Imam Mohamed Magid is a well-respected Islamic figure in North America who specialized in Islamic studies at the Al-Medina Institute. He is the executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) based in Virginia, USA and is also the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He has long been committed to public service through organizations such as The Peaceful Families Project, Annual Twinning of Mosques & Synagogues, and Fairfax Faith Communities in Action. He is currently the chairman of the International Interfaith Peace Corps (IIPC) whose mission is to promote interfaith work in order to bridge the gap between different religious cultures through tolerance, respect, and understanding.

During his visit to Dakar on March 27, 2014, Tostan’s Interim Director of Communications Aliou Bassoum discussed our work with him. Imam Magid expressed his appreciation for Tostan’s comprehensive basic education program, as well as the new modules on the Reinforcement of Parental Practices and Child Protection. He was particularly impressed with Tostan’s approach to ending harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting. According to Imam Magid, Tostan’s work with religious leaders is very important “because influencing one of them, is influencing many members of the communities” due to their predominant role within the community.

Aliou Bassoum:  Imam Magid, today you visited Tostan. What do you think about Tostan? You have heard about our basic education program as well as the Reinforcement of Parental Practices and Child Protection modules?  What are your thoughts about these programs?

Imam Magid: First of all, I would like to say that the Tostan model is one that really stands out. It is clear that it is a model that many NGOs can learn from, one that respects religion, customs, and culture and does not come from an arrogant outside approach. Rather, it comes from within. You work with people in communities, you work with people at all levels of society, and you understand who they are. You come to them with love and respect. You want to help improve their personal life, rather than tell them what you think their life should look like. You want them to take ownership for their own development. And therefore, what I heard today about the work of Tostan just reconfirmed what I’ve heard before and what I’ve been reading about on this great organization.

I believe that religious leaders, whether here or in any part of Africa, will be more comfortable in working with such a program than in working with any other programs that I have seen. I was very impressed by [Tostan Child Protection Specialist and Islamic Scholar] Mouhamed Cherif Diop’s work with religious leaders, and I really believe that [Tostan’s Founder] Molly Melching is a champion in understanding people’s culture – being with the people, living with them, and creating a partnership between the Tostan learning center and the community. I believe that this approach deserves support from those who really believe in positive change. Change happens through being consistent, persistent, and at the same time compassionate, respectful, and caring for individuals. I think this is the model that I have seen here.

AB: You said this morning that the Tostan model is acknowledged as one of the best in the world, why do you think that is so?

IM: In order to bring about positive change, the Holy Koran says you have to consider the people you talk to as your people, even if you disagree with them on an idea. Acknowledging that they are your people means you have acknowledged their culture and values. You introduce new ideas based on deeper values that already exist, and then through dialogue, create a new understanding of these values. Every person, as Molly always says, aspires to live in dignity, to bring honor to their family, and seek wellbeing and prosperity for their children. Tostan helps create a forum to discuss the values and goals and says – let’s create at a map of how you would like to reach your goals. You then work with the people towards achieving those goals.  You do not go to people and say – I have a blueprint for you, so do this or that. People have to create their own blueprint. But you help them to set their own objectives and goals, and then they can ask you to help them reach that goal through different means. That is why I say it is a model example of change from within.

AB: Thanks Imam

IM:  You’re welcome and thank you.