Advisory Council

Somayeh Nikooei

Somayeh is currently the Director at the Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF). She is also a consultant to Our Three Winners Foundation (OTWF). She has launched ISF’s operations and programs and has been expanding the work of the organization since.  She has a B.A. in Architectural Design from the University of California, Berkeley. She is  currently a part-time MPA student at San Francisco State University.  Prior to accepting her position at ISF, she was the Principal of Farsi Andeesheh School at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California.  She serves on the board of Northern California Islamic Council (NCIC). She enjoys yoga, painting, reading, cooking, hiking and biking with her two daughters and husband.

Imam Tahir Anwar

Imam Tahir Anwar is an American Muslim Imam (religious leader). His extensive contact with Imams were namely his father and grandfather (his first teachers), and his two brothers, who are both Imams in California. Born in London, Imam Tahir moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1983 and made San Jose his home. In 2001 upon completing his religious studies in India, he has been serving as the Imam of one of the oldest masjids in the country, the Islamic Center of San Jose. He is also a teacher and the head of the Islamic Studies Department at Granada Islamic School in nearby Santa Clara, an institution in its 26th year. After serving on the Human Rights Commission for the City of San Jose for over 5 years, Imam Tahir now serves on the Human Relations Commission for the County of Santa Clara. He also sits on Zaytuna College’s Management Committee as well as on other panels and boards. Imam Tahir has been leading a group to perform Hajj for several years, with CNN twice covering this pilgrimage. These days, he travels around the globe to deliver the message of Islam to the masses, and currently resides in San Jose, California with his wife and two sons. More information at

Irfan Rydhan

Irfan Rydhan has created several Muslim independent films including the 45 minute documentary: The Aftermath: American-Muslims After Sept. 11th which aired on local channels and at national Film Festivals. Irfan was one of the founding members of the SBIA Media Committee, which conducts training programs and classes on the Media and it’s coverage of Muslim issues in the Bay Area. He is currently serving as the Public Relations Director for Illume Magazine, a non-profit media organization which caters to the needs of the Muslim American community with more than 20,000 readers worldwide. Irfan earned his BA degree is architectural design from UC Berkeley.

Dr. Munir Jiwa

Munir Jiwa is the Founding Director of the Center for Islamic Studies and Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, and a visiting scholar at the Institutions and Governance Program at UC Berkeley. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University and a Masters in World Religions from Harvard Divinity School. His research interests include Islam and Muslims in the West, media, aesthetics, critical theory and decolonization, secularism and religious formation. He is the recipient of awards and grants from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. Since 1995 he has worked with Religions for Peace on interreligious programs around the world. Currently, he is serving on the Islamic Studies Advisory Group for Public Education at Stanford University, on the Steering Committee for the Contemporary Islam group at the AAR, and is an advisor to the Islamophobia Documentation and Research Project at the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley. He has a manuscript in review, titled, Exhibiting Muslims: Art, Politics and Identity in New York City.

Sheikh Al Bakri

Shaykh Alaeddin Al Bakri began his study of Islam at a young age in North Africa and continued his education in the Islamic sciences in Jordan, learning from predominant scholars in the Muslim world. He has served the Muslim community in the United States in numerous capacities: serving as Imam at several Islamic centers and establishing full-time and weekend Islamic schools. He has also served as a founding board member of IMAN (Inner City Muslim Action Network) in Chicago, as a book editor for IQRA and also is an advisory board member in many Islamic organizations. Having been trained in both the Islamic sciences and secular education, Shaykh Alaeddin has the ability to appeal to various audiences on his main focus of helping Muslims develop a deep understanding of the self, life and faith. He currently serves as Khateeb at Saratoga Masjid.

Dr. Reza Aslan

An internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, Aslan is a contributing editor at the Daily Beast. He has degrees in Religions from Santa Clara University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He serves on the board of directors of the Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for peace and security issues. Abraham’s Vision is an interfaith peace organization, PEN USA, which champions the rights of writers under siege around the world, and he serves on the national advisory board of the Levantine Cultural Center, building bridges between Americans and the Arab/Muslim world.

Aslan’s first book is the International Bestseller, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into thirteen languages, and named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade. He is also the author of How to Win a Cosmic War (published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age), and editor of the anthology from Norton titled Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East.
Born in Iran, he now lives in Los Angeles. To learn more about Reza, his books, and his activities, visit his home page at

Imam Zaid Shakir

Born in Berkeley, California, Imam Zaid Shakir accepted Islam in 1977 while serving in the United States Air Force. He then earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors in International Relations at American University in Washington, D.C., and later a Master’s in Political Science at Rutgers University, where he was co-leader of a successful South Africa divestment campaign. He is also co-founder of a local Islamic center, Masjid al-Huda.

