Category: 2017 Recipients

Elias Acevedo – 2017 Recipient

Major: Film
Degree: M.F.A.
School: CCNY
Zehra Attari Memorial Fund


Elias recently got a job with NowThis as an Associate Video Editor and Producer in NYC. 

Message for Supporters:
I wanted to reach out and thank you from the bottom of my heart. My name is Elias and this scholarship means everything to me. It was the break to me being the first to receive a master’s degree in my family, being an educated convert from low income, and pursuing my dream to becoming a scholar in the name of Islam. As Islam has changed my life, this scholarship has changed my abilities and opportunity to becoming a service to the Ummah. I will be able to shed light on the beauties of Islam through filmmaking. This is my passion; projecting images together that appeal to an audience.

I am a Spanish-American filmmaker whose work focuses on the mechanisms that assemble society and its cultural differences. Born in New Jersey, graduated with honors from the University of Tampa with a BA in Film and Media Arts and now pursuing my Masters of Fine Arts at CCNY in NY- my goal is to specialize in my field. Through study and travel I’ve been able to developed stories mostly as an editor and cinematographer geographically ranging throughout central Florida and beyond internationally to countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I have devoted my filmmaking towards reiterating the importance of social justice. While in Lebanon, I worked for Oxfam GB focusing on women empowerment and covered Doctors Without Borders’ work in Yemen’s health care system.

By making these films, by humanizing Muslims, we’re are changing the mentalities of the American public and its misconceptions. The same American public that is influenced by the high authority in the presidential cabinet and the government that support it. This US policy that is based of fear and hate; this is what I want wash away with my films. Not just by showing stories influenced by Islam, but by having an educated Muslim represent a greater America where our opinion isn’t based on ignorance. Thank you again, I hope to make you and all others proud.

: Elias [Hamza] Acevedo is a Spanish-American filmmaker whose work focuses on the mechanisms that assemble society and its cultural differences. Currently pursuing his Masters of Fine Arts at CCNY in NY, Elias is specializing in his field. Born in New Jersey, graduated with honors from the University of Tampa with a BA in Film and Media Arts. Through study and travel Elias has developed stories mostly as an editor and cinematographer geographically ranging throughout central Florida and beyond internationally to countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He has devoted his filmmaking towards reiterating the importance of social justice. While in Lebanon, Elias has worked for Oxfam GB focusing on women empowerment and covered Doctors Without Borders’ work in Yemen’s health care system. His films have won international awards from Bahrain and various national film festivals. His production and post production work has broadcasted on platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Bright House network.  His work projects elements of cultural differences, social pressures and mental stimuluses through stories trapped in the world. Aside from filmmaking, Elias is an activist and expresses his position through social awareness. He serves food to the homeless with Love has No Borders and fights humanitarian causes through various non-profit organizations. Elias was the vice president of Muslim Student Association and fought for consistent activism throughout the community.  His objective is to exploit the truth and beauty behind realism, through non-mainstream styles.

Areas of Interest:

Yousef Assabahi – 2017 Recipient

Major: Film
Degree: B.A.
School: UCLA
Ghulam and Arifa Azad Family 



Message to Supporters: My name is Yousef Assabahi, a Yemeni-American aspiring filmmaker who strives to tell stories of forgotten and vulnerable people. I am a rising senior (4thyear) student at the School of Theater, Film, and Television, UCLA. I am writing this note to express my deepest gratitude for your generosity.

On a neither cold nor hot night of March, 2011, I was standing next to a tent in the “Change Square”. The Arab Spring was flourishing, and so did young Yemenis. Next to me sat a man in his forties, another in his mid-twenties, and one like my age, 16, and there were tens of groups like ours. Stories of dreams, desires, pain, broken men, and scattered families were circulating. “Who’s going to tell these stories?” I asked myself. Since then, it has been my desire to become a storyteller; to tell the stories of human relationships both with themselves and with fate; stories of people in quest of identities, who have multiple homes, yet they feel alienated, and the stories of oppressed humans.

