Organizing Gender Inclusive Events in the Muslim Community

Female Conference Speaker Bingo: a bingo card full of excuses for not having more female speakers at STEM conferences Image source : http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/09/24/why-arent-there-more-women-at-stem-conferences-this-time-its-statistical/female-conference-speaker-bingo/

Female Conference Speaker Bingo: a bingo card full of excuses for not having more female speakers at STEM conferences Image source : http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/09/24/why-arent-there-more-women-at-stem-conferences-this-time-its-statistical/female-conference-speaker-bingo/

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“Verily for all men and women who have surrendered themselves to God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before Allah], and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember Allah unceasingly: for [all of] them has Allah readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.”  (Surah Al- Ahzab 33:35)

Muslim men and women build masajid and Islamic centers where we can worship our Lord, men and women organize events to inspire us, men and women create civil society organizations to serve our social, economic, and political needs, men and women develop institutions to educate our future generations.  Together, Muslim men and women work together to create vibrant and dynamic communities. Touching upon the theme of cooperation between the genders, Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

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The believing men and women, are protectors and helpers of each other. They (collaborate) to promote all that is good and oppose all that is evil; establish prayers and give charity, and obey Allah and his Messenger. Those are the people whom Allah would grant mercy. Indeed Allah is Exalted and Wise. (Surah Al-Tawbah 9:71)

Men and women are vital to the development of the American Muslim community, however the absence of women as authoritative voices in our sacred spaces undermines our efforts to empower women, youth, and other marginalized groups in our community.

Muslim women are highly educated, with expertise  in fields such as Medicine, Social Services, Education, Islamic studies,  and non-profit development. Numerous articles point out that many talented Muslim women lose interest in working within the Muslim community because their contributions are not valued. The value our communities place on women’s perspectives is especially noticeable at our events, as “Qualified women scholars and other professional and activist women are not invited to speak” (Women and Mosques ). At events aimed at broader Muslim audiences, male speakers dominate public speaking and many issues that affect female congregants are noticeably overlooked or presented in a one-sided fashion. Some have pointed out that conference organizers often include a token woman on their programs.  Muslim women should not be tokens;their voices and perspectives should be integral to all programming. This lack of  representation contrasts with the work that women do as backbones of our communities, organizing and working in the background to ensure that our faith communities are provided with valuable services. Excluding women ultimately hampers the development of our community. It robs us of their important insights  and critical expertise in fields pertinent to building healthy Muslim communities.

 

Mosque leadership could take some lessons from the corporate world, nonprofits, and leading education institutions, which value inclusion and diversity. Forbes Insight writes,  “Multiple voices lead to new ideas, new services, and new products, and encourage out-of-the box thinking.” (Forbes Insight, N.D., pg. 4). But even more significant is that we should draw upon the spirit of our traditions of shurah (consultation) which takes into account the perspectives of representatives of those who are affected by a decision.  This includes incorporating the voices of women in planning, decision making, and speaking up for our issues.The consultant group, Linkage writes, “Inclusive organizations focus on attracting, developing, and advancing women and underrepresented populations by removing roadblocks, gaining stakeholder buy-in, and developing opportunities for growth” (Linkage, N.D).  Muslim community centers and masajid should develop more inclusive practices for three reasons: 1. women role models allow our girls and young women to see themselves as belonging to the community and being vital, as well as valued; 2. the representation of women will also attract talented women to participate to lend their expertise to help create thriving communities ; and finally, 3. A better  representation of both genders will expand the conversations that communities need to have about critical issues so that we can be more effective in meeting today’s challenges Below you will find a list of recommendations that can help encourage inclusive practices.

 

 

Planning

  • Have a diverse organizing panel that includes input from both genders, community members from various socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. At minimum  a planning committee should be representative of your community or congregation in terms of gender, ethnicity, religious orientation, and age.
  • Consider a planning structure that can accomodate people’s needs. For example consider teleconferences, Skype or Google Hangouts for people whose schedules may not permit meeting.
  • Inquire with people and experts who have experience organizing diverse conferences.
  • Use surveys or online forms to ask for anonymous feedback or input from your community and other stakeholders regarding topics that they would like to see
  • Reach out to other communities not just for attendees and participants, but for advice on organizing your event.
  • Find new speakers in your community who may have a fresh perspective on issues.

