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First resident scholar of the Islamic Society of Baltimore makes it clear that religion isn’t holding her back – Baltimore Sun

Huda Hasan can trace the confidence she has in herself and her Islamic faith to the time she spent in a class with Maryam Azam.

Azam taught Hasan Islamic and Quranic studies at Al-Rahmah School in Windsor Mill. Hasan, 21, and his friends looked forward to Azam’s class every day, drawn to what Hasan called his “hands-on, friendly approach.”

“A lot of young people struggle with religion, especially these days. So the way she taught us, we were able to grow in love in our religion,” Hasan said. “And she always told us that no matter where we went, people should know that we are young American Muslim women in society by looking at our character and how we treat others.”

Azam’s ability to connect with her students is just one of the reasons she was recently named the Islamic Society of Baltimore’s first resident scholar.

A handful of families established the Islamic Society of Baltimore in 1969, according to the organization’s website. The company purchased an 8-acre piece of land, at Windsor Mill near Baltimore City, in 1982 to build his Sunni mosque, Masjid Al-Rahmah. The Islamic Society of Baltimore now offers several services and facilities, including the Ah-Rahmah School where Azam teaches middle school during the day and high school students as part of an after-school program.

Senior Resident Scholar Yaseen Shaikh said a Resident Scholar is another name for an imam who lives and serves within the community.

Responsibilities include planning and speaking at community events, addressing issues facing the Muslim community and providing religious guidance, Azam said.

Azam wants people to understand that while she certainly breaks stereotypes, roles like hers have always been open to women in Islam.

“Our religious heritage is basically: women have been in this position for years, or as leadership positions for years,” Azam said. “People, often they stereotype Islam with women not functioning or not being community leaders and women being oppressed.”

Azam added that although she is the first female scholar at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, women in her position are “actually more common than we know” it may not be as prominent in some cultures.

“When you learn Islam properly, you really realize that nothing stops you. Your religion doesn’t stop you, definitely,” Azam said.

Shaikh said the Islamic Society of Baltimore felt the need for a resident scholar who could “address the needs of the wider community, but also focus on developing and educating confident young Muslim women.”

Shaikh said the religious affairs committee, which makes recommendations for resident scholars, chose Azam over launching a nationwide search.

Azam grew up in Montgomery County, born to immigrant parents from Pakistan. She completed her studies in higher Islamic education at Darul-Uloom Al-Madania in Buffalo, New York, and began teaching at Al-Rahmah in 2014. after moving to Baltimore; she also holds a bachelor’s degree in health services management from the University of Maryland’s Global Campus. The Baltimore County resident is married and has three children in addition to her 2-year-old ragdoll cat, Munchkin.

Azam is also the director of the Tariqah program, an after-school program, student program for high school students who attend public school during the day. Azam said the program helps students retain their Islamic identity while navigating high school.

“Islam has been miscommunicated and misinterpreted,” Azam said. “One of my goals is to help them understand that if someone says something about Islam, you don’t just accept it. You need to explain to them that maybe you got the information from the wrong source, maybe you didn’t understand it. So basically helping them understand their religion better.

For example, Azam said, some of his female students will vent their frustration with “gender responsibilities,” pointing out things their brothers can do that they can’t. But Azam said that under Islam these activities are restricted for everyone.

“A lot of times these students that come to us from high school, it actually helps them because they realize that a lot of the things that they’re allowed to do or not really have nothing to do with their religion,” said Azam. said. “It’s basically culture.”

Girls in the community find Azam relatable, Shaikh said; his own daughter admires Azam.

“She had taught in school before, served in many different areas of the organization before, not really receiving the title of resident scholar, even though she was known to be one,” Shaikh said. “Everyone I spoke to was really happy to have this resource in the community and a guide in the community that they can relate to.”

Azam has to break down some barriers to be relatable. Azam chooses to wear a niqaab, a face veil that only exposes the eyes. As a result, people have made assumptions about her both outside and within the Muslim community, such as that she doesn’t speak English or that she has extreme opinions.

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Despite these stereotypes, Azam feels comfortable and confident in her niqaab, even when teaching or speaking at community events.

“I’ve never been to a point where I have to love it, take it off to prove myself or fit in,” Azam said.

Hasan, who chooses to wear a hijab, said Azam taught him and his friends that clothes don’t limit them. While the hijab is compulsory in some cultures and has sparked unrest in places like Iran, Hasan said it was not forced and girls did not have to wear it to represent Islam, instead emphasizing character and how you treat others. These are lessons she learned from Azam.

Years later, Hasan continues to look to Azam for spiritual guidance, claiming that Azam has always been a mentor in addition to being a teacher.

But his serve went way beyond that, Hasan said.

“She probably doesn’t even know it,” Hasan said. “But she really had an impact on a lot of people she might not even know.”

This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which features notable people from the Baltimore area who are impacting our diverse communities. If you would like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a brief description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Editor Kamau High at khigh@baltsun.com.