Photo by Kamal Moon

A young boy holds up two fingers in the universal sign for peace during an Oct. 22 protest in Milwaukee of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The devastating loss of life in Gaza is Wisconsin Muslim Journal’s most important news story of 2023. 

Israel’s ongoing military assault in Gaza since Oct. 8, in retaliation of Hamas’ surprise attack, has killed more than 21,000 people and wounded 55,000, according to Palestinian health authorities. It has displaced 1.9 million, according to relief agencies and Gaza health officials, Reuters reported Dec. 28.

“We are faced with a moral reckoning that is probably the most important one any of us will face in our lifetimes,” Palestinian human rights supporter Rabbi Brant Rosen told an audience Dec. 13 at Marquette University. Rosen is rabbi of a non-Zionist Jewish congregation in Evanston, Illinois.

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza is having a huge impact on Wisconsin Muslims, some personally. The state’s Muslim community responded with activism, coalition-building and education.

Standing with the Palestinians

The day the War on Gaza started, Wisconsin Muslims and allies launched into action. Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition founder Janan Najeeb called on leaders of other organizations concerned about human rights and justice to form a new coalition of now more than 60 Wisconsin-based organizations, the Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine. It first convened Oct. 8 and held a press conference Oct. 12 to call on the U.S. government to end its support of Israeli attacks on unarmed civilians in Gaza. 

Since then, WCJP made calls and visits to state representatives to demand a stop to U.S. support of Israel’s military assault on innocent civilians. It led a protest of thousands in Milwaukee Oct. 22 and another huge protest in Madison Dec. 9. Christian and Jewish allies, also members of WCJP, have also been vocal advocates for the Palestinians.

Almost a month into the war, dozens of people from Wisconsin marched on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Nov. 4 to participate in a protest aimed to draw the attention of U.S. lawmakers. 

The Islamic Society of Milwaukee organized several press conferences and multiple protests, as well as supported WCMJ protests. Two press conferences included medical personnel who spoke to human rights concerns and the restraints on medical personnel to offer help to the injured and sick in Gaza.

Photo by Cherrie Hanson

Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine held a press conference Oct. 12 at the Islamic Resource Center in Greenfield to demand the U.S. government end its support of Israeli military attacks on civilians in Gaza.

Photo by Kamal Moon

Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine led a march Oct. 22 in Milwaukee of thousands calling for peace and justice in Gaza.

Photo by Kamal Moon

Sandy Pasch of Jewish Voice for Peace-Milwaukee (second from left) called for a ceasefire in Gaza at a protest in Milwaukee in October. She is joined by Islamic Society Executive Director Othman Atta, Ala Ismail of American Muslims for Palestine-Milwaukee and Sha Harvey of JVP Milwaukee.

Photo by Kamal Moon

Jewish Voice for Peace-Milwaukee, a member organization of the Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine, marched in the Oct. 22 Milwaukee protest for peace and justice in Palestine.

Photos by Kamal Moon

Snapshots of Oct. 22 march for Palestine in Milwaukee.

Dozens of people from Wisconsin went to Washington, D.C., Nov. 4, to participate in a protest calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Photo by Yaseen Najeeb

Yaseen Najeeb of the Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine marched Nov. 4 in a protest in Washington, D.C., and took a photo of a crowd that extended “as far as the eye could see.”

Photo by Kamal Moon

The Wisconsin All-Out-For-Palestine march Dec. 9 drew more than 1,000 people to the State Capitol in Madison to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Photo by Kamal Moon

Photo by Kamal Moon

Photo by Kamal Moon

Photo by Kamal Moon

Local families mourn

Some Palestinian Americans in Wisconsin have lost loved ones in Gaza in the last quarter of 2023, including the Sakalla family of Franklin. More than 50 members of the Sakalla family were killed Oct. 24 in a single Israeli airstrike, family members told WMJ. 

Israel bombed a market in Jabaliya refugee camp Oct. 9, killing Faheemah Hamad, the sister of Brookfield resident Mohammad Hamad. Since then, he has received news of the deaths of several other family members. 

Milwaukee’s Abu Shawish family has lost multiple members in Gaza. “We’re between 2,000 and 3,000 people in our family all across the Gaza Strip, from the south to the middle and the north,” said Mhammad Abu Shawish, 60, of Milwaukee. “I have my sister and her family, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and cousins all over Gaza.” Four of his cousins were killed, he said.

“All of it is upsetting,” Abu Shawish explained. “It doesn’t matter if they are immediate relatives or other innocent people, it hurts us. We are all related as human beings.”

Milwaukee’s Abu Shawish family closely tracks casualties among their big family in Gaza. Brothers Bassam, Sargon, Yasser and Mhammad Abu Shawish flank their mother Fatemeh. Mhammad’s son-in-law Yahia Sarhan, far right.

A Franklin family mourns more than 50 relatives killed Oct. 24 in one Israeli missile strike in Khan Younis in south Gaza. Pictured above, their late “Aunt Nadia,” a second mother to three siblings in Franklin.