 

Amplifying Women’s Voices

  • Women perspectives should be included not solely as separate events or panels, but women’s voices should be on joint panels that feature male and female experts speaking on a topic. This will allow for deeper discussion and multiple perspectives on an issue.
  • Do not assume that women can only speak to women’s issues. Ask women to speak on issues in their area of expertise or training.
  • Even when an event has a limited line up, it is possible to include women’s voices by inviting a sister to introduce the speakers, moderate the panel, or direct the question and answer session.
  • Where resources permit, offer play areas or child-care facilities so that women with children are not prevented from participation.  Offer a stipend for childcare for female participants and panelists.
  • If you’re concerned about funding, do not be afraid to use crowdsourcing to help offset the costs of including sisters on your panels.
  • Organize a special session for sisters to speak to scholars because they have less social access to male leadership.
  • Be mindful that seating arrangements can prevent women from being able to engage with the content of the lecture. Be sure to allow women equal access to the speaker.
  • To locate talented women, utilized online resources such as Zahra Billoo’s list of Muslim Women Speakers and or turn to social networks to find the hidden gems locally and nationally.
  • If the event is separated by gender, include a microphone in the women’s area.
  • Because many Muslim women prefer separate spaces for privacy or nursing children, provide a private space where they can hear and view the program.

Inviting the Youth

  • Gather feedback from teens, college students, and young professionals under 25.
  • Have a member of the youth speak on a panel, give an opening, or moderate a panel.
  • Offer full or partial scholarships and student rates for tickets.
  • Organize a panel or discussion group focused on issues specific to the youth.
  • Reach out on social media or contact Muslim youth organizations for recommendations for rising stars.  For example, MuslimARC has a list of #25Under25

 

Including the Audience

  • When organizing consider the ultimate goal of the event:  Is it to raise awareness in the broader community? Is it to problem solve? Is it to gather supporters? Is it to raise funds? Is it to educate? And then develop strategies to engage the audience in a meaningful way.
  • Organize a workshop or breakout sessions that will allow the attendees to engage more with each other and the subject. Consider ways you can integrate Learner Centered Practices in your conference.
  • “Repeat all questions into the microphone before answering them if a microphone is not available to the audience” (Duke University Disability Management System, “Accessibility Guidelines for Speakers,” n.d.)
  • Encourage participants to ask questions by allotting time for Q&A session.This may take rigorous timekeeping because some speakers tend to go over, which cuts into time for Q&A.
  • Consider creating a workbook or lecture outline for the audience to follow.

Increasing Access

  • Offer scholarships or sliding fee; Be sure to keep the process dignified and confidential
  • Include wheelchair access to the facility  and offer services for those with disabilities
  • Record events and post online (YouTube can transcribe video)
  • Upon the registration, ask attendees if they need any special accommodations
  • Have someone record minutes or provide a summary that can inform people who were not able to attend.

Resources

Women in Islam. Women and Mosques http://www.islamawareness.net/Mosque/WomenAndMosquesBooklet.pdf

 

Zahra Billoo Muslim Women Speakers List

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Apx_5JrRS9SUdEc3Y181VkJtLTZ0ZXFGVExud0lNNWc#gid=0

 

A planning Guide for Accessible Conferences

http://www.accessiblecampus.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/A-Planning-Guide-for-Accessible-Conferences.pdf

 

Nur Laura Caskey. (February 28, 2013) Muslim Women Speakers Whatta Mashallah

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2013/02/muslim-women-speakers-whatta-mashallah/

 

http://www.ashedryden.com/blog/so-you-want-to-put-on-a-diverse-inclusive-conference

 

Forbes Insights. Fostering Innovation through a Diverse Workforce

http://images.forbes.com/forbesinsights/StudyPDFs/Innovation_Through_Diversity.pdf

 

Women in Islam

http://www.womeninislam.org/page/our_work.html

 

Linkage. Advancing Women & Inclusion. Retreived November 23, 2014

http://www.linkageinc.com/advancing-women-and-inclusion/index.cfm

 

The Yin of Mosque Leadership Bringing in the Feminine Side

http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/the-yin-of-mosque-leadership-bringing-in-the-feminine-side/

The Herstory of Malcolm X’s Legacy

Often, when we talk about the history of Islam in America, we focus on the great men and their big ideas.This month in looking at the BlackLivesMatter Movement through the life and legacy of Malcolm X, I have often thought about the thought of the many women who were were also part of the our nation’s freedom struggle. Many Muslim Americans know about Malcolm X, but few know about the women in his life. Few of us consider the role that many of our sisters who were pioneers of establishing Islam in America, such as Clara Muhammad the wife of Elijah Muhammad. Just as we remember Malcolm, we should know about Ella Collins, Betty Shabazz, and his daughters Attallah Shabazz, Qubilah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz, Malikah Shabazz and Malaak Shabazz. All of these women have carried the burden of maintaining his legacy. And if we are the honor the man, we should acknowledge the women who contributed to his life and help maintain his memory.

