Rashed Fakhruddin’s journey to Nashville started when as a one-year-old.
Originally from Bangladesh, he and his family moved to the United States when his father took a teaching position at Meharry Medical College in 1970.
Now, an engineer by profession, Rashed, 46, is a supervisor in his department at Nashville Electric Service and has been with the company for 20 years. Apart from his profession, Rashed also serves as the volunteer president of the Islamic Centers of Nashville.
VOLUNTEER PREZ and OUTREACH
A Hillsboro High School and later a 1991 Vanderbilt graduate, Rashed went on to get his Master’s in engineering studies at Georgia Tech. After school, he worked in the telecommunications industry in Knoxville, building radio stations for mobile carriers before moving back home to Nashville in 1995.
Coming back and having so much free time, Rashed found a niche in volunteerism. He became involved with the Islamic school, Nashville International Academy and served on the board for two years before taking a five-year break.
Two years ago, at the request of many in the community, he returned to a leadership position in the Islamic community as president.
Founded in 1978, The Islamic Center of Nashville built one of the first mosques in Middle Tennessee the following year in the 12th South neighborhood.
“I’ve enjoyed it and it’s been challenging, but we have a great community,” he said. “We have over 40 different nationalities that come here. We have to be involved in the community and build stronger relationships and bonds within the diversity in our Muslim community.”
Rashed said the Islamic Center of Nashville is also involved in numerous multicultural and outreach events and programs throughout the year. A few of them include a diversity brunch every Spring with 300 visitors. The mosque also does an annual open house for Black History Month, where they recognize someone locally for breaking down socio-economic barriers.
“We’ve been involved in the fight against domestic violence at this mosque,” he said.
Rashed serves on the YWCA board and has been involved with their MEND initiative which, according to their website, “empowers mentors to become positive role models for young men, and provides the tools young people need to mend our culture and end violence against women.”
“The national statistics in the United States are three women lose their lives every day to domestic violence,” he said. “I use that to educate the men in our congregation and other mosques around Tennessee to shed light on it and share what Islam teaches about compassionate treatment toward women.”
Besides being president and rotating on sermons, Rashed has been involved in the mosque’s multicultural awareness programs.
“We have over 70 different engagements throughout the year. Visitors and groups come to our center to take a tour and view a presentation of what Islam is and what it isn’t, our demographics, who we are and our history,” he said.
During the holy month of Ramadan this year, 14 groups including the YWCA, You Have The Power, a not-for-profit agency focused helping individuals affected by violent crimes, The Tennessean editorial board, law enforcement and Belmont University came to visit and tour the mosque located in the 12th South neighborhood.
“We also do student-teacher workshops to better equip teachers as they teach Muslims students,” he said. “We do it every year for Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb, Teach for America and TSU. It’s about an hour and a half program. They ask questions and we welcome them to our mosque.”
Rashed said with all the misinformation out there and things leading to hate, they wanted people to hear from them about what Islam is about.
“I can’t blame people for having misunderstandings if we’re not out there giving our narrative. We know firsthand, what it is. That’s our faith. We study it, we live it and it’s not what people see in clips in what’s happening around the world.”
Rashed said those actions don’t speak for the 1.6 billion Muslims, most of whom are peaceful law abiding citizens. He said when it comes to his work life he has to separate his faith from his professionalism.
“Whenever I’m called for a faith panel, that’s when I talk about faith. When it’s something like professionalism, I leave faith out because I don’t want to mix the two,” he said.
Along with being one of the first recipients of the Metro Human Relations Commission’s Gail Kerr Hercules Award, for his work in multicultural awareness, PENCIL Foundation also named Rashed volunteer of the year in May.
“My whole career I’ve been involved with volunteering reading to children. “I never do any of these things for awards or recognition, until last year I don’t remember winning an award since middle school basketball,” he joked.
Rashed said receiving those awards were an honor and he was humbled by it.
CONCERNS of the CITY
“A lot of times there are so many differences in our communities that we separate ourselves and segregate ourselves, but the best way to move forward to build a stronger community is through relationships.”
Rashed said education is something that he values deeply.
