During this 2012 election year, Muslim women from all parts of the United States rallied together to mobilize their communities to get out the vote. A social media campaign led by activist Zeba Iqbal encouraged Muslim American men and women to amplify their influence in their respective spheres and relay the importance of voting. We held the power to elect those that would make the best decision for our future. Irrespective of the candidate, the message to Muslim American women was strong and bold: reclaim the Muslim American narrative to be an effective decision–maker by claiming the vote.
In March 2009, Asma T. Uddin and a group of dynamic young Muslim American women launched the web magazine, AltMuslimah.com, an online space to discuss gender issues in Islam and beyond. Living in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious world, these women needed a space to talk about issues like relationships and marriage, women’s roles in political and social issues, and intersections of belief, practice and lived realities. These were critical conversations, especially during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and in a nation where beliefs persisted that Muslim women were oppressed by a religious doctrine, rather than by misguided individuals. It was time to reclaim the narrative.
Today, a new generation carries the torch, instigating opportunities for dialogue. Muslim women are proving themselves as community stewards and problem-solvers. Their education, expertise and experiences debunk the myth that they are oppressed, and show that they are more than capable of speaking about universal issues alongside members of other faiths.
As a Muslim American woman, I too felt the calling to demonstrate my commitment to educate my community about Islam and Muslims. I had always felt inclined to express what it was like to balance multiple identities, and AltMuslimah was the perfect forum for such expression. Moreover, it opened doors to dialogue with other faiths as well, presenting an opportunity to build understanding and harmony from the local to the global scale.
Like the founders of AltMuslimah.com, other Muslim American women are reaching across faith lines to amplify voices of positive change and community-building. From classrooms to courtrooms, non-profits to social media, Muslim American women have been paving the way for healthy communities for decades. They have been public servants, doctors, teachers and mentors, athletes and artists – all contributing to a more prosperous nation.
Reclaiming the narrative comes in multiple forms. While some encourage discussion of social issues, others think about how they can build bridges to make the nation safe and secure. For Rabia Chaudry, a safer nation means collaborating with law enforcement agencies to find solutions that protect everyone.
Chaudry is the Founder and President of the Washington, DC-based Safe Nation Collaborative, an initiative that works to build bridges and trust between Muslim American communities and law enforcement. She and her organization work to educate law enforcement officials on Islam and Muslims and engage in dialogue to promote understanding and cohesion. Such work is especially important as misinformation can create suspicion of Muslim communities. The Safe Nation Collaborative exemplifies the importance of reaching out to work towards a safer and healthier nation.
The Muslim American women’s narrative also champions the virtue of community service. Hind Makki is an independent consultant on interfaith, immigration and anti-racism issues and a blogger on Patheos.com, a site that engages in global dialogue about religion and spirituality. Makki’s work instills appreciation and recognition of the many faces that contribute to the United States of America and the world.
For Makki, opening spaces for discussion on pressing issues like immigration and anti-racism as well as interfaith relations are part of the package of community service. Her narrative provides a holistic approach to addressing global and local issues.
Aside from reclaiming the narrative of Islam and Muslims in their individual ways, Muslim women leaders in America as a whole are reclaiming a narrative that previously painted them as inactive and uninterested in societal affairs. Today, Muslim American women are translating the virtues and moral foundations of their faith to a language of solutions for education, health and harmony in the country they call home. The next generation will be equipped with the unique lessons and experiences of these Muslim women as they take on the task of building stronger societies.
(Shazia Kamal is the Associate Editor of Altmuslimah.com. This article was distributed by Common Ground News Service (CGNews)).