While few of us recognize Ella Collins (1914-1996) as a seminal figure in American Muslim history, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center honors her civil rights legacy with the Ella Collin’s Institute (ECI). The half sister of Malcolm X, she was responsible for recruiting Malcolm X into the Nation of Islam, although Spike Lee’s film biopic of Malcolm X erased her. Throughout his life she was influential, having helped raised the young Malcolm Little after his father was murdered and mothered suffered a nervous breakdown. She was an activist who had worked for the first Rev. Adam Clayton Powell. According to her obituary, Ella Collins advised her half brother to embrace orthodox Islam and she funded his pilgrimage to Mecca. After his assassination, Ella Collins maintained the Organization for Afro American Unity after his assassination. While her role in supporting Malcolm X is noteworthy,   Ella Collins’ life history as a business woman who set up schools and worked in civil rights is noteworthy in and of itself. By looking at her life, it becomes clear that women played a central role in the civil rights movement and in instituion bulding in the Black American Muslim community.

Betty Shabazz (1934-1997) was invited to Nation of Islam meetings. After attending several meeting wehre Malcolm X preached, she joined in 1956. Following two years of courtship, they married in 1958. Betty Shabazz was pregnant with twins, when Malcolm X was assissinated. Raising her six daughters alone, Ruby Dee and Juanita Poitierr (wife of Sidney Poitier) raised funds to provide her a home and the royalties to the Autobiography of Malcolm X supported the family. Shabazz returned to school and eventually earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1975. She became a college administrator and public speaker, often defending her husband’s legacy and discussing topics such as civil rights and racial tolerance. Her life also ended tragically, when she succumbed to her burn injuries from a fire her grandson ignited.

Although she was wife of one of the most influential thought leaders in the civil rights movement, Betty Shabazz’s life history also provides a nuanced narrative of Black American life. She was a middle class, college educated Black woman who faced racism. She negotiated gendered norms in her marriage to develop a partnership with her husband. In addition, by putting Malcolm X’s life in context, we can take a critical look at ourselves in the sunni Muslim community, which failed to support Malcolm’s burial or his widow. Yet now, we find a sense of rootedness in his legacy. And when we talk about his legacy, how much do we honor the women who were closest to him.

It would do a great disservice to speak about Malcolm X’s legacy without talking about his heirs. We should know their names and their struggles because they have largely born greatest burden in the loss of malcolm x. We should know more about Attallah Shabazz, Qubilah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz, Malikah Shabazz and Malaak Shabazz. Attallah became involved in the arts and public speaking, Gamilah hip hop, Qubilah became embroiled a supposed plot to kill Louis Farakhan, Ilyasah Shabazz became a public speaker and author of Growing Up X and a children’s book titled Malcolm Little: the Little Boy Who Grew up to Become Malcolm X . Malcolm X’s daughters, whose life histories are storied and triumphant reflect the turbulent years following their father’s assassination. Their day to day struggles is a topic worthy of study and reflection on Black American Muslim life in and of themselves.

Even separating their accomplishes from Malcolm X, these eight women point to extraordinary lives of Black American Muslim women. Centering women’s lives can give us a more nuanced sense of historical processes. Ella Collins shows us how social supports also played a role in supporting inspirational figures. Betty Shabazz provides a more nuanced picture of Black women in the 50s and 60s and how they navigated racism and gendered norms. Before the 1992 movie, while Malcolm X was being vilified and the sunni Muslim community largely distanced themselves from his legacy, it was largely Betty Shabazz and her daughters who maintained the Legacy of Malcolm X. We can’t truly honor Malcolm X’s legacy without giving thanks to the women who have shaped it.

Strategies for Coping with Islamophobia

Muslims in the West face a barrage of negative images in the media, Islamophobia, anti-Black, anti-Arab, anti-South Asian racism, and xenophobia.   Muslims in Canada and the United States  are grieving after the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan on Tuesday and the lesser known murder of Mustafa Mattan.  Some members of Muslim communities have faced increased intimidation, and others fear copycat crimes and further backlash. In the aftermath, Muslims across the country are experiencing psychological trauma, which adds to the environmental stress that Muslims have been facing. Whether in their work places, schools, public places, or neighborhoods, Muslims feel pressured to defend their identity, be exemplary citizens, and counter negative images of Muslims. Although Islamophobia is a form of religious discrimination, Muslims are a racialized group subject to interpersonal and structural racism in society. Thus, individuals with Arabic names, those who are identifiably Muslim, or appear non-white can be subject to racial stress.

