Muslims are involved in fundraising, however, that general wariness kicks into overdrive.

But the urgency of this moment, with anti-Muslim attacks on the rise and a demonstrated bias against Islam from the White House, is nudging Pillars into the spotlight.

In interviews with BuzzFeed News in Chicago and Washington, DC, Pillars officials spoke in depth for the first time about the fund’s mission and the many hurdles to harnessing US Muslim wealth.

For starters, Pillars is vulnerable to the same hostile climate it’s trying to change, with outsized scrutiny of its operations and smear campaigns against associates such as Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour, an outspoken civil rights activist who’s on the Pillars advisory board and who co-founded a Pillars grantee, MPower Change, an online Muslim organizing platform. Sarsour has faced right-wing attacks, including death threats and terrorist labels, for years based on her pro-Palestinian stances and charged social media posts.

If Pillars’ success continues, philanthropy experts say, it’s poised to become the first national Muslim community foundation, akin to Catholic Charities or Jewish Federation. Any missteps, however, could have a chilling effect on US Muslims’ ability to raise money or find big foundation partners for projects that guard civil liberties and promote community service.

The high stakes of this gamble mean sleepless nights for Pillars co-founder and Executive Director Kashif Shaikh, the son of Pakistani immigrants who left his steady job as a program officer with the billion-dollar Robert R. McCormick Foundation last year to work full-time for the fund. But there’s also what he calls “unbridled optimism” — a rarity among American Muslims these days — about the role he hopes Pillars will play in changing the national conversation about Islam.

“Muslims are so beaten down right now and it’s kind of like, ‘Am I welcome here? Am I really welcome here?’” Shaikh said. “And in those moments, you need to create your own spaces.”

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KAPOS: Chicago Grantmaker is Making National Waves

By Shia Kapos

Kashif Shaikh is gaining national attention for pushing back against anti-Muslim rhetoric.

He’s a co-founder of Pillars Fund, which awards grants to small nonprofits and organizations focused on American Muslims. It’s so unique that Kellogg Foundation, among the nation’s largest philanthropies, recently donated $300,000. Pillars has partnered with Aspen Institute to discuss diversity in nonprofits. And a national trade publication for nonprofits singled out Pillars for its work.

“American Muslims are eager to push back against caricatures and intolerance and support each other on the ground,” stated Inside Philanthropy. “The Pillars Fund is one grantmaker that’s been leading the charge from within the Muslim community.”

Shaikh acknowledges President Donald Trump’s election has had an impact.

“I don’t think our ascent is a coincidence,” he told me. “People are looking for organizations and are wanting to provide a counter to a lot of the rhetoric that’s been put out there.”

The Cincinnati native and son of Pakistani immigrants came to Chicago in 2006 after earning an English degree from Ohio State. He worked at United Way and then McCormick Foundation, where he managed community partnerships with the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks. Shaikh also is a member of Leadership Greater Chicago.

Pillars was started in 2006 to bridge the gap between well-heeled donors and American Muslims “doing interesting work.”

It started under the umbrella of The Chicago Community Trust before becoming an independent organization now with a $1.5 million budget.

Big names in philanthropy serve as advisers, including the Trust President and CEO Terry Mazany, Field Foundation President Angelique Power and Woods Fund Chicago President Grace Hou.

A few dozen donors annually give about $35,000 each to Pillars. Among them are marketing consultant Amer Abdullah, educator Dilara Sayeed and Google exec Anas Osman.

The Ford, Open Society and Nathan Cummings foundations have also given money.

Grants have been made across the country. Locally, they’ve helped an Englewood health and wellness program and a suburban nonprofit addressing disability issues. “It’s a small niche,” Shaikh said, “but it represents how we bring attention to the Muslim community.”

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In a fearful moment, this growing fund channels Muslim American philanthropy

By         Photo: A KATZ/SHUTTERSTOCK

If there’s a time for philanthropy to pay attention to America’s Muslim community, that time is now. Under fire from the Trump administration and the right-wing press, American Muslims are eager to push back against caricatures and intolerance and support each other on the ground. The Pillars Fund is one grantmaker that’s been leading the charge from within the Muslim community.

Founded several years ago, Pillars is the brainchild of Kashif Shaikh. A veteran of Chicago’s philanthropic sector with previous stints at the McCormick Foundation and the Chicago United Way, Shaikh spent his early career in an environment where American Muslims simply weren’t at the table. “[We] haven’t been on the radar, except in unfortunate circumstances,” he says. “Foundations weren’t explicitly looking at working with Muslims because the topic was too loaded and cumbersome.”

But it’s not that funders didn’t want to back American Muslims. According to Shaikh, they just didn’t know how. Making those connections is one reason why Shaikh decided to found Pillars in 2010, along with a group of well-heeled donors.

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