Archive for February 26, 2014

African American Muslim Women Pioneers: A Reflection on Black History Month

Most American Muslims have fielded the question, “where are you from?”  And “where are your parents from?” if the answer to the former question turns out to be one of the cities in the United States. This line of questioning can be both frustrating and amusing to American Muslims whose ancestors have been in this country for centuries. The common misconception held by Americans, including Muslim Americans is that Muslims are either foreign born or second generation Americans with ties to foreign countries.  It is inconceivable to some, that it can be anything else, even though we are all familiar with prominent Muslim personalities such as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Kareem Abdul Jabber, and Keith Ellison, among others.

It is estimated that that between 10-20% of the Africans brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade were Muslims. There are even theories that the Muslims set sail to the Americas long before Christopher Columbus.  Currently, African American Muslims make up 25% of the Muslim population in the country. That means one in every 4th Muslim in American is African American.

Black Muslim Women Courtesy of California State University, Los Angeles (1970-1976)

Black Muslim Women Courtesy of California State University, Los Angeles (1970-1976)

To commemorate Black History Month, we are going to celebrate four incredible African American Muslim women pioneers who joined the Nation of Islam in the 1940s and 50s. We will hear from 88- year- old Anwari Baiyina Aqeel, 84-year-old Labeebah Salaam, 78-year-old Nafeesa Mahdi and 72 -year-old Bahijah Abdus Salaam.

These women are living history, and they are sharing with us their journey from their old faith to their new -found one, and in the process gives us a glimpse of the Black history in the United States. Although the Nation of Islam is not considered mainstream by American Muslims, it was the platform through which a lot of African American Muslims transitioned into mainstream Islam.  Most notably of these was, Malcolm X; Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, the son of the founder of the Nation of Islam; Muhammad Ali; and Imam Siraj Wahhaj, among others.

I hope we can all appreciate this part of American Muslim history, which is unique in itself.


Peace and blessings.

Lean In: Our Feminist Manifesto

We cannot fully appreciate and celebrate the strong, courageous and assertive Muslim women around the world, without talking about how they could have achieved their potential. Today’s post is more about celebrating a concept rather than a person, although in the process, we will have a glimpse of a dynamic and inspiring woman who will provoke us to action. The concept we are going to talk about is the dreaded concept of feminism. Feminism is not a favorite subject in most cultures and it is especially not so in most Muslim communities.

Some people may even be of the opinion that feminism is anathema to Islam. However, when we look at the definition of feminism, which is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality, we find that the prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) was the biggest feminist of all times. But then the question that arises is what happened along the way that his examples are no longer widely practiced as they should?

In the video below, Ms. Tamara Gray succinctly explains how inequality came about in the Muslim world, and advocated solutions to the problem. Using the phrase “Lean In” from the title of a book by Sheryl Sandberg, she explains the concept, and urged both men and women to “lean in” to bring about political, social and economic changes in the Muslim society.

This is a must watch video for the Muslim woman who wants validation to take charge of her life, and for the Muslim man who needs the push to support the women. It is also a great video for those who simply want to understand how feminism fits into the religion of Islam.

Get on board and let Ms. Gray take you on an intellectual journey through North America, West Africa, India and the Arab world and let’s get inspired along the way to “lean in”, so we can continue to attain our greatest potential.

If you want to skip the introduction, her talk starts at 2:15.

A spy you say? A Noor Inayat Khan’s Story

Hon. Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan (code name Madeleine), George Cross, MiD, Croix de Guerre avec Etoile de Vermeil. Noor Inayat Khan served as a wireless operator with F Section, Special Operations Executive

Hon. Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan (code name Madeleine),

With so many great Muslim women personalities in different disciplines to choose from, it was a real struggle for me to decide who to go with this time.  But I promise you that this will not be a disappointment. I decided to go with a very intriguing yet unknown story of a World War II hero, whose tale may be unfamiliar even among the Muslim community. A story of a young Muslim woman spy, who during the war secretly transmitted critical information from France to Britain, and it was said that, at times, she was the only link between Britain and the French resistance. A story of courage, espionage, and sacrifice; the story of Noor Inayat Khan!

