Islamica Magazine’s profile of 10 American Muslim leaders

I wrote a short profile of Saafir Rabb in Islamica's latest issue as part of a series on promising American Muslim leaders.

The 4400 block of Park Heights Avenue sits in a dreary corner of northwest Baltimore characterized by boarded up buildings, dollar stores, and liquor shops. In a city known for its long stretches of neglected housing and dilapidated storefronts, this neighborhood offers nothing out of the ordinary. But all of that is about to change. Saafir Rabb is working diligently to revitalize the area. Driven by a desire to serve humanity, he makes due with limited resources by leveraging the creative energy of people around him to turn dreams into tangible realities. One such reality is “I Can’t We Can,” (ICWC) a non-profit addiction rehabilitation program created by Saafir’s uncle, Israel Cason, in 1997. Cason, who overcame thirty years of drug addiction, applied lessons he learned at a rehab program in Philadelphia to help people in his home community who faced similar challenges. With ICWC he offers addicts a year long, 24-hour-a-day regimen that remedies not only the physical impact of substance abuse, but also its psychological and social effects. A spiritual message that moves effortlessly between the language of the Qur’an and the Bible underlies the program’s philosophy, recognizing that a connection to G-d is essential to giving meaning to a life coming out of addiction. On this Saafir cites the story of the Prophet Adam, who after taking from which he had no business taking, was provided with a spiritual path that would lead him back to Paradise. Round-the-clock treatment does not come cheap. This is why Cason relies on Saafir to raise funds and design the administrative apparatus that has madeICWC a sustainable institution. One unlikely source of funding has come through ICWC’s role as an incubator for local businesses that employ, and in some cases are owned, by graduates of the program. Saafir also tapped the public sector, convincing stewards of the five-plus billion dollars allocated each year for development in Baltimore that Park Heights is worthy of a second look. Treading where few Muslim community developers have gone before, Saafir has concrete plans to acquire the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to rebuild the entire neighborhood one block at a time. ICWC’s annual budget has grown from hundreds of thousand dollars to several million. Its programs now include facilities for youth mentoring, workforce training, assisting recently released inmates, and there are now over seventy housing units reserved for recovering addicts. Park Heights now has a new adult health and education center, $8 million in funding to renovate 48 low income housing units is now secured and a new office park is also in the works. For Saafir, ICWC’s motto of saving lives and winning souls reflects the essence of what it means to be Muslim. Drawing from the teachings of Imam W.D. Muhammad, for whom he serves as an advisor, Saafir believes that working to restore a people’s humanity through spirituality and good works is precisely the mission of the Prophet Muhammad. “Doing good for the world and for your self is a delicate balance,” he admits. Given his efforts thus far, it looks like Saafir found that balance.