A Ramadan Plea to Overcome Muslim Stereotypes in America

A multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges

As we honor Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, it’s important to look back at the history of Muslims in America to guide the context of fighting increased anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. today.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times more common today than they were before 9/11. In 2014, we saw the chilling murder of 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, who was run down outside his mosque in Kansas City, Mo., by a man who had expressed his hatred for Muslims. In February 2015, the Chapel Hill shooting took the lives of three American-Muslim college students and shook the entire Muslim community. Last month there was an armed protest in Arizona outside of a mosque, and a Muslim community in New York was targeted by a man who plotted to burn down a school and mosque. The media is also filled with negative stereotypes about Muslims.

My concerns mirror those of so many Americans: As a parent to a rambunctious 3-year-old girl, I am concerned with her getting a quality education in a safe school, and I want her to live to her fullest potential and to have a positive self-identity. Yet when I taught an anti-racism workshop to 11-year-old girls last fall and asked about stereotypes, almost all of them answered that they faced some level of anti-Muslim bias. This reflects a recent survey from Muslim ARC, an organization that I co-founded, in which 82% of respondents said that they experienced racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination from society at large.

American Muslims with roots in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia face anti-Muslim bias mixed with a heavy dose of xenophobia. African American Muslims are often judged on two fronts: on the basis of religion and on the basis of race. But this native Muslim population has historical roots that go back hundreds of years. Around the time of the American Revolution, a large community of Moroccan Muslims lived and thrived in Charleston, S.C.Slaves in the Antebellum United States—nearly 15% to 30% of whom were Muslim—celebrated Ramadan in the South. From Thomas Jefferson owning a Quran to the mass adoration of Muhammad Ali to the reverberating social impact of Malcolm X, African American Muslims have always been a part of the American tapestry. The latest spate of hate crimes—both from white supremacists and from Islamophobes—belies this history.

Muslim Americans in America are a diverse group. The American Mosque Study breaks down the ethnicities of mosque participants in 2011 to 33% South Asian, 27% Arab, 24% African American, 9% Sub-Saharan African, 2% European (i.e. Bosnian), and about 1% each for white, Southeast Asian, Caribbean, Turkish, and Latino. This multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges.

This Ramadan, I abstain from drinking and eating during daylight hours and break fast at sun down with people from all walks of life. I have celebrated with Muslim Americans from Vietnam, Albania, Bangladesh, Morocco, and Mexico, and each exchange has helped me develop greater understanding of myself and empathy for others. As part of the African Diaspora, I feel a connection to African Diasporic communities in India, Brazil, Haiti, and Europe. As a Muslim, I have felt a closeness to Muslims from Eastern Europe, Yemen, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan. By celebrating our plurality, we demonstrate that there is no one single narrative for what it means to be Muslim and to be American.

 

Original article in Time.

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.

Self Empathy

 

Rose from my Garden

Rose from my Garden

This evening, I attended a preview course on Healing and Reconciliation. One thing that the instructor brought up was that when we are hurting, it is very difficult to hear the grievances of others. Knowing that I’ve hurt others and pray that they can forgive me and move past the pain is important. By keeping this in mind, I’m more likely to forgive others.  Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteousWho spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good (Surah Imran: 132-134

Last week’s Khutbah by Marc Manley was on humility. He reminded us about letting things go even when they chafe us. There are things that stand in the way of humility, from well intentioned peopled like myself.  Sometimes I interact with people and feel deep anger over real and  perceived slights and insults. It is fight or flight. The anxiety is real, the visceral reaction is so real and tangible for me. I’m left exhausted after the verbal battles.  My  first response is to guard myself. But these shields are something that keep me from asking for forgiveness  when I wrong Allah and when I wrong His creation. Making amends with people is one of the  most humbling things.

