Interview with ICNA President, Dr. Mohsin Ansari

Avatar photo

Published March 10, 2021

By BurhanulHaq Brula

Q: Dr. Ansari, can you please tell us about yourself and your family life?

A: I am a Muslim American, physician by profession, and I am constantly looking for opportunities to get involved in the healing process in all aspects of human life. I try to manage my time as best as I can between various responsibilities as a husband, father of five, and only son to my aging father.

With regard to family, my wife is an electrical engineer by profession, and she helps me out in my medical office for the management of my practice as well. Alhamdulillah, she is involved with ICNA’s work in the sister’s division. Allah has also blessed me with five sons, all of whom are part of ICNA and its activities. Four of them have actually gone overseas to work on projects with Helping Hand.
Alhamdulillah, Allah has blessed me with a family that helps in my work with ICNA, and without their support, it would have been difficult to spend time away from them, but alhamdulillah they are very understanding and supportive. Their verbal and active support, as well as their duas and encouragement, are very important for me and help me perform my duties as ICNA’s humble worker.

My oldest son is Muadh Ansari and he is in his first year of medical school. Haris Ansari is my second son and, in sha’a Allah, he is going to start medical school this year. Hassan Ansari, the third son, is currently in the second year of his undergraduate program at the University of Maryland. My fourth son, Hamzah Ansari, is going to, in sha’a Allah, start college this year as a student at the University of Maryland. Finally, Amar Ansari, my youngest son, is homeschooled but is also doing a full-time Hifz program, and alhamdulillah he is doing very well in this program. All of them, alhamdulillah, are heavily involved with Islamic work and ICNA with its activities and various entities.

As far as hobbies are concerned, I have always been a sportsman and I have played several sports throughout my life and I still try to do so. I played cricket in my college days and even up to now. I also play badminton and table tennis. When I was younger I did quite a bit of martial arts and still try to practice as my body allows me to do so! Apart from that, traveling to different places and countries has always been something I liked to do. These are my personal hobbies. Spending time with my family on vacations and playing various sports are things I try to do whenever I get the chance.

Q: Please share your experience growing up in Pakistan during your student life?

A: I moved to the U.S. when I was thirty years old, so before that, the time I spent in middle school, high school, college, and medical school were all memorable times as a student in Pakistan. I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by friends who were very dedicated Islamic workers. When I was in 10th grade, I got affiliated with a student organization that was working to help improve the conditions of students in Pakistan but at the same time tried its best to help students live the life of true Muslims and follow the religion of Islam. That organization created the basis of everything which I am today.

Like hundreds and thousands of people across the world who are serving in different communities and countries, I would say the organization provided a huge amount of leadership for Islamic leaders throughout the world. Whether you go to South Africa, Japan, the U.K, Canada, America—everywhere in the world—wherever Islamic work was started, sustained, and run successfully, you will see people who were trained by this organization. Hence the time I spent in my college days and in medical school gave me a very good experience of balancing life as a student and the guidelines given to us by the Prophet (pbuh). Lastly, all the young people in the world bring so much energy, drive, ambition, and enthusiasm and that time as a student provided the basis of my personality and my lifelong commitment to Islamic work. These were just a few things I would like to share about my growing up in Pakistan. It was just extremely memorable and my student life built the foundation of everything I was able to do later in my life.

Q: What inspired you to join ICNA and when did you become a member of its general assembly?

A: As I already mentioned, when you work for the cause of Islam and you decide that you want to spend your life in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah, it is not something that you do as just as a student or at any particular age. The commitment to the religion of Allah (SWT) is a lifelong commitment. Since I was already involved in a lot of Islamic work before coming to the United States, although I came to the United States for higher studies and medical training, it was at the same time very clear in my mind that I had to follow the guidelines of the deen and work for the cause of Islam. The activism and the effort to establish the deen of Allah around me was the goal I adopted during my student life and I wanted to continue it with ICNA. ICNA was the only organization in the country that was pursuing the goal of improving the lives of individuals and the lives of collective Muslims in order to achieve the goal of pleasing Allah.

My inclusion to ICNA and becoming a GA member was also very different and unique. I arrived in the United States on November 19th, 1993 on a very cold snowy day in New York City. The brother who came to receive me was one of the friends who worked with me during my Islamic work in Pakistan. Many of the ICNA brothers know him, his name is Rashid Siddiqui, and he is currently serving as the vice president of ICNA and is also a cardiologist by profession. He received me at the JFK International Airport and the first thing he told me was “Mohsin Bhai (brother), we are not going home yet, we are going to the central office of ICNA to make you fill out the form to become an MGA.” He reminded me that there was no gap in the life of a Muslim for working in the cause of Allah. He told me that although I had just arrived from Pakistan, that there should not be a single day that I do not continue the work I had done in Pakistan. I filled out the paperwork in the headquarters of ICNA in Jamaica, New York. It was only then that I went home to where I was supposed to stay. This is how I became a member of the General Assembly of ICNA.