My work, more importantly, aims to influence public opinion and break stereotypes. Both as a storyteller, and a social activist, I have been working on bringing a conversation to the table about political and social issues. In my school, most of my work and research has been about Middle Eastern-American relations, state of Muslims in America, and, particularly, those who feel lost and vulnerable.

As I mentioned above, I am going into my senior year. As a Directing student, my thesis project should be a short film, which in Los Angeles can be very expensive.  Along with the high cost of studying at UCLA, I did not know how I will fund the project. Thanks to you, the support provided by this award is enormous, and beyond helpful… it is encouraging and inspiring!  No words are capable of expressing how grateful I am for receiving this award.

Bio: Yousef Assabahi is a film student pursuing directing at the School of Theater, Film, and Television, UCLA. Born in Yemen, and living in America, Yousef seeks to understand the human’s relationship with themselves, home, exile, and with others through storytelling. Most importantly, he strives to tell stories that explore the lives of Muslim individuals, stories that do not merely break stereotypes, but transcends the cultural chains; simply resisting both. Yousef is also a social activist. He served as a vice president for the American Association of Yemeni Students and Professionals(AAYSP) for two years. He was the Youth Representative and Facilitator at the International Education And Resources Network(iEARN) for three years, as he attended the Network’s annual conferences in Qatar, and Argentina. In Yemen, Yousef was an activist in the Yemeni Revolution during the Arab Spring. He wrote for news, and organized protests and riots. Yousef desires—through storytelling—to bridge the American-Middle Eastern relations in order to bring stability to that region.

Areas of Interest:
Storytelling and Social Change

Khalilah Waajid – 2017 Recipient

Major: Film
Degree: M.F.A.
School: Loyola Marymount University
Islamic Institute of Orange County (IIOC)



Message to Supporters: My name is Z. Khalilah Waajid, I am ISF’s 2015 National Film Grant recipient for documentary. And thanks to your generosity I am one of ISF’s 2017 Scholarship Recipients. 

As a filmmaker it is my goal to live by verse 49:13 “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”

I am a lover of knowledge and humanity– here to tell stories that examine the essence of human nature. As I continue my education to complete my Master of Fine Arts at one of the top film programs in the nation, Loyola Marymount University, I am most excited that I have the backing of you, a supporter of the American Muslim voice. It is my goal to tell the stories of the underrepresented and shine a light on the Muslim experience and others forgotten.

I am currently in postproduction of my documentary, Undiscovered Princess,a tale of my daughter dealing with her identity as a black American Muslim. I am also in pre-production of my thesis film, a fiction of an Afro-Latino boy’s illegal border crossing. As you may have gathered, I am intrigued by the unique stories that come out of marginalized communities as I am a minority my self.

In this current political climate, people like you have seen the importance of supporting Muslim voices like mine and I truly am grateful to you for your sadaqah. Your donation supports my education, which not only impacts my life but improves my family’s as well. I am inspired by your kindness and intend is to pay it forward.

Thank you for making change not only your heart but with your actions as well. I pray Allah will bless you and your family to see the benefit in this life and the next.

Bio: One of the first experiences that molded Z.Khalilah as a filmmaker was her undergraduate documentary entitled Into The Mirror. What began as a journey to document her 16-year-old sister in law, quickly blossomed into a story of relationships, vulnerability and adversity in the wake of a revealed pregnancy. Through this experience, Z.Khalilah has been inspired to keep honesty at the forefront of her films.

Her aesthetic influences and creative interests are shaped by two distinct factors: atmosphere and the people within that given atmosphere. She values illuminating the stories of the unheard. While attaining her BA, Z.Khalilah learned about the struggles of undocumented youth in Atlanta and their unheard voices. She was inspired to embark on her own journey of research discovering the many migration stories of these children. She became dedicated to the research of Latin American child’s clandestine crossing and immersed herself in the culture, camped in the Sonora desert while providing humanitarian aid, visited the border town Nogales, Mexico, and presented in communities and universities.  Through this experience she learned about digging into human nature and finding the intimate moments that make us human. As a result this motivated her future project Andrés’s Crossing, a narrative based on a boy’s illegal border crossing through Arizona’s Sonora desert. It is her hopes to bring this story to the big screen during her MFA career.