Making amends can be frightening. Unprepared, it can turn into a downward cycle. Recently, I unknowingly did something deeply offensive. When it was brought to my attention,  I apologized.  But my apology wasn’t accepted. Instead, it brought an onslaught of anger, grievances, and judgments about my essential self.  At the time, I was not in a place where I could accept the grievances. My life was in upheaval, I had just been dealt with another emotional blow the day before, and I was blindsided.   Sometimes I still think about that moment with a broken heart,  with unresolved  feelings. But then again, I hadn’t done much to find the space or time to resolve it. Instead, the judgment and derision I have faced still echo in my head. I let them shape how I see myself. And I wallow in this pit listening to those voices who tell me I am not worthy, I am not lovable, I need to go, I don’t belong, I’m not good enough. The over achiever in me tries to battle those voices by doing things to prove my worthiness, my cleverness, my lovability, my noble contribution to the world. But those efforts often fall short. It is time for real self work

I’ve done a number of crummy things and things I’m not proud of. I can’t even chalk them up to my youth as I did them when I was a supposedly mature woman. Still, I am learning to be more kind and forgive myself.  Part of forgiving myself is letting those voices die out, as they are untruths about me. And as long as I let them define me, I will be sad and angry.  Forgiveness for me is self care. I have been very unkind to myself as I have internalized much of the judgment and derision I have experienced in my life. I know it will be a process, but carrying on this way is doing me much more harm emotionally and spiritually. I know I have a lot of people to make amends to. I am working on becoming prepared to listen to others with empathy, from a place where I am whole.

Open Letter to the Organizers of the African-American Islamic Summit

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

 

Surah al-Ahzab 33:35

Surah al-Ahzab 33:35

“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.” (33:35)

To: Al Qawm Institute, the Organizers of the African-American Islamic Summit, Lamppost Productions, the speakers at this forum and all the participants.

Al-Salaamu Alaikum,

This brief statement follows earlier efforts to engage the administration at Al Qawm Institute and Lamppost Productions about the disappointment we feel that the upcoming African-American Islamic Summit completely neglects the representation of diversity in our community.

The tendency to overlook certain parts of the diverse population of Muslims is endemic. It could be too many immigrants or next-generation immigrants overlooking African Americans; it could be older Muslims overlooking Muslim youth; or it could be male leaders and representatives overlooking female leaders and representatives–the problem is the same and sends a disheartening message to some members of the collective body of Muslims, namely, that you do not matter; you are not worthy of representation here, your voice does not count, your experiences are not a significant reflection of the whole.

Thus, we urge the organizers, Al Qawm Institute, the Lamppost Productions administration, the presenters and the attendees alike to remember that in serving Allah, we should endeavor to show our mutual love and respect for women as well as men who have struggled to live a life of dignity, especially as African Americans, through trials untold.

While we applaud your efforts to recognize the important contributions and experiences of being African-American and Muslim, we feel the needs of our community would have been better served if this forum was set up in such a way as to demonstrate the recognition that men did not struggle alone, women have struggled with them and women continue to support the vitality and spirit of Islam as African-Americans.

While we wish you well, we regret that this valuable contribution of women has been overlooked in the efforts to hold the African-American Islamic Summit.

This letter has been drafted in the spirit of sincere advice (nasiha) as counseled by our beloved prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. As such, we are committed to continued dialogue and forward movement on this issue. We remain open and available to the organizers of this program and others in the community who are interested in constructing more inclusive and representative platforms where matters of communal concern might be addressed and advanced.

Jazak Allah Kheir,

The Undersigned
Sister Aisha Al-Adawiya

Sister Donna Auston

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer

Sister Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad

Dr. Aminah McCloud

Dr. Amina Wadud

Sister Margari Azizah Hill

Sister Waheedah Muhammad

Dr. Jamillah Karim

Sister Mubarakah Ibrahim

Sister Majida Abdul-Karim

 

Update

 

Lamppost representatives stated that they felt the open letter unfairly attacked their organizations and highlighted its track record inviting female speakers such as Zaynab Ansari . After exchange with organizers and supports, Sister Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad attended the summit.  During the event, event organizer Imam Amin address Sister Kameelah, apologized for the act of exclusion and asked her to read her letter. Some audience members expressed support for the letter and, as reported by one of the sisters who helped organize, some women expressed their disapproval of the letter, arguing that it stemmed from feminism, which, “has no place in Islam.” The discussions at time were emotional, but I think that it stirred a healthy discussion about leadership, authority, and gender within Black Muslim communities. In conclusion, I wanted to stress that our communities thrive with mutual consultation that takes into account the voices and perspectives of all groups, including the marginalized and disenfranchised. For us to proposer, we will need each other, as Allah (s.w.t.) tells us in the Qur’an:

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)

May Allah increase us in patience and forgiveness. Ameen.

