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  • Zahra Chowdhury

Community Leaders: Sabriyya Shaw

This section is dedicated to telling the stories of prominent Muslims in the Memphis community. If you would like for us to a highlight a specific community member, please email

This month, PVS student Zahra Chowdhury sat down with Sabriyya Shaw, a local changemaker and community leader, to discuss her contributions to the city and how growing up in this city has shaped and inspired her.

Sabriyya Shaw

Zahra Chowdhury: What was it like growing up in Memphis and what are the major changes you’ve seen over the years?

Sabriyya Shaw: Growing up in Memphis was definitely interesting, especially because I was homeschooled. One of my first interactions with the Muslim community was through the Muslim Girl Scouts troop at Masjid Salam. The community has definitely grown a lot and gotten significantly larger since then. I really enjoy the size of the community because I had moved from Phoenix, which has a relatively large community compared to Memphis. Memphis is much smaller, which allows for everyone in the community to know each other and form closer bonds with one another. During my time in Memphis, I’ve seen several major changes like the start of the Memphis Islamic Center, the building of several new masajid, like Midtown Mosque and Masjid Ar-Rahman, and an increase in the number of Muslims actively involved in community service across the city. Memphis may not be for everyone but in the past few years, we’ve seen lots of people move here because, Alhamduliilah, there are opportunities for growth and opportunities for new people in this city.

Zahra Chowdhury: You’ve mentioned some pretty major changes. However, there’s no doubt that there is definitely room for improvement. What are some of the changes you’d like to see happen in your city?

Sabriyya Shaw: There’s a lot already happening in the city with the work of the general community and all the non-profits in our city, but we still have several issues we need to deal with like poverty, hunger, and homelessness. These issues present a potential avenue for us to get involved. I took a class a while ago, about nonprofits, and I learned that Memphis is one of the most charitable cities in the nation, with nearly 10,000 nonprofit organizations. The Muslim community has been involved with establishing the foundation for our religious community, but now we need to be involed with the outer part of the city. That itself will be a form of dawah as well while we go about alleviating these issues in our city. There are already people who are doing this, like 901 Ummah with their food drives, but we need more people to be involved in issues that aren’t necessarily ‘Muslim issues’. We have a responsibility as Muslims to better our city and I would like to see more of that in the future.

Zahra Chowdhury: Where did you get the idea to start the food pantry at Midtown Mosque? What inspired you to start the Midtown Mosque Halal Food Pantry, now known as the Tablespread?

Sabriyya Shaw: Truthfully, this wasn’t my idea, per se. I was approached by a community leader to take on this effort and Osman, who is a PVS alumni, also helped with this effort. I’ve always been involved, since my father used to take me to a food bank he was a part of back when we lived in Phoenix. I grew up there, answering the phone, and helping out at that food bank. So, I was familiar with this sort of effort before. For me, the Midtown Mosque Halal Food Pantry was a new opportunity, and I believe that whenever a new opportunity is presented to you, you should take it. I had no idea that it would still be running three years from now. I saw the food pantry not only as a new opportunity for me, but a means to bring people together and a way to learn about nonprofits. I think people often associate dawah with pamphlets and going around talking about Islam, but when we are involved with others in the city and we interact with those around us while working to alleviate the issues in our community, that is also a form of dawah too. People are more open to listening to what you have to say when you can actively demonstrate that you are doing what you can to improve the lives of those in your community.

Zahra Chowdhury: What advice do you have for young Muslims looking to improve their city? I know you’ve touched on being involved with other nonrpofits in the city, but how else can they contribute to bettering their Muslim community and the city at large?

Sabriyya Shaw: Apart from interacting with your local community and other nonprofits, I’d say the most important thing is to keep your intentions in check. Also, remember, whatever you choose to do, it doesn’t have to start out as a big project. We often focus and celebrate the big projects or big efforts but when you start out with a small efort, even when other people don’t care, don’t feel discouraged. Be sincere in what you do and don’t shoot for the huge efforts or goals immediately. Start small, celebrate the small wins, and then with time, you will progress into larger things. I recommend you find others who are passionate and care about the efforts you care about and Inshallah, with the right intentions, Allah will give you the ability to do what you wish.


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