Q: What has been your role and responsibilities within ICNA in the past and how has ICNA played a role in turning you into how you define yourself today?

A: In ICNA, I have been given different responsibilities. I worked as a regional president of ICNA and later, around 2003, I was elected as part of the ICNA national shura for the first time. I had been part of the shura until I completed my four-year term. Moreover, I worked in the capacity of the chairman of the board of directors of ICNA Relief for almost seven years. I was then given the responsibility of chairman of Helping Hand USA, which I left around September 2020. Then, within 2-3 months, I was elected as the president of ICNA, my current position. These are the different responsibilities I have been given throughout my time in ICNA. However, each of these responsibilities had a different flavor and experience.

The work in the humanitarian field has impacted my mindset, opinions, and my approach to the work a lot. Being part of ICNA Relief, Helping Hand, and as a person who has been involved in these activities, I truly believe in the compassion, love, and belief that our work changes so many lives. I met many orphans who Helping Hand takes care of around the world, visited many refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon, got involved in shelter homes, and helped feed the hungry in the United State with ICNA Relief. All these activities gave me a huge insight in the suffering of fellow human beings in a variety of ways. That also made me think that whatever we are doing in the humanitarian area is vital, and it really changes the lives of so many. Many of the orphans who I have met have left a very long-lasting effect on my approach, commitment, and determination towards the work of the deen of Allah. Charity and humanitarian work are part of this deen. The hugs, the kisses, the love, the appreciation, the duas, and the thankfulness in the eyes of these orphans and refugees make me feel extremely committed to the work which we do, and every time it energizes me to do more for the future, and to do more and sacrifice more as much as we can so that the lives of these underprivileged people can be better.

Q: Please elaborate for us a full picture of ICNA as a whole organization, its niche and how you plan to take it to the next step?

I have always said that ICNA is a one-stop-shop. That means that ICNA is the only Muslim organization in this country that provides the opportunity to do good for every single individual—both non-Muslims and Muslims. In our neighborhoods, populations, and circle of friends, especially among Muslims, we have many who are interested in doing charity and humanitarian work. ICNA has immense and great opportunities available whether they want to do international relief work through HHRD, they want to feed the hungry, they want to serve in a shelter home, or help people during a natural disaster. Every single opportunity is there to provide for those interested in charity work. Similarly, there are many Muslims who are interested in doing dawah work and they want to spread the deen of Allah, they want to reach out to Muslims and non-Muslims to let the people know what Islam is, and let them realize the true character of Islam. That is what attracts and excites them the most.

ICNA’s dawah organizations like Why Islam and Gain Peace, with their extensive networks and the immense number of opportunities, allow them to perform the dawah work that they want to do. Similarly, the ICNA Sisters division provides an opportunity to Muslim sisters, both English speakers and non-English speakers, to do a lot of great work. The sister’s division has grown immensely in the last 20 years and has done amazing work in improving lives and the commitment towards Islam for so many sisters. There is a lot of opportunity for Muslim sisters who want to join the work and make efforts for the deen of Allah. Similarly, many other areas, such as the Young Muslims, gives the opportunity for our youth to do a lot for the young Muslims in this country. Hence, the youth have the opportunity to participate in halaqahs (study circles), improve their level of education, attend seminars, and go to conferences.

All the youth have the opportunity to grow in their relationship with Allah when they join ICNA. There are so many other divisions of ICNA which provide the opportunity for volunteer work, activism, and the spread of the deen. Our social justice department provides opportunities for those eager to work in social justice fields as well. As I said, ICNA is a one-stop-shop— there are so many things that ICNA has done and ICNA has provided the opportunity for every taste. They are all good deeds and it is up to the person to choose where to work for the deen of Allah and humanity. ICNA has something for each person living in this country who wishes to work for goodness. As far as ICNA’s niche is concerned, as I said, it is everything—whether it’s charity, dawah, or conventions, ICNA has proved that it can do a lot of good in many areas.

Q: Under your leadership, how will ICNA equip and strengthen itself to deal with the modern-day challenges?

