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Nabil Bayakly

An Arabic, Islamic Studies, and Biology professor, Brother Nabil Bayakly, also known as Abou Abdulghani, is an asset to the Memphis community as he advocates for social justice and works with a plethora of local organizations that aim to make the Memphis community more welcoming, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. He shares insight on how his personal background has impacted his current activism and advises this Muslim generation to be headstrong in advocating for justice. If you're interested in becoming more involved with the Memphis activist community, he's your man to contact!

Interviewed by Mariam Khayata

Besides being an Arabic and Islamic Studies professor at University of Memphis, being a full time Biology instructor at Lemoyne Owen College, and a dedicated member of the Memphis Muslim community, what greater work do you do in the Memphis area? (Can you mention your political involvement - volunteering for progressive campaigns, trying to get the Muslim community more involved in politics, etc..).

I am a member of many social clubs in our beloved city of Memphis like MSPJC, WIN, CUUV, and an “ally” to other organizations such as Latino Memphis, CCC, Black Lives Matter, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Planned Parenthood, LSV and others.  I am also a member of Smokey City/ Klondike Community Development in North Memphis. Through the aforementioned organizations, I stay in touch with almost all the events that are happening in Memphis on all levels. Another organization that I am proud to be part of is “Up the Vote 901” through which we register hundreds of voters and bring out many to vote for the first time in their lives,  especially individuals from minority communities.

On the “educational” side, I am a member of the Sierra Club in which we advocate for the environment and inform Memphians about the environmental treasure that they are living in. Also since I taught Environmental Science in college and my Masters is in Marine science, I am a strong advocate against pollution, global warming, and GHG emissions.

Has your personal background impacted the activism work you currently do?

Definitely! My parents taught me to always respect people and since my mother was born and raised in Ghana, she taught me to love, respect, and appreciate the Ghanaian society, specifically, and Africans in general.  In Lebanon, I went to “Tripoli Evangelical School” which was also known as the “American School.” Because of this background, I feel at home here in Memphis. Since I studied in a Christian school and am, myself, a Muslim, I learned how to explain Islam in a way that allows Christians to understand and appreciate it without them feeling intimidated or threatened.

As for my Islamic upbringing, Prophet Muhammad is the best role model. His life stories that detail him fighting for equality, truth, and justice are the best guidelines for any social activism.  

Many Muslim and non-Muslim Memphians, especially the youth, look up to you, your activism, and the great effort you put in towards helping improve our city. What motivates and inspires you to keep doing this great work and striving to achieve justice in our city?

Faith is my number one motivator [for all of the social activism work that I do] and the fact that the Quran teaches us that all humans were created equal in the eyes of Allah (SWT) and that we should respect and love one other.  There is SO much bigotry, racism, oppression, nepotism and so many other social ills in our society and the world. We have to heal the world one person at a time, one city at a time, one country at a time so that ultimately, the whole world can be healed.

As someone who has resided in Memphis for a long time, what changes have you seen our Muslim community adopt? Do you think the community’s evolution has been a positive one? What do you think our community can improve on?

Over the years, the Muslim community has matured in interfaith activism and inclusivity. There’s also been gradual improvement in the political sphere which I think has been great for our community. This kind of social activism is good for the Muslim community especially after the cowardly attacks on our nation on September 11. I think, first by the Grace of Allah and second by our social efforts, the Muslim community in the Mid-south did not suffer as much compared to other Muslim communities in our state and the rest of the country. In regard to what we can improve on, I feel that we often fall short in building bridges with other minority “ethnic” groups such as the African American, Latino, Chinese, Korean, Native Indigenous People and other minority communities in Memphis. We definitely need to strengthen our connection and stand in solidarity with these communities.

Do you have any advice that you’d like to share with our readers who would like to do similar work as you in their future?

My advice is that the young Muslim community in Memphis must overlook the shortcomings of the current Muslim leadership. Specifically, in the political and social spheres. Most of the leaders of Islamic centers/Mosques/organizations in Memphis are foreign born and they don’t have a good “navigational” sense in the AMERICAN political and social spheres. Some even feel intimidated in stepping outside their “comfort zones”.  I think that’s because most of us grew in third world countries where our governments are ran by tyrant rulers. This caused us to use the Mosques as hermitages and not a place for social activism and social changes. On the other hand Y’ALL (the young Muslims) grew up here and this is your country and you don’t know any other system, so take advantage of your social activism skills to the fullest and don’t be hindered or slowed down by the current Muslim leadership’s fear of CHANGE. The greatest asset of Islam in this country is its diversity; we must highlight it, celebrate it and be proud of it.  The way we pray with each other must be translated to outside the Mosques so the general public can see how we love and respect each other (of course this has to start with us first).


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