2020 Difference Makers: Shafiq Malik

Shafiq Malik
Aaron Eisenhower ~ B Magazine

Editor's note: This is one of 12 Newsmakers stories in B Magazine. To read other stories about area Newsmakers, click here. And to subscribe to the print edition of B Magazine, click here.

Shafiq Malik was the first one to arrive at the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau on April 24 as flames engulfed the building on the first morning of Ramadan.

In that horrific moment, the 63-year-old head of the Islamic Center kept himself calm and quickly took action. Malik helped evacuate the Islamic Center's second-floor residents, then gathered the community into an adjacent building and led morning prayer as tears filled his eyes.

Within hours, he made arrangements for the adjacent building to serve as a transitional prayer house for five daily prayers throughout the holy month of Ramadan. Malik stayed at the scene of the fire assisting firefighters throughout the day and worked with investigators from the Cape Girardeau Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Malik coordinated support from local churches and organizations and tirelessly communicated with countless members of the Cape Girardeau community to continuously provide updates in the wake of the arson attack, while also providing shelter and food in his own home to the displaced tenants of the Islamic Center.

"Those people had basically become homeless within minutes. They did not have any place to go to or anything, so I brought them home with me and asked them to stay with me until they are able to situate themselves," Malik said.

The local Islamic community saw an outpouring of support in the following days as news of the attack made headlines around the world. In less than a day, the City of Cape Girardeau produced a video message of support to the Islamic Center community and a GoFundMe campaign received more than 1,000 donations for the Islamic Center's recovery efforts.

"Though it is a tragic moment in Cape Girardeau, what gave us joy during this time of grief and sadness is the overwhelming support from the government officials, the interfaith community, the churches in town, the media and the kind and peaceful people of Cape Girardeau," Malik stated in a Southeast Missourian guest editorial on behalf of the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau. "We thank them for denouncing evil and for their outstanding social and moral support. We also thank them for their financial support to rebuild our place of worship. They did that because this is truly who the people of Cape Girardeau are and to let us know that care and love conquers all. You are truly our friends and family, and as Mr. John Mehner elegantly put it: We are neighbors, colleagues and friends and we are one Cape.'"

As investigators located and charged a suspect for a federal hate crime, Malik worked to protect the local community from an unseen obstacle inside the transitional prayer house -- COVID-19. He carefully oriented the room so it could host small groups for prayer during Ramadan through carefully enforcing recommended health precautions. Despite all the trials, the local Muslim community held steadfast in their faith throughout the holy month.

While some traditions were forgone due to the coronavirus and the local Muslim community's ability to gather to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on May 24 remained hindered, the significance of the day was undeniable. After the conclusion of a prayer and sermon, Malik radiated with joy as he exchanged elbow bumps in lieu of hugs, and joyous smiles were reciprocated by all -- even if from under a face mask.

"We still use that place as our transitional prayer hall. Because of Shafiq Malik's leadership, his quick decision-making ability, everyone was safe," The Cape Girardeau Islamic Center stated in its nomination. "[We] had food and shelter and we did not miss a single daily prayer."

Malik's natural ability to lead and care for others extends throughout the local and regional areas. As the owner and operator of Fountainbleau Lodge in Cape Girardeau, Malik maintains high standards for health, cleanliness and sanitation. He ensured the health and safety of his residents and staff through restricting facility access, regular temperature checks, mask use, thorough hand washing and social distancing. Malik also employs community members, feeds students and works with inmates in Charleston and Bonne Terre.

"Malik has proved to be a great leader at the time of crisis who made the right decisions at the right time and made them promptly," stated the nomination from the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau. "He is truly a difference-maker for us in 2020."

Although he said he does not know exactly why the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau turned to him as a leader, Malik said he thinks his sincere personality helps naturally draw in others. His sincerity can also be seen through his work with the Islamic Center's many programs and outreach events. Instead of doing one or two "big" things in the world, Malik said his purpose is to do many smaller, more meaningful things for the local community.

Visit www.capeislamiccenter.com for more information about how to contribute to fundraising efforts to rebuild the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau.