By Hanna Rahman –
As the new executive director for the Islamic Community Center (ICC) of Tempe, Ahmad Al Akoum is excited to lead the community center to greater heights. For the past 21 years, Akoum has served as a chairman at community centers in seven different cities. He served on the first board in 1987 at a center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before moving to Arizona in 1995. When Akoum came to Arizona, he originally worked as a computer engineer at Intel before switching over to working in nonprofits in 1997. Between 1997 and 2004, Akoum served on the board of ICC.
From 2005 to 2014, he served as a chairman for the Muslim American Society. During those years, Akoum also developed personal relationships with the Chandler police by working on the police advisory board. Through this effort, a Muslim police advisory board was initiated. Now there are police officers who are present at all events that occur at the community center and volunteer officers who occasionally come to the Friday prayers.
Akoum said that one of his interests as the new executive director is to ensure the safety of ICC and the people who visit it. To make sure everyone is integrated in the decisions made for ICC, Akoum has started focus group meetings with sectors from all over the community and encourages everyone who has ideas or suggestions for the center to attend.
“As the executive director, I want to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, especially the youth because our youth population has been growing,” said Akoum.
Through these meetings, Akoum hopes to come up with feasible solutions on how to keep the community safe and to help the youth build confidence in their identity in a way that prevents radicalized behavior when dealing with increasingly tough situations and growing discrimination. “We saw brother Dean come and tear pages from the Qur’an. The younger people [were] more emotional and started to verbally retaliate. That’s exactly what we don’t want,” said Akoum. Akoum was referring to Dean Saxton, an anti-Islam protester who has, on multiple occasions, demonstrated outside of the mosque.
Akoum hopes promote education in the community through monthly themed Friday sermons and other lectures to emphasize that message. “This will proactively take care of any issues and will make sure ICC is well represented in the community,” said Akoum.
In addition, Akoum wants to initiate new youth programs such as more sport teams, an Islamic school, and scouting programs for boys and girls. ICC has an empty lot in Chandler that Akoum hopes to fill with another community center dedicated to recreational use and that specifically has space for youth. He also wants to help underserved populations in the community by setting up projects for the community to get involved in. “I want to expand this community and get people from all over the valley from every single background to be involved so we can progress forward together,” said Akoum.
Recent acts of vandalism at mosques and acts of aggression towards Muslims in Phoenix and around the country have raised questions about how mosque leadership is advising community members to respond. Akoum said, “Do not respond. There is a teaching in the Qur’an that states that when faced with ignorance and senseless, [you should] talk, give peace and turn your back. We have to be disciplined as a community, and show utmost respect to whomever we are speaking, to really succeed in showing the rest of the communities what we really stand for.”
ICC is also working on establishing a media committee to handle any media relations. Akoum says in order for us to spread peace, “…we all need to work together no matter our background and making.”