Educating fellow Americans

Muslim organizations and allies also organized and participated in educational programs. A goal mentioned in a statement from WCJP is “to address the false and one-sided narratives regarding Israel’s war on Gaza and the continued oppression of the indigenous Palestinian population.” 

MMWC hosted Maha Hilal, Ph.D., an expert on institutionalized Islamophobia, the War on Terror and counternarrative work, and author of Innocent Until Proven Muslim, Islamophobia, The War on Terror, and The Muslim Experience Since 9/11, in mid-October. She described how U.S. media’s rhetoric about Israel’s military operation in Gaza erases history, obscures reality and dehumanizes the Palestinian people.

As false media narratives sparked a rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes, the 8th annual Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival presented films Oct. 19-22 to foster understanding about Muslims and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Organizers deemed the film Gaza Fights for Freedom so important at that moment, they made admission free.

Maha Hilal, Ph.D., an expert on wartime rhetoric, explained how U.S. media rhetoric erases history, obscures reality and dehumanizes the Palestinians in a talk hosted by the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition in mid-October.

ISM also hosted discussions about the history of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, its violations of international and human rights law, and U.S. support of the occupation, largely attended by members of Greater Milwaukee’s Muslim community. The first step is educating ourselves, agreed Othman Atta and Munjed Ahmad, attorneys and members of ISM’s leadership who served as speakers.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee bucked the trend of universities nationwide that are shutting down challenging discussions by hosting a panel Nov. 21 that included pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli voices.

Masjids throughout the state addressed the situation in Gaza from an Islamic perspective and Wisconsin’s largest Islamic school offered education aimed to help students cope with news and televised images from Gaza. At Salam Elementary School in Milwaukee, ISM imam Rami Bleibel, Principal Khawla Asmar and Soheil Majeed, a family therapist and licensed professional counselor with the Muslim Community and Health Center of Wisconsin, addressed 450 students in grades 2 – 6 in mid-October.

Before Gaza was under attack, Nkosi Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela and a South African parliament member, came to Milwaukee in May as the first stop in his U.S. tour to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. Wisconsin Muslim Journal interviewed him prior to the launch of his tour.

At a reception at the Islamic Resource Center in Greenfield, Mandela quoted his grandfather, saying, “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.”

The 8th annual Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival, Oct. 19-22, made its presentation of “Gaza Fights for Freedom” free to the public because of its importance and relevance, organizers said.

Salam Elementary School and the Islamic Society of Milwaukee organized an assembly Oct. 18 for second – sixth graders with a family therapist to address the children’s fears and concerns about news from Gaza.

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition hosted a reception May 15 for South Africa parliament member Nkosi Mandela, grandson of anti-apartheid activist and South Africa’s first president Nelson Mandela, as he launched of his six-city U.S. tour in Milwaukee to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba.

Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, the grandson of globally respected icon of resistance against injustice Nelson Mandela, met members of Milwaukee’s Muslim community. 

Nkosi Mandela, grandson of South Africa’s first president Nelson Mandela, launched his six-city U.S. tour commemorating the Nakba, the ousting of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, in Milwaukee’s Turner Hall.

In other news

A growing recognition of Wisconsin Muslims and their contribution to our state was evident in the past year. In April, PBS Wisconsin premiered Wisconsin Life: The Wisconsin Muslim Project, a special which “aims to stimulate connections between Wisconsin’s Muslim and non-Muslim populations, and encourage us to obtain greater knowledge about, empathy for and appreciation of one another,” a PBS Wisconsin press release stated. 

It is the product of a collaboration between PBS Wisconsin, Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and We are Many—United Against Hate.

Photo credit: Lila Aryan, courtesy of PBS Wisconsin

Milwaukee photographer Lila Aryan captured images of Nariman Manasrah (second from left) and her family in Fond du Lac, one of 16 families she photographed for The Wisconsin Muslim Project’s online gallery.

It features Barron’s first Somali-born city council member, a mosque director helping curb hunger in Milwaukee, a University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor engaging young people in civics, founders of a Muslim art collective in Milwaukee and Fox Valley’s growing Muslim community. The project is available for online streaming.

The multi-faceted project also includes an animated biography of Mahmoud Atta, a key figure in the building of Milwaukee’s Muslim community, with accompanying educational materials for third-sixth grade students and educators, a traveling photography exhibit by Milwaukee photographer Lila Aryan and community events across the state.

llustration courtesy of PBS Wisconsin 

PBS Wisconsin unveiled its latest addition to Wisconsin Biographies in March, an animated biography of Mahmoud Othman Atta (1936-2016), a key figure in the Milwaukee Islamic community’s history.

Isaak Mohamed, (left) a Somali refugee, elected to the Barron City Council in 2022, is the first Somali in the state to win a local election.


