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A conversation with Naima Khan – the woman behind Muslim Heritage Month and Muslim Day

Muslim community in South Florida has been celebrating the proclamation of April as Muslim Heritage Month and more recently, May 13th as Muslim Day. This is indeed a huge milestone for Muslims to have been recognized for their service to community. This was made possible by the relentless efforts of Naima Khan-Ghany, who is more commonly known as a BCPS Teacher and Advisor to Broward County MSAs. She is also a board member of Friends of Humanity International Inc.

As the Muslim community is looking forward to commemorate Muslim Day on May 13th, we spoke with Sr Naima to find out more about her journey, motivation and challenges in her efforts towards materializing her dream of ‘diversity and equity’ in community  and making Muslim Heritage Month and Muslim day proclamations possible. 

How did the effort start and what was the motivation behind it?

Five years ago, School Board of Broward County initiated American Muslim Heritage Month heralded by the Equity and Diversity Department. That gave me the idea to expand it to different cities as a proclamation. It started first with Broward County Commission making the resolution championed by Commissioner Dr. Barbara Sharief. It then moved on to the city of Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Hollywood and Cooper City. I was motivated to ensure that our Muslim students and our community were duly recognized as active citizens in South Florida. We make up a large part of the 177 countries represented in Broward County and it is our goal that one day Eid would be recognized as a “Day off” on the school calendar.

Why did you feel there was a need for having a month or day dedicated to Muslim culture?

Ramadan is one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar and Eid is an important holiday for the Muslim community. We wanted to bring awareness of its significance not only to schools but the community at large. As a result, the Muslim Students Association for Middle & High Schools was formed, giving the Muslim students a voice. After four years of getting the proclamation of April/May as American Muslim Heritage month, this year I decided to add Muslim Day as a separate proclamation to commemorate the day of Eid to amplify its importance. It was well received by Broward County Commission, Miramar and Hollywood. With our Muslim population rapidly growing, it is important for us to share our rich and diverse culture.

For me, it is for the Muslims to see that they are part of the community, that we exist and have a sense of belonging. Such initiatives will also help us show the community our rich cultural and religious traditions. Primarily, our goal is to ensure that we live in an equitable community and provide a safe home for our children so that they feel like they belong. Their faces light up when someone acknowledges their faith and understands what Ramadan is and the importance of Eid. These proclamations assist in making this possible.

The MSA for Middle & High Schools is currently planning a series of cultural exhibits to be held at our major libraries and possibly the Cultural Art Center in Miramar.

How has the journey been so far and do you see it growing?

My journey thus far has been uplifting and encouraging! Our community comes together in these times and all major organizations work for one common goal – creating an awareness about Muslims and Islam. I have worked with Friends of Humanity International, ICNA-Relief, Emgage, IFSF, CAIR and the Muslim Federation. I thank them for their support!

We are making progress each year and continuously improving our efforts. I am always trying to look ahead and take things to a higher level; thinking of how it can be more creative and enhanced. It started as a small initiative but seeing how governments are responding, we are planning early. For example, next year, we are planning to have banners made and post them across the county to let as many people know as possible. This year we had a Ramadan banner outside McArthur High School in Hollywood sponsored by FHII and MSA. Another banner will be posted next week for Eid. For the coming year, we are planning to take this initiative to more schools and communities.

You make it sound so easy, but was it really the case? What sort of challenges did you face?

The first step is the real challenge. But once you start with the right intention, it all falls into place. It entails of lot of networking, building relationships, meetings and promotions. So far, Alhamdulillah, the cities have been receptive. And when one city does it, another follows. It started two years ago (before COVID), with Commissioner Barbara Sharief hosting a major Iftar dinner with city officials and community leaders. This was a huge success with other cities asking to champion the proclamation. Miramar has hosted iftar dinners for 3 years and one was done in Cooper City. Since then there has been no looking back.

The challenge I face is that I need more individuals to be proactive and contact their city officials with the proposal. We have nothing to lose but everything to gain. It starts with a phone call and YOU!

It appears to have been a one person journey for you. What would you like to say to the community?

This has been quite a learning experience BUT it is NOT about me! I am not in this for the name, fame or glorification; it is for Islam. 

Cities have been welcoming and the first step is difficult but once you start, the effort itself is a huge motivation. However, this is a lot of work and there are a lot of cities to cover. I would like to invite individuals who reside in a city that is not on the list to come forward and be proactive in getting the proclamations passed. This is a community effort and requires commitment of time, making that phone call and picking up the momentum. Such efforts are also important for our younger generations to witness so they can become future flagbearers. A lot of my work with the MSA involves grooming young Muslims to take on important responsibilities. They want change to take place but we have to show them on how to make the effort and to take it to next level.

We need to continue to encourage our leaders and elected officials to promote equity and inclusion while embracing diversity, especially in these challenging times!

Sana Saif
Author: Sana Saif

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