The forms of racism and Islamophobia can be subtle and overt. Nadal, Griffin, Hamit, Leon, Tobio and Rivera (2012) list six major themes of microaggressions:

1) Endorsing Religious Stereotypes of Muslims as Terrorists,

2) Pathology of the Muslim Religion,

3) Assumption of Religious Homogeneity,

4) Exoticization,

5) Islamophobic and Mocking Language,

6) Alien in Own Land.

The toxic climate of these microagressions, negative media representation, employment discrimination, and law enforcement surveillance has implications on the mental health of many Muslim Americans. According to the Counseling Center of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, race related stress causes has the following negative outcomes:

Intense emotional reactions:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Helplessness-Hopelessness
  • Isolation
  • Paranoia
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Self-blame
  • Self-doubt

Ineffective coping:

  • Avoidance
  • Disengaging
  • Substance Use

Health Concerns:

  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle Tension

How to deal with Islamophobia? Many people do not know take action because they do not know how to respond when they witness someone telling an anti-Muslim joke. Studies have shown that bystander anti-racism does have an affect. Perpetrators of racism are less likely to perpetuate racism after confronted.

Individuals who experience racism and Islamophobia, as well as those who have observed it, often feel powerless when they do not know how to respond. Students may not know who to turn to or what recourse that they have. Knowing strategies for addressing Islamophobia can feel empowering. There is evidence that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the use of stereotypes, they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards (This study ). However, it is not the job of the victims of prejudice and discrimination to call out the perpetrators or make every Islamophobic incident a teachable moment.

First, draw on your faith for strength and direction. Check your intentions in responding to Islamophobia. You will have a range of emotions. Keeping your connection and communication with Allah (swt), both will help bring ease and guidance to any situation. Second, find colleagues who will help by supporting you or by becoming advocates for addressing the situation. Organizations such as CAIR, Muslim Advocates, Take On Hate, NAACP, and SAALT advocate for and assist individuals facing racism and Islamophobia. If you are going to a mental health professional, be sure that the he/she is multicultural competent and has understanding of micro aggressions and racial battle fatigue. There is no one right way to respond to Islamophobia. The following are a few suggestions that can help empower everyday Muslims.

Recommendations for Coping with Islamophobic-Related Stress

Connect

You are not alone. You are part of the ummah. Although Islamophobia can cause feelings of isolation and depression, know that there are Muslims all over the country who share your experiences, who will validate the reality that you are facing and who are open to provide you a sense of support and solidarity.

Find your Roots

Developing a positive cultural and religious identity will help combat the invalidating experience of Islamophobia. Knowing your religion and your heritage will help bolster you against the dehumanizing experience of racism and Islamophobia. Take a history course, watch a documentary, read the Qur’an, the seerah, or historical non-fiction. Even Muslim literature may uplift your spirit and help you feel connected. Celebrate being Muslim and contributions Muslims have made all over the world.

Have a little faith

Center yourself by building your Iman. Find hope in the Qur’an and sunnah and strength and in the early Muslim community who faced oppression. Focus on the power of dua and remembrance of Allah (swt) we must also be careful not to unwittingly convey the message that crying and feeling sad is unacceptable. We should absolutely trust in Allah’s wisdom and mercy, while also acknowledging how painful this is for so many Muslims.

Take Care of You

You can empower yourself with healthy habit. Taking care of your spiritual, mental, and physical health will help you cope with the stress of discrimination.

Take a Stand

Pushing back against anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination is one one to empower yourself. Although this may look different depending on the situation, there are many ways that you can take a stand. (Adapted heavily from Coping with Discrimination)

              

Report It

Report any hatecrimes, Call law enforcement if you see anything threatening. If this is happening in your workplace or school, report it to HR or student affairs.

                                               

References                 

Kevin L. Nadal, Katie E. Griffin, Sahran Hamit, Jayleen Leon, Michael Tobio, and David P. Rivera . Subtle and Overt Forms of Islamophobia: Microaggressions toward Muslim America. Journal of Muslim Mental Health Volume VI, Issue 2, 2012 http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.10381607.0006.203 http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jmmh/10381607.0006.203?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Do you have any more resources or suggestions? Put them in the comments below. jazak Allah kheir!