 

Lessons in Misguided Attempts at Solidarity

Photo on 1-23-14 at 5.28 PM

For many Women of Color (WoC), Twitter allows them a platform to engage with thoughts and ideas. It is also a platform for activism, allowing people who would have been marginalized to bring certain issues to the fore, to respond to media coverage, and to engage with people who they might not reach otherwise. Twitter has allowed WoC and other marginalized women opportunities to call out their more privileged sisters. There has even been intense push back against elite White women and feminists because of their exclusion of different voices and perspectives.

I believe that people start out with the best intentions. Most people want to believe that they are inherently good. Most people want to believe that they are not exerted power in a way that has oppressed another. And most people who say the most racist stuff will preface it with, “I’m not racist, but…” Part of this has to do with our own biases about ourselves as people. The vast majority of people will do everything they can to protect their interests and maintain whatever advantages they earned or were given to them in life. When confronted with our privileges, most of us are defensive because we all want to believe that we are good, we are worthy, we are deserving, etc. Often people will wield their unequal advantage against those who may call to question their efforts or stances. And with that in mind, it is important for those in a position of authority,  influence, or power to be even more reflective about how they deal with others.

For awhile, I wondered why so many WoC were railing about White Feminists. Mistakenly, I thought that in the realm of ideas we were all equal. It just mattered who could present their ideas better, who had more articulate positions, and warrants to connect their facts to their argument. But, oh was I wrong. I witnessed power wielded in ways to silence dissenting marginalized women. I saw this happen over the past three days with the online discourse surrounding World Hijab Day (WHD 2014), founded by Nazma Khan. There are many beautiful and thoughtful accounts from non-Muslim participants.

My post is not about  WHD 2014. There are pros and cons to the event, and the jury was still out for me. I largely agreed that Muslim women’s experiences can’t be reduced to wearing a scarf on their head. At the same time, I do applaud their efforts at mobilizing support from non-Muslim women. I feel that others have been done better unpacking some of the problematic aspects of the campaign such as Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Ms. Muslamic, and NoorulannShahid  But what is important is that we, as Muslim women,  should have a  discussion and exploring what it means to be a Muslim woman. We should also think about solidarity and how to build bridges without becoming reductionist.

Today, I jumped into a debate the broadcaster and theologian, Vicky Beeching, a non-Muslim participant of World Hijab Day 2014.  What I found most troubling with her discussion was that she was completely oblivious to how she wielded her power and privilege to silence dissent about her participation. And she did this all the while claiming empathy for Muslim women and even going so far as to speak for us. In several discussions, she said that dissenters made libelous statements. She even told me that based on my curating the tweets on Storify was , that she would seek legal counsel. There was an uproar on Twitter and some of Vicky’s Muslim friends pointed out that our discussion was not benefitting anyone.

Please see the highlights of the exchange, reaction, and background readings in my first ever Storify

Even if we all were wrong, how can you claim to speak for Muslim women but threaten to use your litigious might and sue us? You would sue someone who observed your gas lighting techniques of argumentation? My little bit of research said that according to US law, that would be a difficult case to prove in US courts. Observation about uncited sources is grounds for libel?  Is this how you show solidarity? No, this is how you intimidate those who don’t have the same platform, who lack the financial resources, who don’t have access to five news sources, and who don’t carry as much symbolic capital.   Is this not an example of good will gone bad? Had the dissent just been dismissed or had she even addressed the Muslim women who were offended by hijab tourism with some iota of respect, I would assume good will. But instead, it just reeks of another opportunity to propel a career and become a victim at the hands of aggressive and angry brown women. The call of friendship and threat of litigation was a bit much to bear. In past discussions, some have argued that interfaith/intercultural conflicts like this are learning opportunities. So, what is the lesson we want to walk away from? No, not all elite White feminists are like this. But when they are, it is deeply hurtful and leaves a lasting impact on many of us who have had to experience these types of erasures throughout our lives
over and over again.

Sister Intisar Shah: QAAMS

QAAMS

Intisar Shah is one of the most recognisable and respected members of the Philadelphia Muslim community. Born and raised in North Philadelphia, she accepted Islam in 1973. Some people have described Intisar Shah as a rock of the community, but she is more than that; she’s a gemstone who has been polished through perseverance, faith, and dedication to her community.