For the last seven years, he has been on the Metro Nashville Public Schools Engineering Partnership Council helping to arrange career fairs, working with career readiness, job shadowing and capstone projects for the estimated 7,000 high school freshman each year.
“There are not too many places in the country that have this same model,” he said. “Unfortunately we hear this negative narrative too often about our public schools. Being involved and speaking to a lot of the students as a business partner, I see kids that are energized, especially in their academies to further reaching that ceiling and going to college or reaching their careers. I don’t think that was there seven years ago. I think that speaks for the leadership in the school system.”
Rashed said he believes schools in Nashville are headed in the right direction but is concerned the changes that Metro Schools have to face like having so many languages present. He said these things are difficult but are also what make the school system beautiful.
“The good thing about Nashville is that it’s not like you have to work in a bubble,” he said. “We’ve got great partner organizations around town. We don’t have to do our own stuff to prove ourselves, it’s all about working smart with great organizations.”
Being understaffed is one of Rashed’s biggest challenges as president of the Islamic Center of Nashville.
He said the mosque is looking to hire a few positions like an imam and an operational director but said it is difficult and must be balanced because of limited funding.
With big ideas for the future and recent feasibility studies at expanding the mosque on 12th South, Rashed said the vision of the Islamic Center of Nashville is to have a family-friendly state of the art infrastructure that may include a dining hall, a restaurant, a space for a nonprofit to work and space for people to hang out.
“We want to make sure when people come to visit our mosque, male or female, Muslim or another faith, that they feel welcomed,” he said.
The organization is also currently building another mosque on 11 acres in Bellevue.
“Unlike other places where one builds a mosque, we are fortunate to live in Davidson County where those anti-Muslim sentiments are minimized because of the culture and the leadership here that will not tolerate that rhetoric,” he said. “I hope Tennesseans, Nashvillians, and people read through that and speak out.”
Rashed said when a shot was fired at the West End Synagogue last Spring, he immediately reached out to the Jewish community.
“We have a pretty cool situation here in Nashville. Our mosque has worked with about six different synagogues, and we have a really great relationship,” he said.
Rashed said the relationships with Muslims and other faiths practiced in Nashville has grown and evolved over time.
“I am also concerned about gentrification and affordable housing taking place. Of course, we’ve got this good economic boom, and I love it. I just want to see a little more balance and see everyone benefit from this boom,” he said.
Rashed said he isn’t sure what a solution is but hopes something can happen.
“Another challenge we face is the rhetoric against Muslims, just the other day a sheriff in Chattanooga and another one in Servier County were talking about how Muslims need to be monitored. It’s so frustrating hearing that and it’s like why don’t you come meet a Muslim? I grew up in this mosque and I don’t know any Muslims the way they portray us. We have a beautiful community and I think some of these people are living in their own little world. I think that gives us a good challenge to peacefully educate.”
Rashed said terrorist acts committed by Muslims are no different than terrorist acts committed by people of other faiths. They should be called out for who they are not by their faith.
Rashed defined community as people living together, caring for each other, working for each other and looking out after each other and having relationships with each other.
“We’ve succeeded when we know each other and when we go beyond our comfort zone,” he said. “There’s a verse in the Quran that says, ‘Oh mankind we created you from a single male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may get each other.’ In Islam God says go step out of your comfort zone. We’re all different, and this is an educational opportunity.”
Rashed has a wife, Mahmuda ‘Laboni’ Fakhruddin, and three children and said his family is what matters most to him.
“I’ve got a daughter in college so I want to make sure she feels comfortable and confident and makes friends and succeeds,” he said.
Rashed said his parents are now retired, and as they age, he wants to make sure they’re always happy.
He said volunteering has always been in his blood and always sees himself being a part of something.
“It is in my blood and a passion of mine to always give back to my community and help make Nashville a better place. I grew up seeing my father doing the same thing, and my faith has instilled in my service to the community and making sure that every moment of my life should be productive by helping others and doing good and charitable acts.”
To read more about The Islamic Center of Nashville and ways to get involved visit their website.
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Every Thursday Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
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