Spaces of Empowerment

You justknow when you are in a space that nourishes your soul. You know because the energy is full of love, acceptance and authentic dialogue. You know it because you feel like those who are listening genuinely care about what you have to say, and you are genuinely interested in learning something from those in the space. Muslim Women’s Day was recently upon us and I, along with 3 other fabulous Muslim sisters, were invited to speak at the first annual Muslim Women’s Day event at a local university by the Muslim Student Association. We were invited to speak on our experiences, and in turn we left feeling rejuvenated by the level of enthusiastic commitment by this young crowd (who, by the way, are not exclusively Muslim) to impact change on their campus.

Left to right on this social media screen shot: Dr. Shakira Abdul Razzaq, Nagla Bedir, Ahlam Yassin, Sara Abdelhadi

Bias in the Workplace. One of the questions posed was about our experiences as Muslim women in the workplace, have we experienced bias? Each woman had a different story to share, and yes, there are definitely encounters of racism and microaggressions based on either gender or religion but my personal experience as a whole, as I transition from teaching within my community to the public sector, has been more of curiosity than animosity. However, listening to the stories of my sis at Teaching While Muslim, I recognize I am in a special place. I recognize that in many professional spheres being a Muslim woman can be an anomaly, and the only way to overcome hesitation on your end is to know your stuff. Regardless of the field you are in, strive for excellence because when you understand your niche better than anyone in the room, that strips others of their ability to criticize you either on your identity or your ability to get things done. Due diligence is important, particularly when others are waiting for you to mess up – the burden, simply because of the time we live in, is to make sure we are not only prepared but overly prepared.

Find Your Allies. My heart was so full looking into the sea of diverse faces of the crowd. They showed up for their Muslim brothers and sisters for an evening of empowerment and understanding. If you want to avoid becoming jaded as an adult, find the youth because they will reinvigorate your hope. And for the youth in the crowd, you are each other’s shield. You help one another overcome hardship, you help one another understand – and you did this simply by showing up, and for that I am grateful. In a world that seems so dark, our light is in one another, it is in ally ship. The act of showing up is how you and I both have the ability to impact change, that simple.

Showing up for one another and our youth. This is positivity, this is how we change our world.

How Do You Deal With the Exhaustion? When we tune into our media spaces, it feels like the Muslim Dark Ages. Muslim-Americans, feel the burden of carrying the weight of all that is sent our way, a level of anxiety placed on our lives by the constant blur of international conflicts, that hit us close because our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon Him) states:

Teaching is the Most Important Job in the World! [Disclaimer: I am a teacher] Every time I say this to my students, they laugh – but I’m pretty serious. I was proven right this past week when at the event, my former students were part of the organizing of the event, and my sis’s Teaching While Muslim’s former student is part of their board, even though she is not Muslim. We both were seeing the fruits of our labor. The goal: impacting change through understanding, through engagement, through not being afraid of the “other”, through the development of critical thinking. It was a full circle moment that had my heart full of love. And finally, seeing professors in the audience showing up for their students, being present in a space of allyship was not only heartwarming, but empowering.

“The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” [Bukhari]

As a Muslim I believe our health is based on our collective well-being. Add another layer to that: as a Muslim living in the West, I find myself being the vessel of curiosity for those who are not Muslim. They want to understand why I choose to cover, why Muslim women are oppressed (insert eye roll here), why leaders in the Arab world are oppressive…and for the most part these are questions that come from a place of not-knowing, and that’s ok.

But it becomes tiring. The anxiety is real. As a young lady in the audience wanted to know, how do we deal with the exhaustion? Because carrying the burden of 1 billion+ Muslims can get a bit tiresome. Self-care is essential, yes, but also understand that it’s ok to be who you are, is ok to be you. We don’t have to be prepared to explain ourselves every single second of every single day. Do you. Be you. You are not accountable for all that is happening in the Muslim world. That is simply too much to ask of anyone.

What Would You Tell Your Younger Self? Reflection is my favorite place, and in thinking about what I would have loved to hear as a younger person, it would have been something I took away from Muhammad Alsharif’s Visionaire course: do not belittle your dreams, because God is greater than any dream you can fathom.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in creating an evening of empowerment, they are so essential to our well-being. In a time when it may seem like dark overshadows light, you ladies were a beacon of light.

Here’s to Muslim women and their allies, ‘may we know them, may we be them and may we raise them’.

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