While small in stature, sister Intisar has a calm and commanding presence that is respected by everyone. Qasim Rashad highlights Intisar’s positive attitude, explaining, “She has an ability to make you feel the world cares about you while at the same time she is as candid and truthful as they come.” Perhaps it’s her mid-Atlantic dialect, with traces of Southern warmth, or that Philly swagger, which transcends age, that makes it so easy for people of all ages to relate to her. She acknowledges, “I work with both ends, the youth and elders, and the adults in between.”

 

For over 40 years, sister Intisar has worked with inner city youth. Keziah Ridgeway, educator, writer, and Philly fashionista, relates, “I still remember her work with the youth back when I was in high school and it doesn’t seem that she’s slowed down one bit as she grows older.” Intisar lives just one block from United Muslim Masjid in South Philadelphia, one of the city’s most active Muslim communities. Qasim Rashad, Amir of United Muslim Masjid, notes, “Everyone that knows sister Intisar knows she loves her community, her people and the youth.” She considers the Muslim community her family and the masajid across Philadelphia home. Intisar recounted her youth, “I came from a family of very motivated leaders. My mother fought for community rights and a clean neighbourhood. She always had an extra plate at the table for a stranger, for anyone that may drop by.” Intisar’s most meaningful work is linked to turning personal tragedy into blessings for the youth and Philadelphia Muslim community as a whole.

 

One of the great testaments to her faith and dedication to Islamic education is the life of her son, Qa’id Ameer Abdul-Majeed Staten. Like his mother and father, Sam Staten Sr., Qa’id devoted much of his time to volunteering in the community. Despite his youth, Qa’id inspired others around him and even began his own organisation. When I asked her what the key was to raising such a devout, thoughtful, and inspirational young man, Intisar stated that every child needs discipline and order. She said, “I am a believer in being firm, but first and foremost, I always tried to put Allah I in the front of our life.” Intisar, like her mother, opened her home to others and almost every night three to a half dozen of her son’s friends spent the night. She said, “Everything I did with our son and his friends was to always let them know the role that they played as men in our community. They should be God-fearing, make prayer, and call their families to prayer.” She also stressed the importance of her son’s Islamic education in shaping his character. Intisar highlighted how Clara Muhammad School was a safe haven compared to many public schools in Philadelphia, which are plagued by drugs and violence.

Qa’id had plans to attend Howard University on scholarship but on April 27, 2003, just a few weeks short of his graduation, he was fatally shot by a robber. During Qa’id’s funeral, a group of young adults who knew him decided to create an organisation that honoured his generosity and service to the community by also giving back to the community through a hajj fund. Intisar said, “My son and two of his friends made intention to make hajj the same year that he graduated. I went to perform the rites for my son and those two young men were the first recipients to hajj scholarship.” The youth formed The Qa’id Ameer Abdul- Majeed Staten (QAAMS) Hajj Foundation.

 

Sister Intisar Shah has been an integral part of QAAMS since its inception. This year, QAAMS celebrated its 10th anniversary and now has a youth council and senior council. The organisation seeks to preserve our youth through spirituality, education and recreation. Qasim Rashad says that there are over a dozen youth actively involved in the QAAMS youth council, which provides a healthy alternative to children who have outgrown the Jawaala (for boys 7 to 17) and Muslimah Scouts (for girls 6 to 16). QAAMS organises ski trips, hosts iftars during Ramadan and feeds the hungry with organisations, such as Feeding Philly. QAAMS also organises and sponsors Family Night at United Muslim Masjid and collaborates with the Muslim Students Associations in Philadelphia through events aimed at the youth, such as open mic poetry. QAAMS continues to sponsor hajj tours. About 11 members have performed hajj to this date. Many of the youth council members are currently starting college and are looking forward to performing hajj.

 

Most of the original members of QAAMS are now in their late 20s and have been involved with the organisation for about a decade. Intisar said that many are active in the community and restructuring the organisation. The youth who started QAAMS, she says, “ Are now married, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, Bachelors, Masters, entrepreneurs, working in a variety of fields from health to social services.”

