As selected by THE MUSLIM NETWORK
JANUARY MUSLIM OF THE MONTH, JIMMY SMALL!
BY: ALAA ESSAFI
Meet Jimmy Small, lifelong community activist who has not left a single rock unturned in the community activism space in North Jersey. His leadership roles have spanned school boards, several non-profit organizations, and political offices. We are proud to announce him as our January Muslim of the Month!
He graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s in political science and Master’s in public administration. Jimmy worked in the Newark Public School system for over 25 years as a science teacher and track and field coach.
His political career began in 1987 when he was appointed to the Parent-Teacher Association at his daughter’s school. In 1999, Jimmy was elected to East Orange city council, becoming one of the first Muslim elected officials in New Jersey and the country. He served two terms.
“I like to say I was the last city council president of the 20th century because I was the president in 1999”, he joked.
“At the time, some Muslims believed that being involved in politics is haram (prohibited). A misuse of the adjectives that we use in our religion. But I’ve never stopped.”
In 2015, Jimmy and Ayaz Aslam founded The New Jersey Muslim Voices for Progress (NJMVP), previously known as New Jersey Muslim Voter Project. NJMVP is a coalition based organization that aims to integrate Muslims into the social, political, and religious fabric of New Jersey. NJMVP has over 100 Muslim organizations in their coalition for unity and establishing an NJ Muslim voice in local and national elections. Their current initiatives include advocating for a “Muslim Heritage & Appreciation” month to celebrate the cultural diversity of Muslims across New Jersey.
“AT THE TIME, SOME MUSLIMS BELIEVED THAT BEING INVOLVED IN POLITICS IS HARAM (PROHIBITED). A MISUSE OF THE ADJECTIVES THAT WE USE IN OUR RELIGION. BUT I’VE NEVER STOPPED.”
Trenton and East Orange were among the first municipalities to observe Muslim holidays on school calendars in the early 1990s. The growing movement for inclusivity in school calendars coupled with the political positions of Muslim Americans in local governments has translated into several districts and states across the country granting students with days off for Muslim holidays.
“If I get pushback from people, I say we are American citizens just like everyone else. When our Muslim brothers and sisters become councilmen/councilwomen, mayor, freeholder, etc. then they have a tendency to put our Islam in focus. We work to get Muslim holidays as a part of school calendars. When we get into these positions, we work to help people.” he said.
You can visit the NJMVP website and take a look at their initiatives here!