As her desire to hone in on her craft grew, she was accepted into one of the nation’s top film schools, Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television in Los Angeles. As a Dean’s Fellow she is currently pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts and is set to graduate in 2018.

Her latest documentary, Undiscovered Princess, explores the importance of cultural and self-identity for a child. Z.Khalilah immerses the audience into her daughter’s world as the first grader’s love of princesses is used to explore what it means to be Black Muslim girl in America. Undiscovered Princess is currently in postproduction.

Areas of Interest:
Directing Documentary and Fiction Film, Post Production, Non-Profit

Huda Abdul-Razzak – 2017 Recipient

Major: Animation
Degree: M.F.A.
School: Savannah College of Art and Design
Hashmi Family



Message to Supporters: I am honored to have been chosen as a recipient of this scholarship.  I am grateful to God and all those involved who facilitated this organization which supports thoughtful and creative Muslim contributors to our community and the broader American landscape.

I am a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin where I obtained a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering and a Certification Digital Arts and Media.  When I realized that my passion and talents are in Film and Animation, I decided to pursue my M.F.A. degree in Animation through Savannah College of Art and Design.  Scholarships and grants such as those afforded by ISF will assist me in continuing my education in the field of my passion.  With this education I hope to create meaningful and inspiring stories for young Muslim Americans, presented through a medium young people relate to and enjoy.  Through these visual stories, I hope to strengthen the young Muslim identity and provide narratives to help them navigate their intersectional experience of being Muslim here in the West.  Such a medium should also offer the broader American public glimpses into Islamic life.  I ask for your prayers in this endeavor.
Bio: Huda Abdul-Razzak is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Animation at Savannah College of Art and Design.  After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering and a Certification in Digital Arts and Media, Huda decided to pursue her newly-realized passion in Animation and Film.  Born in Chicago, IL and raised in Texas, Huda has always been a committed member of her Muslim communities, working with local mosques and Muslim organizations to support their efforts to strengthen the American Muslim community. In 2009, Huda took on a position at CAIR where she worked to facilitate the organization’s involvement in the Muslim community and local area. During this time, she also worked on several short films for Muslim organizations to create awareness of their local projects.  In 2012, she began an advanced studies degree in Character Animation through Animation Mentor.  Shortly after her to move to Chicago in 2014, she and her husband were commissioned to write a children’s picture book for the Salaam Reads imprint at Simon & Schuster, scheduled for a future release.  In 2017, Huda began a graduate program through Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to further develop her skills and knowledge in animation and film.   With her education, she hopes to eventually produce high quality animated content that will inspire young Muslims and also reflect a more sincere image of the Muslim American community to the broader public.  Huda hopes to one day use her talents and knowledge to teach a next generation of animation filmmakers.

Areas of Interest:
Film, Animation

Saquib Usman – 2017 Recipient

Major: Anthropology
Degree: Ph.D.
School: University of Michigan
American Muslim Fund



Message to Supporters: Thank you very much for your support for the ISF, the scholarship will help support me as I work on my doctoral work studying Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Efforts like these are instrumental in providing students access to critical professional fields where Muslims continue to be underrepresented. Besides the financial support, the ​social ​connections and​ extensions of encouragement are ​supportive  for aspiring scholars such as myself. There is no recompense for excellence except excellence, so may you be rewarded for your efforts!

Bio: Saquib Ali Usman cultivated a spirit of caring for others throughout his life. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, his interests in cross-cultural engagement began in early in his childhood with periods of study and living in Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. In 2008, Saquib interned at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) where he gained valuable knowledge and skills in community organizing and direct services. After completing his undergraduate degree in International Studies and Arabic, Saquib worked for the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School as a clinical researcher and iOS software developer until he formally turned his focus towards social sciences and history.

Supported by generous fellowships from the NSF-GRFP, Saquib’s dissertation work draws on sociocultural, linguistic, and historical perspectives to explore the world of blind performers, scholars and literary people in places across the Islamic world. His fieldwork focuses on the Maghreb, taking him to urban spaces like Fes and Marrakech, rural spaces in Mauritania, and into various historical archives that reveal connections between blindness, processes of memory and knowledge, disability activism, and the politics of representation in modernity.