 

Organisations like QAAMS are so important for our community because they nurture and empower our youth, creating safe environments for them to flourish spiritually. Both Keziah Ridgeway and Qasim Rashad highlight how many of QAAMS’ members continue to give back to the community. At the QAAMS 10th anniversary gala, they didn’t need big name speakers. Instead, members inspired attendees by speaking about how their lives have been impacted by QAAMS and hajj. Intisar related that QAAMS is working on obtaining a building. She said, with a physical location “we can create safe quarters for the Muslim youth. So people can come and be educated about Islam, have social programs and be safe.” By working through QAAMS, Intisar is committed to building the Islamic community and creating opportunities for the youth, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

 

This past May, Intisar received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual Sister’s Recognition Luncheon and Fashion Show, which is sponsored by United Muslim Masjid. Intisar was acknowledged for her work; she has given over 40 years of service to the private and public sectors. She is the Executive Director of QAAMS Hajj Foundation, active in Jewels of Islam (a comprehensive program and support network for women 50 years and older), a Board Member of Islamic Heritage Foundation, and Committee Member for the City-Wide Eid. In addition to her work with QAAMS, she has also coordinated countless youth and adult activities for the Philadelphia Muslim community. Keziah Ridgeway highlights Intisar’s involvement and abilities as a facilitator, explaining, “When I participated in the Islamic Heritage Foundation Youth Committee and attended related events I always remember how involved Sis. Intisar was with participating and being the glue to hold it all together.”

 

Sister Intisar’s community building is not limited to the Muslim community; she also works in the broader public sector as an active member of Mothers In Charge (for women who lost family and loved ones due to violence), Support Community Outreach Program, and the Equal Partners in Charge, Department of Human Services Community Prevention Services. She also researches and writes with a joint effort for the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program in the Department of Health and Human Services promoting abstinence programs.

 

Women like Intisar are the backbone of our community. It is clear that she does her work out of love and to please her Lord. Qasim Rashad notes, “I think the most important lesson that any person can learn from Intisar is consistency. Her undying love and commitment to our community has not permitted her to waiver one bit. “Through her dedication, she has become an effective and influential leader. Keziah Ridgeway explains, “As a result of seeing her hard work and dedication, it inspired me to continue to give back to my community in whatever way that I can whether that be through the students that I teach, the girls I mentor through Alimah Scouts or online through my website and social media!”

 

Intisar’s community work following her son’s tragic death is a perfect example of how we can find strength through hardship. We often go to lectures and hear about how we should be steadfast and not despair. In the past, I have often asked myself ‘how?’ We have so many inspiring reminders in the Qur’an, such as the following verse where Allah I tells us: “Oh you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful” (Al Imraan: 200)

 

Looking to Intisar’s life and hearing accounts of how she remained steadfast, I am reminded of the follow verse: “But give glad tidings to the patient. Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly, to Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.” (Al-Baqarah: 155-156)

Some recounted the strength Intisar demonstrated during her son’s funeral, and she continues to have so much patience and grace when faced with hardship or struggle. Intisar says, “I am thankful to Allah I to be His servant. I am thankful that my son accepted Islam as a way of life. And I pray that Allah I is pleased with him. I really want to please Allah I. So I pray that I can meet him in Jannat al Firdous.” Sister Intisar has shown me how I can better embody the Qur’an and Sunnah in my life; how I can turn whatever hardship I face into a lifetime of meaningful work.

 

You can find more information about Intisar Shah’s work by visiting QAAMS’ Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/QAAMS2003, or their website, http://www.qaamshajjfoundation.blogspot.com.

 

Margari Aziza Hill is an adjunct professor, blogger, and writer who lives just outside of Philadelphia.

 

You can read the full article at SISTERS magazine, along with many other fabulous and thoughtful contributions from Muslim women across the globe.

The ‘Yin’ of Mosque Leadership: Bringing in the Feminine Side

The Islamic Monthly published the preliminary findings of my research on women and mosque leadership:

How do women fair in American mosques? How do fellow worshipers treat them? Are mosques accommodating the multiple needs of the female community?

These questions have been on the minds of many in the American Muslim community for a long time. Many women have complained that they are not treated well in their houses of worship. Some concerned Muslim women have even taken to “shock and awe” tactics to change mosque culture by entering mosques, wearing hidden cameras to document their experiences, post these videos online and expose various types of discrimination.

Nearly a decade after the Islamic Social Services Association and Woman in Islam, Inc. released its pamphlet, “Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers, ” which rated the friendliness of mosques, not much has changed for Muslim women.

To better understand how the American-Muslim community has faired in its treatment of women since this report was published, I decided to survey over 100 Muslim men and women and speak with female Muslim leaders, many of whom asked to remain anonymous. A number respondents argued that women have made only marginal gains in American mosques.   Female educators, scholars, activists, and community organizers are vital to the development of the American Muslim community. Yet, many mosques and community centersare not utilizing the intellectual and professional resources that Muslim American women have to offer.

