by Landon DeKay
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series written by students in Dr. Rebecca Glazier’s International Religious Freedom class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in spring, 2020. The students studied how learning positive things about religious minorities could help break the cycle of social hostilities and government restrictions on religious freedom. Each student contributed a story to this series as their effort to that end.
According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 79 percent of adults practicing religion in the State of Arkansas identify as Christian. In contrast, just 2 percent identify as Muslim. Nevertheless, the Madina Institute, one of very few mosques in Little Rock, AR, continues to expand its role as a prominent religious congregation through routine community engagement and interfaith education.
Founded in November of 2016 by Sophia Said, the Madina Institute champions the progressive principles of education, illumination, and compassion in order to “develop, support and promote a comprehensive Islamic way of life based on compassion and community service, actively meet community’s social, spiritual, and educational needs, develop youth to be thoughtful and reflective leaders of our schools & communities, and build bridges with the community at large through interfaith engagement and service” (madinainstitute.us).
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to plague the world, many places of worship, such as the Madina Institute, were required to temporarily suspend in-person operations. This drastic change has impacted the Madina Institute, as well as every mosque worldwide, due to its direct impact on Ramadan observations. Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, is typically met with fasting, prayer, and self-reflection. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made planning for this spiritual month of increased worship very challenging.
With Ramadan occurring during the height of the pandemic (April 23rd – May 23rd) life for leaders of the Madina Institute has been very busy to say the least. Nevertheless, they took it upon themselves to give back to the community during this stressful time by establishing a Coronavirus Benevolence Fund. This fund will assist individuals who are struggling financially during the pandemic pay for essential items such as bills, food, and medical expenses. The response to the fund’s establishment was astounding, with “more than $32,000 donated within the first two weeks of the fund’s creation,” according to Ms. Said. Currently, the fund supports 26 families; however, as more donations are received, more families will be supported.
In addition to the Coronavirus Benevolence Fund, the Madina Institute, in conjunction with other local mosques, established a Community Mask Campaign. Like the Coronavirus Benevolence Fund, the Community Mask Campaign has seen a remarkable response. Although small at first, Ms. Said stated that “now we are helping not only marginalized or immigrant communities by providing them masks, but we are also giving them to nursing homes. UAMS is sending us requests. Other churches are sending us requests.” Ms. Said also noted that “none of the masks are being sold. They are free of costs.” On April 22nd, Dr. Sara Tariq, a Madina Institute board member, delivered 100 stitched cloth masks to a nursing home in Pine Bluff. This is a truly inspiring example of how the Madina Institute engages with the surrounding Little Rock community. A video of Dr. Tariq discussing these two COVID-19 related efforts is available to view on YouTube.
The Madina Institute is located at 12123 Kanis Road, Little Rock, Arkansas. For more information about the Madina Institute or its response to COVID-19, call 501-508-5051, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their Facebook page at Madina Institute Arkansas USA.