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Ammar Abdulhamid, Director

Ammar Abdulhamid of the Tharwa Foundation

Awareness, activism, empowerment, and education. These goals of the Tharwa Foundation are what direct its tireless efforts to develop and strengthen Muslim communities throughout the Mideast. The institution’s Director, Ammar Abdulhamid, explains that one of the ultimate objectives is for individuals to make greater political strides, becoming more involved in their governments’ futures, and to personally define what they expect from their fellow countrymen and themselves. This Maryland-based non-profit acts as the mechanism to help thousands of Muslims highlight cross-culture commonalities and set aside divergent ideologies. In operation since 2001, the Tharwa Foundation has outlined a number of exciting proposals, such as the Tharwa Institute for Leadership and Tharwa Radio & TV, to launch its business capabilities to the next level. Learn more about the foundation and how you can become part of its ever-growing movement in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.


Tharwa Foundation


June 2001


www.tharwacommunity.org (currently being redesigned)

Name, Title

Ammar Abdulhamid




Damascus, Syria

Current residence

Silver Spring, Maryland


University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, BS in History, 1992

Work Experience

Tharwa Foundation

The Saban Center for Middle East Policy
The Brookings Institution
Non-Resident fellow



About the non-profit

The Tharwa Foundation is an independent non-partisan institution that seeks to shed light on the concerns and aspirations of the various communal groups inhabiting the Muslim World, to improve communal ties, and create more awareness in the region and the world regarding diversity issues as part and parcel of ongoing efforts at modernization and democratization.

These are indeed highly ambitious goals, and the founders and team members of Tharwa are quite aware of that. As such, they are under no illusions that their work will proceed smoothly or that the desired goals will be achieved in their lifetimes. But, such is the nature of our current challenges in the region that ignoring such issues is no longer tenable, and tackling them can only be effective when people are reconciled to the necessity of taking one small step at a time, and having the patience to see our efforts through. This commitment is exactly what unites the Tharwa Team all through the region and the world.

The Tharwa Foundation comes as a culmination of efforts launched in mid-2001 under the name of the Tharwa Project in Damascus, Syria. The Project went regional, as planned, in January 2003. Indeed, the regional dimension of the Project is part of the message of Tharwa, namely that the region needs to see itself again as a commonwealth of nations, and ethnic and religious groups. This, we believe, captures the true and historic essence of the region.

Excerpts from the Tharwa Manifesto… (click to expand)

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Managing such an institute as the Tharwa Foundation, at this particular stage in time, as we move towards establishing a US presence and as we plan to upgrade our sites and further expand the scope and institutional nature of our work is quite challenging, and sometimes I do feel that I am not really well-suited to the task. I am much more suited to be a novelist and a poet than a civil society leader, activism is something I stumbled upon as I tried to live up to my words, I guess, but I never envisioned that it would take me so far.

Administrative work and communicating with people as a team leader are quite daunting, and had I not been blessed with a very supportive wife and very talented and understanding team leaders. Tharwa would have remained just a dream, or an afterthought.

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time responding to emails, writing proposals to fund Tharwa’s activities for 2008 and beyond, work on finalizing our training modules for regional activist for 2007, and finalizing the curriculum for the launch year of the Tharwa Leadership Institute, in collaboration with a very talented team members, academic advisors and international activists. This in addition to giving lectures around the nation, taking part in various conferences, writing op-eds, and giving interviews.

Most notable milestones

  • June 2001, planning for Tharwa Project begins.
  • March 2003, Tharwa is officially launched in Damascus, with the support of a wider regional and international network.
  • September 2005, Tharwa Director told to leave country due to increasing activities of Tharwa (communal relations is a very sensitive topic in Syria and the region). Tharwa is forced to close its offices in Damascus. But Tharwa Team in Syria still maintains an active presence in the country.
  • November 2005, Tharwa Foundation establishes an official presence in Lebanon.
  • December 2006, Tharwa Foundation files for a 501c(3) status in Washington, D.C.

What’s the niche?

Tharwa’s uniqueness lies in its insistence on working directly on one of the region’s most sensitive and taboo issues: communal and diversity politics. Even when it focuses on issues related to youth activism, women’s rights and environmental activism, Tharwa always opts for a multi-communal approach so as help the region’s various communities shatter stereotypes and fears and establish bridges of trust by working together on a variety of issues of mutual benefit.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Reaching out to a wider grassroots audience with the limited means that we currently have under our disposal. Our message is both important and timely, and need to be heard as widely as possible.

What’s in store for the future?

  • The Tharwa Community will be drastically redesigned and upgraded by the end of February.
  • An online portal for the Tharwa Institute for Leadership will be launched in April.
  • The seeds for Tharwa Radio and TV are being planted for 2008.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Tharwa is always on the look for interns and volunteers for our DC office and to support our regional teams and chapters. We would like to encourage people to visit our new Tharwa Community site by the end of February, to sign our Tharwa Manifesto and become active members of various types in our little but growing community.

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Best way to keep a competitive edge

But, the most important thing of all is to keep on reaching out to people from all different walk of life, no mater ho difficult and strenuous this happens to be. After all, non-profit work is first and foremost about people.

Guiding principle in life

Difference is Wealth. Small Steps Count.

Yardstick of success

The number of Tharwa Community Members by the end of 2007, and the volume of visitors to our various sites, commenters on our blogs and activists applying for enrollment in the Tharwa Institute.

Goal yet to be achieved

A team of volunteers and supporters in every major city all through the region, and on many campuses an in many major cities all through the world.

Best practical advice

Be patient and, no matter how lofty the goals and ideals are, how interesting the ground work can be, and how dull and tedious administrative tasks look by comparison, don’t neglect the administrative stuff, it will come back to haunt you sooner than you think and, if not properly handled, could threaten to undermine all that has been achieved.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

“No matter how frustrating, annoying and infuriating it gets sometimes, and at the sure risk of you taking more advantage of it, you know I’ll always be there for you.” Khawla Yusuf (my wife).


My Dad who taught patience, my Mom who taught ambition, and life itself who continues to teach me how I have to manage both.

What motivated you to get started?

The same thing that prevents me from ending it: a deep sense of folly and destiny.

Like best about what you do?

The daydreams.

Like least about what you do?

The administrative work.

Beware people with messianic tendencies, especially when they are sincere and nice.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A Sailor.

What was your first job?

A worm-counter (I got a job at the University counting the number of various worms and other creatures in mud samples collected by a PhD student of biology).

Biggest pastime outside of work


Leader in business most interested in meeting

George Soros, because I admire the combination of smart business sense and commitment to active philanthropic activities.

Three interesting facts about yourself

1. I was a fundamentalist Muslim Preacher between 1988-90.
2. I am a published novelist and poet who writes in English.
3. Since my exile in 2005, I have become quite active in the Syrian opposition circles. My political activities often get confused with my Tharwa activities, which complicates things even further.

Three characteristics that describe you

1. Self-engrossed.
2. Dutiful.
3. Easygoing.

Three greatest passions

1. Saving the world.
2. Saving me from me and the world.
3. Saving the world from me.

Favorite book

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Favorite cause

Achieving inner peace.

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Interview by Ani Zakarian
Introduction by Sara Ortega

Also this week

Andrew YounBenjamin GamezSukh Chug

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