Alongside his PhD work at Michigan, Saquib serves as the coordinator for the Interdisciplinary Islamic Studies Seminar (IISS) at University of Michigan’s International Institute, where he works to bring together scholars, artists and activists by organizing talks, workshops, symposiums, and other forums throughout the academic year.

Areas of Interest:

Alia Reza – 2017 Recipient

Major: Anthropology
Degree: B.A.
School: University of Denver
Amana Mutual Funds



Message to Supporters: Thank you for sponsoring my ISF 2017 scholarship. I am grateful to have this opportunity to continue my education and research.

My name is Alia Reza, and I am a fourth-year student of anthropology at the University of Denver. I realized early in my studies that the skills I learned as an anthropologist helped me stand up to prejudice and racism in the world around me. As a Muslim, I want to better combat the fear and hatred of Islam that exists today. I am currently working with professors in DU’s anthropology department to develop a documentary tentatively titled Trump and the Making of Hysteria. The film discusses the uncanny parallels between the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has grown in the wake of Trump’s rise to power and the rhetoric that was the precursor to Japanese internment during WWII, and encourages viewers to stand up for the rights of American Muslims in order to prevent an outcome reflective of the 1940s. Our goal is to increase public awareness surrounding the biased and prejudiced rhetoric attached to the Trump administration and the negative impacts of many of Trump’s policies — notably his immigration bans — in order to motivate communities across Colorado to take a stand against such policies. The documentary is scheduled for completion at the end of April 2017.

Additionally, every anthropology student at DU must complete an undergraduate capstone project in which we use our anthropological knowledge to address significant topics in today’s world. In my research, I have created an anonymous “group auto-ethnography” — in the form of an online journal — of the DU Muslim community. When I have collected enough entries, I will develop an ethnographic analysis of the students’ writings, focusing on how their experiences as American Muslims in today’s world contribute to shaping their identity as university students and members of the Denver community.

This scholarship will allow me to complete my degree and my capstone research. Without having to worry about paying my full tuition, I can focus more of my time on my projects and classes in order to better the Denver area for members of the Muslim community. Thank you again for your support in my education.

Bio: Alia Reza is a fourth-year student at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. She studies anthropology, art history, and english. As an anthropology major she critically analyzes relationships between cultures of the past and present. She has also been privileged be able to work closely with the anthropology department in researching, interviewing and writing for projects, one of which is a film about the uncanny parallels between the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has grown in the wake of Trump’s rise to power and the rhetoric that was the precursor to Japanese internment during WWII, and encourages viewers to stand up for the rights of American Muslims in order to prevent an outcome reflective of the 1940s. The film explores the stories and experiences of American Muslims, and how the political and social climate affects how they view the world and interact with their surroundings.

Areas of Interest:
Museum Anthropology focused on American Muslims

Nabintou Doumbia – 2017 Recipient

Major: Sociology
Degree: B.A.
School: Wayne State University
Afzal Family Foundation



Message to Supporters:
My name is Nabintou Doumbia; my passion in the social sciences trace way back to a time before I even new that there was terminology for the study of society, its structures, and functions; and I am a 2017 ISF scholarship recipient because of individuals like you who have believed in and cared about my passions enough to invest in them, to invest in me.

Because of your generosity, there lies not a single doubt in mind that my 13-year-old self believes in me now, as much as I needed her to believe in herself then. It is this same belief that has now been strengthened into the foundation for which I build the pillars for all of my work, efforts, and initiatives.

One primary example of this is the TEDxTalk that I delivered on the lack of feminine hygiene products provided to female inmates in Michigan state prisons. Without such belief, I would not view my work as an obligation communicated to me by the eleventh verse in the thirteenth chapter of the Holy Qur’an, “… verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves.” It is this verse that motivates me to continue work that both, pressures and influences, public policy/opinion because that is included in the job description of a Muslim. Therefore, I work to use my voice—both in writing and in speech—as I did in my talk, as a means of power, used to empower.