A file picture of Indian princess Noor Inayat Khan, who spied for Britain. (AFP)

A file picture of Indian princess Noor Inayat Khan, who spied for Britain. (AFP)

Noor Inayat Khan was born in Moscow, of an Indian Sufi Muslim father and an American mother. She was raised in France, but fled to England when the Nazis invaded France in 1940.  There she joined the Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a telegraph operator. In early 1943, she began her assignment as a covert agent, joining Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE).  She was eventually betrayed by French collaborators, and arrested and imprisoned in Paris by the Nazis.  But even then, she managed to escape her captors, twice. She was eventually sent to a concentration camp in Germany and later executed without having cooperated or provided state secrets to the Germans.

She was posthumously awarded the George Cross award by Britain.

Princes Anne unveils a statue of Noor Inayat Khan in London (Mail Online)

Princes Anne unveils a statue of Noor Inayat Khan in London (Mail Online)

If you think this is a wonderful story worthy of a movie, then you are right. A film has just been made about Noor Inayat Khan called “Enemy of the Reich.” It had its World Premiere last Saturday, February 15, 2014 in Washington, DC.  If you are in the United States and would like to watch the film, a series of premieres has been planned in a number of cities.  My understanding is that the intention is to have it aired on PBS. You can learn more about the film and the series of premieres at http://www.enemyofthereich.com/

The web page of the film “Enemy of the Reich” eloquently expresses the reason why I decided to feature Noor Inayat Khan in my blog, much more than I could ever have done so myself.

“Noor’s identity as a Muslim woman did not stop her from signing up to join the fight against the Nazis. Motivated by her faith, Noor’s worldview was based on a respect for all faiths against Hitler’s ideology of ethnic and religious extermination. She suffered the same fate of millions of Jews.”

Lastly, I will leave you with the trailer of the film to enjoy. 


Peace and blessings

From driving cars to running countries; Muslim women head of states

In the last few months, I have allowed myself to be consumed by the presidential election and all its negativity to the exclusion of everything else.  As a result,  I neglected among other things, to post on my blog, despite the numerous great achievements of Muslims women, both in the United States and around the world.  But,  I am back, and what better way to restart my blog,  than to recycle one of my earliest posts on Muslim women head of states.

We just celebrated Presidents’ Day yesterday,  and even though we have yet to have our first female president in the United States,  the women featured below, give us hope,  that it can be done.

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During a diversity workshop presentation a few years ago at one of the federal agencies in Washington DC, when I was still with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), I asked the audience my customary question of what comes to their minds when they first see a Muslim woman dressed in an Islamic headscarf.  I got the usual answers of, oppression, modesty, beautiful, uneducated, etc. However one answer that stood out for me over the years was from one of the employees who said that he was always surprised when he sees Muslim women driving in the United States, considering that they are not allowed to do so in their home countries.

The perception held by this person was that all Muslims in America were foreign born, and that they all come from countries that have laws which are oppressive; laws that ban women from driving. He did not realize that other than Saudi Arabia, no country in the world prohibit women from driving, and that even in Saudi Arabia, the women have over the years been protesting that law. You can learn more about early American Muslims from my post African American Muslim Women Pioneers: A Reflection on Black History Month

Today, as I was reflecting upon this particular encounter, it got me thinking that on this Presidents’ Day, I should feature some of the women that held the highest offices in the Muslim world. Not only could these women drive cars in their countries, they managed to reach the peak of their political careers, and were charged with the responsibility of driving their countries forward.

The leadership of these women from Asia, Africa and Europe is or was as diverse and as distinct as the countries they lead or led.

Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto, photographed at Chandini Restaurant, Newark, CA by iFaqeer

Benazir Bhutto, photographed at Chandini Restaurant, Newark, CA by iFaqeer

Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to be elected to lead a Muslim State and was the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan. She served two non-consecutive terms, 1988-1990 and from 1993-1996.

 

Bangladesh

Bangladesh has elected two female Prime Ministers each having served two non-consecutive terms.

Begum Khaleda Zia, former Bangladesh Prime Minister and chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is photographed as she appeared as the chief guest in a book opening ceremony on 1 March, 2010 at the Diploma Engineers Institute, Dhaka.

Begum Khaleda Zia, former Bangladesh Prime Minister and chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is photographed as she appeared as the chief guest in a book opening ceremony on 1 March, 2010 at the Diploma Engineers Institute, Dhaka.

