For more than a decade, the Noor Islamic Cultural Center has been a place of worship and a community center for the Greater Columbus Muslim population. The idea came in the 1990s.
“The Muslim community leadership from that time always had a vision to have something with a larger platform, which could unite all the Muslims in this area,” says Imran Malik, executive president and outreach director.
The NICC helped centralize the Muslim community, which includes the second largest Somalia immigrant population, with one platform for community activities. Today, it’s one of the country’s largest Islamic institutions, relative to the amount of activities it offers. It also draws more than 10,000 people for events like Ramadan.
One key focus is the NICC’s interfaith outreach with the community at large. Malik says it works with all faith and cultural communities, including 150 churches, through its nonprofit Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders.
The concept of working across cultural and religious boundaries with other faith communities has a long history in suburban Columbus, he says. But the NICC isn’t just a leader locally, it’s recognized regionally and nationally as well.
It hosted the first national interfaith conference under Shoulder to Shoulder in 2013, as well as an event for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s leadership to establish a better relationship with the Muslim community. It’s also at the forefront of Muslim and Jewish collaborative relationship building.
But the national political rhetoric, anti-immigration movement and backlash against Muslim communities can make collaboration and outreach more challenging.
Locally, people know the NICC, but national messages can be harmful. Malik says it’s a matter of political leaders being mindful.
“We are here to work together and add value to the community at large. A greater and safer and secure America is the vision and mission for all of us,” he says.
The congregation has about 5,000 people who come from more than 40 different ethnicities, so the NICC knows how to bridge gaps and keep people under a united umbrella. It tries to ensure everyone is represented and included in the leadership and day-to-day operations.
“The majority of our programs are driven by the volunteers and the families who are our congregants,” Malik says.
The NICC only has five paid staff members.
“We are always open and welcoming to any faith, any culture that wants to come and learn about Islam and work together. We’ve always had that open door and open-heart policy for everyone and I think that has been a pretty significant attribute for our center to be this progressive,” he says.
The organization is structured professionally to ensure accountability. For example, an executive committee, which Malik currently leads, sets strategy for NICC’s 11 different departments that each have different subcommittees.