Wisconsin Muslims were invited to attend prominent Eid celebrations from the White House to the Governor’s Residence. With a delegation of Wisconsin Muslims present, Gov. Tony Evers declared July Muslim American Heritage Month in Wisconsin.

Gov. Tony Evers and First Lady Kathy Evers welcomed Muslim leaders from across Wisconsin to the Executive Residence to celebrate 2023 Eid-al-Fitr. (Front, left-right) Masood Akhtar, Janan Najeeb, Alder Nasra Wehelie, Tahseen Hussaini, Dr. Iftekhar Khan, Gov. Tony Evers, Sheikh Alhagie Jallow, Imam Mohamed Abdelazim and Will Perry; (Back, left-right) Abubakr Khan, Syed Abbas, Mamadou Coulibaly, Hasan Sheikh Abdali, Dr. Khalid Siddiqui, Ibrahim Saeed and Rep. Samba Baldeh.

Recognition comes from years of work by Wisconsin Muslims—civic, social and philanthropic. Milwaukee Muslims played important roles in the City of Milwaukee’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The Islamic Society of Milwaukee has been a sponsor of the annual event since 2011. Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, was the chairperson of the 2023 MLK Celebration Steering Committee, which she has chaired or co-chaired the committee for more than 15 years.

Photos by Kamal Moon

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition executive director Janan Najeeb served as steering committee chair and emcee for Milwaukee’s 2023 Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday Celebration Jan. 16 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Muslims served their communities throughout the state in prominent and behind-the-scenes roles. For example, several civic-minded Muslims in Franklin have significant responsibilities in their local government. Mohammad Nowman serves on Franklin’s Finance Committee; Maqsood Khan, M.D., on the Franklin Public Schools Board; and Alderman Yousef Hassan on the City Council.

“Islam teaches us to be engaged in our community,” Khan said. “In Islam, you must know the families in your neighborhood in 40 homes in each direction, people of any religion or color. If they have any needs, we’re supposed to help. And we should find people who have common goals and work together to achieve them.”

(Left-right) Franklin Finance Committee member Mohammad Nowman, Franklin Public Schools Board Member Maqsood Khan, M.D., Mayor John Nelson and Alderman Yousef Hasan

As Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance gears up for the 2024 elections, it surveyed Muslims across the state who were registered in voter demographic databases to learn more about the positions of the state’s diverse Muslim community. WMCA was created in 2019 to empower the Muslim community and its allies in civics and democracy, and to encourage participation in the electoral process.

MMWC’s mental health conference, in collaboration with the Medical College of Wisconsin proved to be a valuable resource for mental and behavioral health care providers. It provided education to help practitioners best serve their Muslim clients. MMWC also offered mental health workshops throughout the year for the general public.

Photo by Kamal Moon

Dr. Farha Abbasi, Dr. Kameelah Oseguera, Dr. Munther Barakat, Dr. Asma Iqbal and Dr. Azhar Yunus discuss barriers to mental health care access at the 2nd Annual MMWC Behavioral and Mental Health Conference in Milwaukee in September.

More than 140 people attended the 2nd annual MMWC Behavioral and Mental Health Conference in September 2023.

Photo by Kamal Moon

Dr. Kameelah Osequera (right) praised her mentor Dr. Farha Abbasi (left) for her research that put a spotlight on Muslim mental healthcare in America. Both spoke at the MMWC Behavioral and Mental Health Conference in September.

Muslim Community and Health Center of Wisconsin is also expanding its mental and behavioral services to address a shortage in Milwaukee. In 2023, the organization was chosen to receive federal community project funding for mental health services.

Eat Halal Milwaukee organized a Suhoor Food Truck Fest in Milwaukee during Ramadan.

Islamic Society of Milwaukee and Hayat Pharmacy sponsored Eat Halal Milwaukee’s Suhoor Food Truck Fest during Ramadan. Members of the Salam School Student Council volunteered at the event.

Eat Halal Milwaukee’s Suhoor Food Truck Fest was held during Ramadan in the Islamic Society of Milwaukee’s parking lot.

Photos by Kamal Moon

While the Milwaukee Islamic Dawah Center continues its food pantry, helping feed the hungry in Milwaukee, and its Ibrahim House, helping people transition from incarceration into viable roles in society, this past year it also helped new immigrants, educators from Nigeria, adapt to life in Milwaukee.

Photo by Kamal Moon

Milwaukee Islamic Dawah Center hosted a welcome event Oct. 28 for new teachers Milwaukee Public Schools recruited from Nigeria to help fill the teacher shortage.  

Milwaukee Public Schools hired 147 teachers from abroad to fill this year’s vacancies. MPS began hiring international teachers in 2011—maybe a dozen or two to teach language courses. Now it is recruiting in all fields, especially special education, science and math, according to multiple news reports.

Photo by Kamal Moon

(Left to right) Musa D. Hassan, Ph.D., Will Perry and Musa Konneh sought ways to help newcomers from Nigeria settle into their new lives in Milwaukee.