Photo credit: Mimi Anis

Photo credit: Mimi Anis

Dr. Umar Abd-Allah

Scholar in residence

Dr. Umar Abd-Allah (Wymann-Landgraf) is an American Muslim who embraced Islam in 1970. He studied Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Chicago and received his doctorate there in 1978. He taught at the Universities of Windsor (Ontario), Temple, Michigan, and King Abdul-Aziz (Jeddah). During several years abroad, he was able to study with a number of traditional Islamic scholars. He returned to the United States in 2000 to work with the Nawawi Foundation (Chicago), where he remained for more than a decade. He currently works under the auspices of The Oasis Initiative (Chicago). He is engaged in independent research, writing, lecturing, and teaching across the United States, Canada, Europe, West Africa, and elsewhere with a focus on Islamic theology, spirituality, law and legal theory, and history. Among his written works are A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Malik and Medina: Islamic Legal Reasoning in the Formative Period (Brill, 2013). He has also authored a number of articles, among them Islam and the Cultural ImperativeLiving Islam with PurposeOne God, Many Names, and Mercy, the Stamp of Creation.

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Faisal Ghias

Executive director

Faisal Ghias is one of the founding directors of the Oasis Initiative. He helped launch the Zawiyah program, a holistic spiritual and educational retreat that brings together leading scholars, thought leaders and Muslims from around the world to discuss relevant issues facing the community. He received his Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, where his interests included nonprofit management, philanthropy, and strategic planning. Mr. Ghias was a member of the Pillars Fund Steering Committee in 2016 and sits on the board of the Oasis Initiative. He is a passionate believer in the rich Islamic tradition and its ability to creatively address the issues facing contemporary society. He lives in Oak Park, IL with his wife and two children.


Noor Khan

board member

Noor Khan is a Gifted Program educator in the Naperville School District. She holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction along with endorsements in Gifted Education and Mathematics. She received grants through the University of Chicago and North Central College to study abroad in China and Japan, focusing on the educational system and culture. Ms. Khan has held advisory positions in the national organization Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA) and local organization Sisters Stepping Up. Since 2000, she has been involved in various activities for Dr. Umar Abd-Allah, including organizing events and continuing Islamic education.  You can find her skydiving or taking lone trips up Mt. Fuji. Currently she lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.


Zacharea Katerji

board member

Zacharea Katerji is currently an international coordinator at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.  Previously, he worked at R&R Event Management focusing on the event needs of nonprofit organizations. Zacharea is the co-founder of the Universal School Alumni Association which provides support and guidance to high school students. He earned his Master's in Health Administration at Cornell University and his Bachelor's degree in Finance from Loyola University Chicago where he received the annual Regent's Award for his leadership and service to the University.

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Mansoor Panawala

board member

Mansoor Panawala is a leader in the Analytics function at Google. He manages a team across Chicago, LA, and San Francisco helping clients with their marketing and sales challenges. Prior to Google, Mansoor was the CFO of Global IT at Aon Corporation, where he managed over $1B in annual global expenditure. Previously, he was a consultant at McKinsey & Company, a premier management consulting firm in their Chicago and Dubai Offices. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Northwestern University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.


Samirah Abd-Allah

Board Member

Samirah Abd-Allah was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois.  She was hazily introduced to Islam by her sophomore world history text book.  However, it was the reading of Alex Haley's the Autobiography of Malcolm X that kindled her real interest in Islam. She affirmed her shahada after graduation.  Learning about Islam and an abiding interest in community collaboration led her to volunteer in a Muslim-led after school tutoring center.  It was at that tiny center/mosque she met and married her husband. 

Samirah received her degree in Education at the University of Michigan.  She worked abroad as a teacher, tutor, writer and school administrator. After raising a family and working in education and communications overseas, she has gone full circle and returned to the greater Chicago area. Her most recent work has been with Islam centric schools in Chicago's southern suburbs. 


Sana Syed

Board Member

Sana Syed has a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and is completing her Master's in Religious Leadership for Social Transformation at the Chicago Theological Seminary. She is trained in Permaculture and Biodynamic Agriculture. Sana works at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) as Assistant to the Director. She also serves as the Program Director for the Zawiyah Rosales. Sana loves to learn, travel and work on community projects around the globe. 


Shazia Pappa

Board Member

Shazia Pappa is a leader in User Experience and Design for Aon. In this role, she sets the design language, UX strategy and best practices for all digital environments. Shazia has a vested interest in the spiritual fortitude of the Muslim community and utilizes her skills and professional expertise to manage communications and programming for The Oasis Initiative, of which she is a founding member. She has also served in various design roles at non-profits around the country, including, HEART Women and Girls, Mohammed Webb Foundation and Hyde Park Muslim Family Circle. Shazia received her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can find her rock climbing in Peru, tracking animals on safari, or people watching at a cafe or gallery. She currently lives in Chicago with her fluffy cat.