A: If we analyze the current overall situation of American Muslims and Muslims around the world, there are a couple of things that stand out as challenges to Islam and Muslims, particularly American Muslims. One is Islamophobia and the false allegations made against Islam, Muslims, and Islamic organizations. The second is obviously the effort to grow and develop the organization itself. ICNA has planned to deal with all these issues this year. As far as exterior challenges are concerned, we have planned a very organized effort where we will use all resources—media, advocacy, public relations— to let the world know who we are and what we do. The work of ICNA, particularly the humanitarian work, which has positively impacted the lives of millions around the world, needs to be elaborated on and become more well known. What the Islamophobes do is that they not only attack us, but they also detract from our ability to help those who need our aid.

When they attack ICNA, Helping Hand, or ICNA Relief, it takes our focus away from charity work and towards answering the Islamophobes. It also has the potential to cut down on the financial support we get from our donors. The Islamophobic attacks may scare and confuse some donors which can result in the reduction of the support we give to orphans, refugees, and those in dire need of help. So, our goal to deal with the external challenges is to let the world know that Islamophobes have an agenda which is not only to attack us but with the result that it deprives the millions of people of the charity they receive from ICNA, Helping Hand, ICNA Relief, and other Muslim charities.

Internally, this year we have focused on introducing several new areas of our work. We want to safeguard our organization, we want to ensure we follow the best organizational models, and we want to enhance our work not only in number but also by making sure we fulfill every single requirement that is given to us by the laws applying to a 513c organization. To achieve that we have created several new departments and one of them is the Growth and Development department. ICNA attracts so many people—25,000 attend the national convention, 50,000 attend the ICNA Six Flags events, and thousands attend regional conventions—and many of these people know ICNA but are only loosely attached to it. They are familiar with ICNA but they are not really “part” of ICNA. Our goal is to increase our membership and growth. That is why our new Growth and Development department, under the leadership of Dr. Arif Mannan, has been created. Similarly, for all the challenges which 501(3)c organizations including Helping Hand, ICNA Relief, and ICNA face, we have created a legal department. Under the leadership of one of our senior attorneys, Br. Hamid Siddiqui, we have created ICNA’s Legal department which will guide all the entities and divisions of ICNA about the legal issues. ICNA’s membership and leadership will be able to get an initial consultation and if needed, we can be directed to further legal assistance from other entities.

Another department which we have added this year is our Compliance department. The growth of ICNA has been, alhamdulillah, phenomenal. But this growth also comes with more responsibility and more scrutiny, so we want to conduct “self-policing.” We want to make sure that we police ourselves, and that is why we have created a Compliance and HR department headed by Dr. Shahid Mansoor. Also, this year our focus has again been on youth, so our new vice president, Br. Salman Mujahid, will lead the department of ICNA Youth to focus on the younger Muslims.

One more thing that has been on many minds for many years is that Islamic movements across the world have always had immense support from literature and those who have provided us necessary guidelines. However, the need to change some of the details and practical aspects of that literature needs to be evaluated. That literature will be print or social media, anything that will reach the masses and improve their tarbiyah, mindset, and anything that will attract the young living in this country, written in a more understandable and familiar language to the American population. So, a new department under the leadership of Dr. Shahid Rafiq has been created and will be called the Publication and Research department. As a vice president, Dr. Shahid and his team will work to produce social media and literature which will be modified so it is up-to-date according to the current needs of American, European, and English-speaking Muslims. That was a much-needed department, and we have decided to focus on producing literature applicable to the current age and trends. Insha’Allah, we will commit financial resources and efforts to produce something which will be beneficial for decades to come.

Q: What is the greatest challenge Muslims are facing in America, and under your leadership, what is the solution ICNA has to offer?

A: I largely answered this question previously, where I stated that the major challenges we face are both external and internal. The biggest external challenge we face is the misinformation of Islamophobes against Muslims in general and the misinformation of Islamophobes against Islamic work, movements, and organizations. They are not only targeting the religion of Islam and Muslims only, but they are also targeting organized Islamic work. ICNA has taken on the responsibility to let the world know how beneficial Islamic work is. Let everyone know that our existence depends on the good work that Islamic movements have done and are how they are needed across the world. I see Islamophobia as the biggest challenge externally for Muslims in this country and outside the country, and I see the education of Muslims about the positive impact and need for Islamic movements and organized work is another challenge we face; and insha’Allah we would like to educate Muslims about the benefits of Islamic work today and in the past.

Q: Has recent instability in America’s socio-political arena changed ICNA’s approach to its outreach, activism, or other domestic services, and if so, to what extent?

