Her new job is high-profile religious leader

From Cincinnati.com
Shakila Ahmad is the Islamic Center's new leader and the first woman elected president of the board of trustees.

Shakila Ahmad is the Islamic Center’s new leader and the first woman elected president of the board of trustees. / The Enquirer/Tony Jones
by Krista Ramsey

Eighteen years ago, when Shakila Ahmad offered to arrange tours of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati where she’s a member, she thought she was volunteering for a single weekend.

Since then, 70,000 visitors have stopped by.

What Ahmad offered visitors was an opportunity the vast majority of Americans never get – to enter a mosque, discuss matters of faith face-to-face with their Muslim countrymen and find out what Islam is and what it isn’t.

The reward, Ahmad says, is “seeing the transformation on a person’s face and hearing them ask a difficult question without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.”

“We’re not the same,” she says, “but we have far more in common than we have differences.”

Ahmad has spent years advancing that message while serving on an array of influential local boards and quietly living it out as a neighbor, volunteer, professional, wife and mother.

From here on, her work won’t be done so quietly.

Last month, she assumed one of the area’s highest-profile religious leadership roles when she was elected president of the Islamic Center’s board of trustees – the first woman to hold the role in the Center’s 18-year history and only its second president.

She says accepting the role was “a big reflective and thoughtful moment for me.”

There are significant demands on her time, as she oversees operations of a mosque with 200 member-families and up to 3,000 Muslims involved on holy days. There are demands on her creativity and resourcefulness as the center begins a major social services initiative – called Rahma, or mercy – to connect families with physical and mental health services and promotes its bullying prevention program, interfaith women’s groups and leadership training for youth.

Most of all, there are demands on Ahmad’s abilities to engage people in sensitive religious topics, dispel misconceptions and build an interfaith dialogue in a society where religious tensions – especially surrounding Muslims – periodically flare.

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