This scholarship by the Islamic Scholarship Fund will impact my education by assisting me to do exactly that—continuing to use my hands, voice, and heart—as the words of the prophet (peace be upon him) instructs me to do—against injustice and for liberation and empowerment.

Thank you for your investment in my work, education, future plans, but especially for investing in my belief that I can use Sociology as a tool for being the agent of social change toward which I aspire. May Allah accept from you as a sadaqa jariyah (continuous charity) and from me as an amanah (trust). JazakumAllah Khair.

Bio: Nabintou Doumbia is in the process of attaining her Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Sociology at Wayne State University (WSU). She is an honors student at WSU; a proud Detroiter and the daughter of two, Ivorian immigrants from Ivory Coast, West Africa. She completed high school at the only private, Islamic school in her city—Al-Ikhlas Training Academy (ATA). It was at ATA where she developed a passion community activism that facilitates positive social change, embedded in Islamic principle and practices. Since, she continues youth work that centers the needs for transformative youth programming, understanding identity, passion exploration, mentorship, and spiritual grounding for Muslim youth with the Muslim American Society’s (MAS) Detroit chapter as a member of the executive youth council; Outreach Chair of her university’s Muslim Student Association (MSA); Associate Director of Detroit’s Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST); and co-founder of Sisterhood in Yere Lon [The Knowledge of Self]. She was recently selected as a fellow in the Muslim Wellness Foundation’s first cohort for its Developing Emerging Leaders Fellowship (D.R.E.L).

Areas of Interest: 
Law, Black Immigration, Academia/Research

Salina Nasir – 2017 Recipient

Major: Journalism
Degree: M.J.
School: UC Berkeley
Ghulam and Arifa Azad Family



Message to Supporters:
As I prepare myself for a future in journalism, it should be simple for me to write this message to you. But truth be told, I’m so excited and so moved by your support that I’m having a tough time searching for the right words to express my sincere gratitude! Thank you is not enough.
You support will allow me to pursue my passion in confidence. Even though journalism is an industry under attack, your belief in my education reaffirms my understanding that journalism is still a noble field worth pursuing and that journalists must preserve–even amidst threats and being considered  “enemies of the people” by the president of our very own country.

My goal is to reestablish the significance of journalism and to use my words as tools to expose injustice and remind the civil society that we all have the power to influence governmental policy. I wish to use journalism as an avenue to reach communities near and far and to bring to light the forgotten stories of marginalized, vulnerable people worldwide. This scholarship helps me do just that, and I’m beyond excited to get started.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can’t wait to tell stories that make you proud!

Bio: In the fall of 2017, Salina will begin her first year at UC Berkeley’s J-School, where she intends to focus her studies on the concentration of New Media. She is interested mostly in advocacy and awareness-building and focuses on using her background in journalism as a means to bring to light pressing issues that deserve society’s attention. During her senior year of undergrad, Salina served as the Editor-in-Chief of her university’s newspaper where she ran a weekly column, “Know Justice Know Peace,” which was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists and awarded the Mark of Excellence honor in 2015. She has written extensively on topics concerning governmental policy and human rights–from illegal occupations and drone warfare to police brutality and media duplicity. She has also worked closely with human rights organizations such as Amnesty International,, and Embracelets Connect. Prior to arriving at the J-School, Salina will be spending her summer as a volunteer working with refugees on the Greek island of Leros. She cares deeply for asylum-seekers and displaced persons and intends to bring back their stories in an effort to humanize an otherwise politicized topic. Salina’s goal is to always emphasize the human impact behind every news headline–and to remind the civil society that journalists are, in fact, not “enemies of the people.”

Areas of Interest:

Mohannad Rachid – 2017 Recipient

Major: Journalism
Degree: M.S.J.
School: Northwestern University
Abdul Sattar Rydhan Memorial Fund



Message to Supporters: My name is Mohannad Rachid and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generous award. Your generosity to empower the Muslim Community will, inshallah, benefit you in this life and the after. I will be starting my Masters of Science in Journalism at Northwestern University this fall. I am beyond excited to attend a prestigious institute that will equip me with skills to follow my passion and dreams. My life goal is to give back to my community and assist in giving my community its own voice in these United States.            