Mosque attendance is optional for women, but so many women choosing to not attend raises some important issues.  I spoke with a female community leader who wished to remain anonymous about women-led organizations and traditional Muslim institutions. She highlighted what is at stake explaining, “When you lose women, you lose kids, and you lose the husbands as well. This is the crisis that we are in for the growth of Islam in America.” In addition, Ameena Jandali, a founding member, Content Director, and trainer of Islamic Network Group (ING) in the Bay Area, California, points out that not only women, but  “A lot of young people feel alienated by the mosque.”

Who could blame women for feeling alienated with the shabby carpet that is rolled out for them? Women’s accommodations are often cramped and poorly maintained. They enter through dirty back alleys, climb fire escape entrances, and navigate basement mazes to get to women’s sections. And many places do not prioritize women’s spiritual development or foster a healthy community life for women. “Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers” estimated that one out of five mosques do not have programs for women at all and just over a quarter have only occasional activities. An anonymous interviewee raised the issue, “How am I going to be engaged in the mosque if there is nothing for me to do there?”

Mosques that do not accommodate women often do not encourage them to take leadership positions either. Since I began my research last year, I discovered that many are dissatisfied with the lack leadership and decision-making opportunities offered to women.   Several spoke about the dismissal of female voices on governing boards. One respondent put it succinctly, “Even if women are in leadership positions, male opinions tend to be dominant.” Another stated, “There is a general level of discomfort with women who are too vocal, too active, too opinionated.” While discouraging women from taking general leadership roles, many mosques encourage women to teach children at Islamic schools, sit on women’s committees, and volunteer for cooking and clean-up.  One respondent wrote:

There needs to be an overhaul on how we view women in Islam. I am sick of hearing how Islam gave women their rights and how we as Muslims value women but in reality we don’t. Once we see the need for women to be more than the assistant to people in leadership positions or the people behind the scene, we will have women want to do more in our communities.

Many felt that Muslim women’s contributions were not appreciated.  Lack of leadership opportunities, hostility towards female voices, and lack of appreciation is turning away many women who could make positive contributions on an organizational level.

Yet, some women have the passion, drive, and assertiveness overcome institutional barriers to contribute to their communities. Aliya Khabir, has played an active role at United Muslim Masjid (UMM) in South Philadelphia, which is under the helm of Imam Shadeed Muhammad. The imam has pushed for women’s programming and female education initiatives. While no women serve on the board at UMM, Aliya has carved out a sphere of influence in a non-official capacity. Aliya commented, “In their head, they are justifying it with ‘men are the protectors and maintainers.’ Nowhere does it [the Qur’an] say that men are better at decision-making and execution. Women possess these skills that are needed and necessary to properly operate a masjid and meet the needs of all attendees, me included.” She remarked that other professional women ask her why she invests so much time in a community that has not afforded women official roles. Aliya explained,  “It is because of my passion. It’s not about titles.” UMM is not alone, a significant portion of American mosques do not allow women to serve on their governing board.

The ADAMS center in Virginia, on the other hand, welcomes women in decision-making roles. Yasmin Shafiq, a board member of ADAMS, explains, “It was clear that the leadership at ADAMS values diversity in its membership and makes efforts to include the voices of young people, women, and otherwise underrepresented populations in the community.” Others have also looked to ADAMS as a model for encouraging female leadership and the community boasts an erudite female resident scholar, Dr. Zainab Alwani.

As a vibrant Islamic Center, ADAMS Center’s progressive approach indicates what Muslim communities could stand to gain from the expertise of Muslim women.

Women have led many successful Islamic organizations and initiatives outside the mosque. Yasmin acknowledged, “Unfortunately, I don’t think such traditional institutions usually have a well thought-out plan for utilizing highly educated women.” All of my conversations with female Muslim leaders emphasized women taking an active role in creating spaces for themselves, whether in the mosque or outside of it. Many people urged women to take initiative in their communities. Certainly, the success of communities that have welcomed women who are willing to step up to the plate makes a compelling case for mosques becoming a strong base for women’s empowerment. But we are not there yet, and more work needs to be done, by both men and women.

You can read the full article  and other thought provoking pieces at Islamic Monthly. Please post your thoughts in the comments section below.