Begum Khaleda Zia was the first female Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the second woman to be elected to lead a Muslim state after the Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She too served two terms, from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006.

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh at the Olympic hunger summit in Downing Street, 12, August 2012 (www.Flickr.com)

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh at the Olympic hunger summit in Downing Street, 12, August 2012 (www.Flickr.com)

Sheikh Hasina, is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She has been elected twice to the office, having served from 1996-2001 and again from 2009 to present.

 

Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller (left) and the prime minister-designate, Mesut Yilmaz, 1996. Burhan Ozbilici—AP/Wide World

Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller (left) and the prime minister-designate, Mesut Yilmaz, 1996.
Burhan Ozbilici—AP/Wide World

Tansu Ciller served as the 22 Prime Minister of Turkey from 1993-1995 and is the first female to serve in that capacity.

 

Kosovo

President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga during the signing of the U.S.-Kosovo Agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on December 14, 2011. (www.flickr.com)

President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga during the signing of the U.S.-Kosovo Agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on December 14, 2011. (www.flickr.com)

Atifete Jahjaga at age 36 she was elected the fourth president of the Republic of Kosovo in 2011.  She is the first female president of the republic, the youngest ever to be elected, and the first female head of state in the modern Balkan states.

 

Mali

Prime Minister Cissé Mariam Sidibe Kaïdama of Mali

Prime Minister Cissé Mariam Sidibe Kaïdama of Mali

Cissé Mariam Sidibe Kaïdama held the office of Prime Minister of Mali from 2011-2012, and was the first female in the history of the country to be appointed to that position.

 

Indonesia

Megawati Sukarnoputri, fifth President of Indonesia 2001

Megawati Sukarnoputri, fifth President of Indonesia 2001

Megawati Sukamoputri was the fifth President of Indonesia and the first female to serve her country in that capacity. She served from 2001-2004.

 

Senegal

Boye-Mame-Madior, Prime Minister of Senegal 2001-2002

Boye-Mame-Madior, Prime Minister of Senegal 2001-2002

Mame Madior Boye was appointed to office as the Prime Minister of Senegal and served from 2001 -2002.  She was the first female Prime Minister in the history of the country.

Updated: June 5, 2015

Another Muslim Female president has joined this rank of head of states. Read my latest blog below.

http://www.redefinedperspective.com/africa-has-a-new-muslim-female-president/

 

If you like what you read,  please share,  and leave a comment.

Peace

Her new job is high-profile religious leader

From Cincinnati.com
Shakila Ahmad is the Islamic Center's new leader and the first woman elected president of the board of trustees.

Shakila Ahmad is the Islamic Center’s new leader and the first woman elected president of the board of trustees. / The Enquirer/Tony Jones
by Krista Ramsey

Eighteen years ago, when Shakila Ahmad offered to arrange tours of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati where she’s a member, she thought she was volunteering for a single weekend.

Since then, 70,000 visitors have stopped by.

What Ahmad offered visitors was an opportunity the vast majority of Americans never get – to enter a mosque, discuss matters of faith face-to-face with their Muslim countrymen and find out what Islam is and what it isn’t.

The reward, Ahmad says, is “seeing the transformation on a person’s face and hearing them ask a difficult question without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.”

“We’re not the same,” she says, “but we have far more in common than we have differences.”

Ahmad has spent years advancing that message while serving on an array of influential local boards and quietly living it out as a neighbor, volunteer, professional, wife and mother.

From here on, her work won’t be done so quietly.

Last month, she assumed one of the area’s highest-profile religious leadership roles when she was elected president of the Islamic Center’s board of trustees – the first woman to hold the role in the Center’s 18-year history and only its second president.

She says accepting the role was “a big reflective and thoughtful moment for me.”

There are significant demands on her time, as she oversees operations of a mosque with 200 member-families and up to 3,000 Muslims involved on holy days. There are demands on her creativity and resourcefulness as the center begins a major social services initiative – called Rahma, or mercy – to connect families with physical and mental health services and promotes its bullying prevention program, interfaith women’s groups and leadership training for youth.

Most of all, there are demands on Ahmad’s abilities to engage people in sensitive religious topics, dispel misconceptions and build an interfaith dialogue in a society where religious tensions – especially surrounding Muslims – periodically flare.

Continue reading story here…

 

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