On November 6th, MALA’s Third Annual Gala drew over 100 friends and supporters from across the country to the iconic Chicago History Museum to “celebrate our histories.” Attendees were greeted by MALA cofounders Zainab Khan, Ahmed Omar, and Emil Aldaddah.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a congratulatory letter, also welcoming attendees to the celebration. “As Mayor, and on behalf of the City of Chicago, I am pleased and proud to welcome all those gathered for the Muslim American Leadership Alliance’s Third Annual Gala,” he wrote. “MALA has emerged as one of our most innovative civic and community organizations whose involved programming focuses on meeting the needs and sharing the narratives of Muslin Americans.” Read the Mayor’s full letter here.

In 2018, MALA held over 50 events in multiple cities, collected hundreds of stories, and created space for a diverse, vibrant community of people to share their identities, journeys, and triumph. The Gala was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate these friends, these stories, and these accomplishments.

The Gala was also an opportunity to honor a long-time friend of MALA who passed away in 2018 after a courageous battle with cancer. Dr. Fawaz Kannout was a Syrian-American doctor with a passion for the arts and a talent for friendship. MALA leadership presented him with the organization’s “Visionary Leadership Award,” which was accepted by Dr. Kannout’s wife, Amneh, and daughter, Lynn. In memory of Dr. Kannout’s impact on our communities, MALA is proud to launch the Fawaz Kannout Memorial Scholarship Fund. This fund will ensure the continuation of Dr. Kannout’s legacy by providing opportunities for young leaders to engage with the arts and with cultural initiatives.

MALA was honored to recognize several other unique and dynamic individuals for their dedication to community and leadership as well.

Narimon Safavi, a Chicago based Iranian-American entrepreneur who is also a contributor and analyst for the radio program Worldview on WBEZ (Chicago Public Media), received MALA’s first annual Community Builder Award for Cultural Leadership. This Award recognizes Safavi’s outstanding work in bridging the worlds of entrepreneurship, the arts, and current affairs, and, “in doing so, building a community of talent and passion.” Listen to Narimon’s StoryCorps interview, “To Chicago, from Tehran,” here. Isra Omar, a young Somali-American who has played a dynamic role in MALA’s growth, received MALA’s Emerging Leader Award for her outstanding contribution to the Muslim community in Chicago and her commitment to volunteer service. Listen to Isra’s StoryCorps interview, “Reconnecting with My Faith,” here.

Chicago powerhouse and long-time MALA friend Logan Meinerz received the MALA Community Builders Award for Philanthropy for his “commitment to inclusion, creativity, and human connection as solutions to society’s modern challenges.” Michael Stark of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and cofounder of the Chicago Leadership Alliance, received MALA’s first annual Community Builder Award for Leadership. This was recognition for Stark’s outstanding work in building and mentoring leaders across Chicago: “in the process of fostering positive, values-driven, pluralistic leadership, you have built bridges that have allowed for the respectful exchange of ideas.” Stark also led a session for MALA’s Young Leaders at their retreat, held the day before the gala. Read Michael’s StoryCorps interview, “Global Connectivity Begins At Home” here.

Rasheed Al Nozili received the MALA Community Builder Award for Journalism. Al Nozili is the publisher of the Yemeni American Net website and The Yemeni American News, which was launched in 2008. The newspaper and website both publish news, research, and studies that are related to the Yemeni American and the Arab American communities in both the English and Arabic languages, and highlight stories about successful Yemeni Americans.

Finally, MALA’s first annual MALA Human Rights Storytellers Award went to Mariya Taher, a long-time gender violence activist and co-founder of Sahiyo, an organization dedicated to ending Female Gential Cutting (FGC). Through Sahiyo, Taher has facilitated a powerful series of videos that allow FGC survivors to share their stories on their own terms. MALA looks forward to hosting screenings of these stories in 2019.

Galas are an opportunity to celebrate success; they are also an opportunity to spotlight opportunities to support an organization’s work. MALA is grateful to zMedi for agreeing to match donations during the evening’s ‘paddle raise’ up to $5,000.

Special thanks for this Gala also go to:

Zizi’s Café

the Chicago History Museum

Dr. Dominic Gaziano

Dr. Rajesh Iyengar

Brandt Kucharski

Logan Meinerz

Dr. Isaac Yu


Find a full list of our wonderful partners here.

To see more photos from the Gala, visit the MALA Facebook page and Flickr album.

This has been a year of wonderful friendships and initiatives, and we can’t wait to hear and collect more stories and grow together in 2019!


Zainab Khan, Ahmed Omar





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