A: ICNA’s approach to current problems is the same approach that our Prophet taught us, that all humans are equal, as he said in his last sermon which guided humanity almost 1500 years ago. This still remains the hallmark and solution to problems not only in America but all across the developed and underdeveloped world. No white is superior to a black and no black is superior to a white. No Arab is superior to a non-Arab and no non-Arab is superior to an Arab. These were the words that were told to us by our Prophet before he left the world. He made it clear that all humans are equal and suggested that the only thing that will help us is to take care of each other. He also mentioned women’s rights and taking care of Muslims as well as fellow human beings. All these are guidelines for Muslims in the current socio-political arena. ICNA’s Social Justice department has geared its efforts to address these issues. They are not new, and we are not changing ourselves, we are just presenting our true image to the world. We are a religion, a faith, and a group of people who believe in our default mindset that all humans are equal. No one is superior on the account of gender, ethnicity, or skin color. Establishing those guidelines of our religion and conveying them to the people of this country is the challenge, and ICNA’s Social Justice department, as well as ICNA’s other entities, will work on it.

Q: In a polarized political atmosphere, how will ICNA seek to establish a socio-political Muslim presence without compromising on Islamic social, moral, and religious values?

A: We all know very well that ICNA is a 513c organization that cannot, should not, and will not be directly involved in political activism. However, we are the largest Muslim grassroots organization in this country. Hence, the members, supporters, volunteers, and affiliates of ICNA look towards ICNA for guidelines and leadership. They want to know what ICNA thinks about certain issues. In the last four years, hatred against minorities, Muslims, and people of color was promoted by some parties in the U.S. ICNA has taken a stand through its subsidiaries to let the world know the true Islamic social, moral, and religious values. They are based on justice, equality, fairness, and respect. There is a hadith of the Prophet where he states that those who do not respect the elders and are not kind to the youngsters are not among us. This basically sets the guidelines of how an individual Muslim should be: respect for our elders, which is not emphasized in modern societies, taking care of young ones by being kind, merciful, and helping them take responsibility for their lives in this world and the next.

The Prophet said that the best thing a father can leave behind is solid (righteous) children. I believe that it is important to convey this message. At the same time, there are some basic Islamic values. Whether it is the hijab of sisters, salat, zakat—whatever it is, we need to make sure the world knows that the basic attributes of our religion are here to stay and we need to explain them better. We need to let people know what Sharia means and what Jihad means. We need to make sure people know how Islam approaches non-Muslims, the rights of women, and the rights of minorities. It is very important that though we are not a political organization, at the same time our membership and followers need guidelines. Insha’Allah ICNA will provide the guidelines, leadership, mindset, education, and resources to ensure the world and American Muslims who seek ICNA’s leadership, that they will receive the proper answers.

Q: What are ICNA’s most significant goals for the next ten years and how will ICNA methodically work to accomplish them?

A: ICNA is an organization that has always looked for improvement and an ongoing development of an organizational vision. That is one of the reasons that, alhamdulillah, ICNA has taken care of many challenges and has continued to grow. ICNA’s leadership and shura have created a plan called “Vision 2030.” The plan is basically to envision what ICNA will be in 2030. Under the leadership of one of our vice presidents, Br. Sa’ad Kazmi, he and his team have worked tirelessly and have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours to develop a plan as to how ICNA will grow, most effectively deal with challenges, safeguard the organization, improve its image in society, and what ICNA will be ten years from now. The development of the Vision 2030 plan has already been completed, and it’s in the works of being implemented in the next few months.

The plan is extremely detailed and significant because it will help ICNA grow, help Muslims living in North America, and implement a vision and plan. For example, ICNA’s plan in the next two years is to reach out to every single Islamic center in America and reach out to every single Muslim community, big or small. Our goal is that an ICNA entity, whether it is ICNA itself or any of its subsidiaries, will be established in every single Muslim community in the next two years. Insha’Allah, that is our goal. Similarly, our dawah department has started a very comprehensive plan, and under the leadership of one of our vice presidents Br. Farhan Pervez, our goal in the next several years is to reach every single American household. You heard it right! Every single American home. It is an extremely ambitious plan but we, in shaa’ Allah, with the help of Allah and our fellow Muslims, are very much determined to achieve this goal of introducing our great religion to every single household in this country. There are many things we have adapted to achieve this goal, utilizing social media tools and other similar tools. This is briefly the game plan for the next ten years. ICNA is an organization with a vision, and we are looking forward to our ten-year plan and, insha’Allah, may Allah guide us, we will achieve the implementation of this plan.

Avatar photo BurhanulHaq BrulaAuthor Burhanulhaq Brula is a first-year student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Related Posts