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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
May 31, 2023

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Muslim leader in New Jersey doing good, building bridges


PHILADELPHIA — A word common to Arabic, Persian, and Urdu — three of the languages Muqqadas Ejaz uses in addition to English — aptly describes her mission. The word is muhsen, and it means “doing good.”

Muhsen also is the name of one of the half-dozen national American Muslim organizations to which Ejaz — an advocate, volunteer, and networker extraordinaire — devotes her time and her formidable people skills.

“In my head, I have a formula for life,” Ejaz, 37, said in an interview at GCLEA, which stands for Gracious Center for Learning and Enrichment, a mosque in Cherry Hill, N.J. She lives in the township with her husband, Umair Chaudhry, a software engineer, and their daughter, Anaya, 7.

“You create opportunities for others, and God creates opportunities for you,” said Ejaz.

From helping out with everything from vaccinations to voter registration, she said, “I grab any opportunity I can to benefit the community.”

Known as “Mookie” to friends and associates — 150 of whom attended a July 7 event to celebrate her election to the Camden County Democratic Committee — Ejaz “is a doer,” said Fozia Janjua, the first American Muslim to serve on the Mount Laurel township council.

“She was one of my biggest supporters when I was running,” said Janjua, one of 20 American Muslims elected to local political offices last year in the Garden State, according to the Muslim League of Voters of New Jersey.

Ejaz “encourages other women and people from the South Asian community to get involved,” Janjua said. “She wants everybody to succeed.”

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1984, Ejaz grew up the eldest of four siblings in a middle-class household. Her family was politically active and believed girls as well as boys should be well-educated.

Her father, a successful businessman named Mohammad Tahir, “is my inspiration,” Ejaz said. She emigrated to the United States with her parents in 2002 — my father “is in love with America,” she said — and lived in Texas and Georgia before moving to South Jersey in 2007.

“Making friends in Houston, Atlanta, and Rome, Ga., taught me the distinction between media and people,” said Ejaz. “This hyped-up divide we have really shouldn’t be there.”

It was also in the South, while an Atlanta high school student working as a summer volunteer with the AmeriCorps Vista program, that Ejaz had a formative experience.

She was assisting in classes provided to refugees from Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted by years of conflict between government and rebel forces in the Darfur region in the early 2000s.

“We were working with a brother and sister who were 5 and 7 and very scared when they got here,” Ejaz recalled.

“But after two months they were different kids. Their father would come in to the classroom early and sit in a chair in the corner just to watch them play with other kids. Just to watch them play. I realized that I was helping do something important.”

Ejaz became a U.S. citizen in 2008 and believes it is essential that Muslims and other Americans connect with each other as Americans across boundaries of race, ethnicity, geography, and faith. In recognition of her efforts, Camden County awarded her a MLK Freedom Medal in 2018. The medals are presented to county residents whose community service reflects the goals of the late Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.