The Muslim Leadership Lab Celebrates Four Years and Prepares for the Fall Semester

The Muslim Leadership Lab (MLL) looks forward to reviving in-person programming as it commences its fifth year at Dwight Hall. With the imminent start to the Fall 2022 semester, Founder and Director Abdul-Rehman Malik reflects on the past four years and what MLL has in store for the coming one. In addition to his role at Dwight Hall, Abdul-Rehman serves the Yale Divinity School as an Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer in Islamic Studies. 

The Muslim Leadership Lab was founded by Abdul-Rehman in 2018 in response to what he deemed a missing piece in American Muslim communities: the fostering of civic leadership on college campuses. 

Arriving at Yale in 2017 as a Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow, Abdul-Rehman noticed a peculiar lack of civic engagement and activism among the Muslim community on campus. “I found that while Muslim students were engaged in broader social justice work and activism on campus, they were not doing it through the Muslim Students Association or within Muslim spaces,” recalled Abdul-Rehman. 

Thus, the idea of the Muslim Leadership Lab was born, informed by discussions with Muslim community leaders, scholars, and chaplains. “Dwight Hall was the perfect place of genesis for the Muslim Leadership Lab,” reflected Abdul-Rehman. “Incorporating MLL as a faith-identified program within Dwight Hall’s broader mandate of racial, cultural, sexual, and gender diversity was crucial to the success of the program.” 

MLL was not intended to be another iteration in a long line of leadership programs at Yale. Rather, it defined leadership by two pillars. The first pillar was taken from Islamic spiritual tradition, in which the Prophet Muhammad instructed his followers that each was a shepherd called to look after his or her flock. “The idea of shepherding was a powerful idea for us as a program because it encompassed the fullness of what leadership means and how it is deeply entwined with service,” noted Abdul-Rehman.

The second pillar was inspired by the work of civil rights activist Ella Baker, the first woman to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She believed that in every chair sat a leader. In a similar vein, “MLL wants to build a leader-full community where every person is called to leadership and service in equal measure,” expressed Abdul-Rehman. That way, even if key activists or figureheads fall, the movement lives on. 

To attain this vision of leadership, MLL commenced with a series of fireside chats, workshops, and readings-based discussions that considered various elements of Muslim identity and connected with the history of the Black Muslim community in New Haven. After honing its approach to students, MLL was abruptly forced online with the onset of the pandemic. Despite its challenges, this change helped MLL expand, opening up its online programming to campuses across the United States, including Harvard, Columbia, New York University, Dartmouth, and the College of New Jersey. 

Gender and gender identity in Muslim spaces grew to be recurring themes in virtual MLL programming. “A lot of the Muslim women in that particular cohort said it was the first time they felt comfortable to interrogate the Islamic tradition and to challenge the sexism they were seeing in and outside of Muslim spaces,” noted Abdul-Rehman. 

MLL has fostered multiple key programs both virtually and in person. One program is the annual Dr. Betty Shabazz & Malcolm X Lecture, which takes place during the anniversary of Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination. These lectures highlight impactful Black Muslim voices to increase a racial reckoning within and around Muslim student spaces. Another noteworthy MLL program is the annual Imam Hussein Lecture on Social Justice, which carves a space for innovative Shia Muslim American scholars, activists, and artists to contribute to the conversation of faith, spirituality, and social justice on campus. 

If the upcoming month is any indication, 2022-2023 will be a busy and exciting year for the Muslim Leadership Lab. During the first weekend of September 2022, MLL is co-sponsoring an event with the National Shia Coalition for Racial Justice that will focus on racial justice in the United States, in light of the experiences and legacy of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, an iconic social justice story in the Islamic tradition. A few days later, MLL will host a meet-up and roundtable with Dr. Lauren Schreiber, a female Muslim leader from Washington, DC. At the end of the month, MLL will host its second annual Spirituality and Social Justice Retreat. Forty Yale students will participate in a two-day-long retreat that will orient the MLL cohort for the 2022-23 academic year. Abdul-Rehman hopes the retreat will shine a light on the issues that are most pressing to students. 

To stay updated on upcoming Muslim Leadership Lab events and opportunities, follow @dwighthallatyale on Instagram.

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