One of Imam Jihad Saafir’s early memories of growing up as a Black Muslim in South Los Angeles is Eid prayer at Sister Clare Muhammad’s School. He found himself in a circle with 15 to 20 other young men, all 10 to 15 years old. They each took turns sharing what gang they belong to. Each of the young men, except Imam Jihad and one or two others, was affiliated with one.
Shortly after the exchange that day, two of the young men who stood in the circle lost their lives to gang violence. Many others went on to serve life sentences in prison.
This is one of many memories that motivated him to serve young Muslim children in the Inner City.
“When our children enter the public school system, their religious identity is threatened,” Imam Jihad says. “Their well-being is threatened by drugs and gangs. Their confidence is threatened by being disproportionately disciplined as African American students. Their existence is threatened in every way.”
Islah Academy provides a safe haven that not only protects and strengthens the religious identity and physical well-being of their students, but cultivates a tight-knit relationship with their students. With small class sizes, students receive individualized attention. The teacher is not just a teacher, but an “auntie” or “uncle”, creating a sense of trust. This allows many students to confide in their teachers about their home life or other difficulties they may be facing.
“We had one incident where one of the young ladies was not performing well in school,” Imam Jihad recalls. “Whereas in a public school, she may have been over-disciplined for acting out, when we noticed there was something off about her behavior, we immediately knew that there was some need that she was being deprived of. We found out that she had not been in contact with her father for sometime and provided her with the additional care and attention that she needed to succeed.”
Not only does Islah Academy provide a safe educational environment for its students, but it supports their families in many ways as well. Many of them utilize other social services provided by Islah LA, such as the food pantry, housing program, and counseling.
“These are families who are struggling financially,” Imam Jihad says. “Many of them are low income. Many of them are single mothers. They should not be deprived of the opportunity to go to a protected environment where they can keep their religious identity intact. This is an affordable Muslim private school, and many of our families are attending through scholarships made possible by community support. The families that we are serving, under normal circumstances, would not have the same access to high quality education that young Muslims in suburban communities have.”
As an LA-based hijab brand, Vela is proud to support the work of Imam Jihad and the administration at Islah Academy through giving 100% proceeds when you purchase the Crescent Domes hijab. Muslim children of all backgrounds should have access to high quality Islamic education in a safe and nurturing environment, regardless of income level. By empowering Islah Academy students, we’re investing in tomorrow’s scholars and leaders of our Ummah and beyond.