After a year of studying Arabic in Egypt, he settled in New Haven, Connecticut, where he co-founded Masjid al-Islam, the Tri-State Muslim Education Initiative, and the Connecticut Muslim Coordinating Committee. As Imam of Masjid al-Islam from 1988 to 1994, he spearheaded a community renewal and grassroots anti-drug effort in the local neighborhood During this time, he also taught Political Science and Arabic at Southern Connecticut State University. For seven years in Syria, and briefly in Morocco, he immersed himself in an intense study of Arabic, Islamic law, Quranic studies, and Islamic spirituality with some of the top Muslim scholars of our age. In 2001, he graduated from Syria’s prestigious Abu Noor University and returned to Connecticut.

In 2003, he moved to Hayward, California to serve as a scholar-in-residence and lecturer at Zaytuna Institute, where he now teaches regular courses on Arabic, Islamic Law, History, and Islamic Spirituality. He has translated several works from Arabic into English, including The Heirs of the Prophets, published by Starlatch Press in 2001. In 2005, he released Scattered Pictures, an anthology of diverse essays, through Zaytuna Institute. He is widely regarded as an articulate voice on Islam and African-American issues and frequently speaks on these topics at major events.

Salman Ravala, Esq.

M. Salman Ravala is an attorney, arbitrator, and mediator in New York City. He is the Founder of Dollar-A-Day Scholarship Fund, Member of the Advisory Council at Islamic Scholarship Fund, Member of the Board of Trustees at Scholarship America, and leads a variety of Access to Justice and Access to Higher Education initiatives around the United States and globally. He currently Chairs the Young Lawyers’ Friends of the New York Bar Foundation and teaches at New York Law School.

A former Visiting Legal Scholar at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, Mr. Ravala most recently served as the Ariane de Rothschild fellow for Dialogue and Social Entrepreneurship, a program held in partnership with Columbia Business School and Cambridge University. Ravala’s civic engagement and community service have been recognized with the American Red Cross Distinguished Service Award, the President’s Call to Service Award and an invitation to speak at the White House. His long term vision is to decrease the illiteracy rate in Muslim majority countries as well as throughout America as he believes that education leads to change, hope, progress, and opportunity.

Michael Wolfe

Michael Wolfe is co-founder of Unity Productions Foundation and Co-Executive Producer for UPF Films, which has produced ten feature documentary films, mostly broadcast nationally on PBS. As an author, Wolfe’s first books on Islam were The Hadj, a first-person travel account, and One Thousand Roads to Mecca, an anthology of 10 centuries of pilgrim travel-writing. After September 11th, he edited Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith, which won a 2003 Wilbur Award.

In 1997, Wolfe hosted a televised account of the Hajj from Mecca broadcast nationally on ABC Nightline. The program was nominated for Peabody, Emmy, George Polk, and National Press Club Awards. In 2003, Wolfe worked with CNN-International reporter Zain Verjee to produce a documentary on the Hajj. Michael is also the co-director of UPF’s Hollywood engagement program, called MOST – Muslims on Screen and Television, which works with writers and producers to develop more true-to-life Muslim characters and story lines  on television and in films.

Dr. Hatem Bazian 

Dr. Hatem Bazian, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley, is a native Palestinian who immigrated to the US in pursuit of higher education. His twenty years of experience as a Palestinian activist have earned him the role of local media spokesperson on Middle East issues. He currently teaches at UC-Berkeley, where he graduated with a Ph.D. in Islamic studies, specializing in Islamic Law and the history of Muslims in Jerusalem. Dr. Bazian has also authored numerous articles on various aspects of the Middle East.

Dr. Farid Senzai

Farid Senzai is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Santa Clara University where he teaches courses on U.S. foreign policy and Middle East politics. Dr. Senzai was previously the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding where he conducted extensive research projects on American Muslims. He was also a research associate at the Brookings Institution and a research analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr. Senzai is on the board of advisers at The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a board member at the Central Asia Institute. He is co-author of Educating the Muslims of America (Oxford University Press, 2009) His most recent book is Political Islam in the Age of Democratization(Palgrave, 2013). Dr. Senzai received his M.A. in international affairs from Columbia University and Ph.D. in politics and international relations from Oxford University.