Since the crisis began in Syria, I’ve been very involved with with non-profit and humanitarian work. I served as a Coordinator for the Syrian American Medical Society for 8 months after graduating from Loyola University Chicago in 2015. I’m also a dedicated volunteer for organizations such as Karam Foundation, Hope For Syria and Zaakat Foundation and have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. During my college career, I served on the board of Students for Justice in Palestine for 3 years. I also was heavily involved in the MSA. I am also the Media Co-Chair for the annual MAS-ICNA convention, one of the biggest Islamic conventions in North America where I manage a team of 20+ volunteers. 

Bio: Mohannad Rachid is currently pursuing his Masters of Science in Journalism at Northwestern University. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2015 with a Bachelor’s in Finance. Being a first generation Syrian-American Muslim, Mohannad has been very involved with the crisis happening in Syria. He partook in a Humanitarian trip to Liberated Syria in 2013 and served as a Coordinator for the Syrian American Medical Society for 8 months after graduating. He’s also helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations through online fundraisers for Karam Foundation. During his college career, Mohannad was very involved with the Muslim Student Association and the Students for Justice in Palestine group. Mohannad wants to assist in giving his Muslim community its own voice and hopes to host his own show at a prime time spot in the near future.

Areas of Interest: 
Film, TV, Digital Media, Censorship, Dialect, Religion

Mohannad Ghawanmeh – 2017 Recipient

Major: Cinema and Media Studies
Degree: Ph.D.
School: UCLA
Dr. Jack Shaheen Memorial Scholarship



Message to Supporters: I wish to extend my utmost appreciation for your generous support of my academic progress towards a professorship in cinema and media studies, my occupational pursuit. I have recently fathered a lovely baby boy, who we have named Munir, Arabic for illuminator. Your support of my studies helps alleviate and endorses me at once.

I am training to become a film historian. My proposed dissertation centers on silent cinema in Egypt, 1896-1932. Among the more notable findings of my research is that Muslim Egyptians interacted with Egyptian Copts and Jews, as well as with European expats and immigrant Egyptians in a syncretic network of cinema practitioners.

Beside my dissertation, I am currently working on an essay due to be published within the Mizan series of Harvard University Press. The volume is about Muslims and cinema. My own contribution is on the sub-genre of the Islamic film within the Egyptian cinema. I am interested in the depiction of divinity in cinema, which has motivated me to write about the tradition of the Passion film, an essay that explores the British Board of Censorship’s objection to the materialization of Christ, and about the mode of commercial Egyptian films dealing with Islamic history that lasted about two decades, beginning with the filmic adaptation of Taha Hussein’s The Divine Promise(al-wa’d al-haq, 1950) as The Emergence of Islam(thuhour al-Islam, 1951)—a major box office and critical hit. Six films succeeded the original, concluding with the 1972 flop Al-Sheima’. This essay demonstrates not only Muslim sensitivities about depicting divinity, but also the wide divergence of opinion relating to the screen representation of Islamic history. Such documented ongoing disagreement among Muslims disclaims the uncritical, heard-mentality presumed of Muslims in misguided or malicious discourses relating to Islam in the west.

In closing, I wish to thank you once again and to assure you that I will use this award to increase the exposure and enhance the appreciation of a cinematic tradition that a minority in Egypt, let alone in America, know about. I look forward to acknowledging the contribution that this magnanimous scholarship has made to my research where appropriate in the resulting dissertation, as well as in the book I hope to publish thereof.

Bio: Mohannad Ghawanmeh is a film scholar and cineaste. He has produced, acted in, curated for, written about, and lectured on film. His expertise is centered on Arab cinema, but thoroughly extends into silent cinema, non-fiction cinema, transnational cinema, religious cinema, and more. Mohannad is a PhD candidate in Cinema and Media Studies in the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also a 2017/18 fellow in the American Research Center in Egypt. His dissertation investigates the political economy of silent cinema in Egypt, 1896–1932.

Areas of Interest:
Digital Media, Film