Archive for April 30, 2014

Ameena Mathews, the Interrupter

Ameena Mathews has the toughest and riskiest job by any standards.  She is a Violence Interrupter specialist, that’s right, she intercepts and mediates conflicts in tough Chicago neighborhoods before they escalate into more serious violence, such as homicide. She works for the Ceasefire initiative, a Chicago Project for Violence Prevention at the University of Illinois at the Chicago School of Public Health.

The daughter of Jeff Fort, one of the largest gang leaders in the history of Chicago outside of Al-Capone, and a former gang member herself, she is no stranger to violence, having lived it. She is now determined to break the mindset that violence is the only way to resolve issues, hence her work with high risk youth; youth who deal in drugs and gangs, and who see violence as a normal way of life.  Because of her passion for the welfare of the community and her ability to communicate with young people, she is able to get in places where even men cannot get in. As a result of the respect she has earned from the community, she has been effective in mediating numerous conflicts and organized peace summits.

She also works with Al Hafeez Initiative which is a grassroots organization that helps find resources for boys and girls to utilize in after school programs.

In 2011 she became a subject of an award-winning documentary, ‘The Interrupters,’ which showcased Ameena and three other Violence Interrupters working with the community to break the cycle of violence and teach the community how to deal with issues in a non-violent way. The documentary is worth your time, you can watch it by clicking on this link.

You can also watch Ameena Mathews receiving a BET Black Girls Rock award

and Ameena being interviewed by Stephen Colbert

Ameena Mathews has taught us that no matter what your past, you can turn your life around and give it a purpose. Here’s to a very brave Muslim woman.
Peace and blessings

Ottawa’s Aaida Mamuji: ‘Mombasa’ & a boxer : Featured OTT : Videos

Aaida Mamuji intrigues me to no end, but I don’t know which of the three reasons below fascinates me the most, may be you can help me.

  1.  Is it that she is the first Muslim woman in hijab that I have seen in competitive boxing? or
  2. That she is also a PhD candidate in Public Administration yet she chooses to pursue boxing seriously. Or
  3. Is it her Kenyan connection in general and her Mombasa connection in particular?  She was born in Kuwait from a Kenyan mother of Yemeni ancestry and Kenyan father of Indian ancestry, and now a Canadian citizen, but still considers herself a “Mombasa”.

It’s hard to tell!

At any rate, here’s the video of this fascinating Muslim woman fighter. I hope she will impact you the same way she did me.  

I don’t know why the lyrics ‘he floats like a butterfly and sting like a bee” is playing in my head at the moment.

Ottawa’s Aaida Mamuji: ‘Mombasa’ & a boxer : Featured OTT : Videos.

Peace and blessings

Female Scholarship in Islam

Shaykha Reima Yosif @ 2012 Shaykha Fest

Shaykha Reima Yosif @ 2012 Shaykha Fest

I feel like I’ve hit a jackpot!

My last post “To Beat or not to Beat” by Shaykha Reima Yosif which I happened to stumble upon on Facebook impressed  me so much that I decided to find out more about her, and I must say, I am not disappointed. In addition to the numerous scholarly trainings and licenses she has received, Sheikha Reima is also the founder of a non-profit woman’s foundation called Al-Rawiya, which means a female narrator. The foundation promotes “empowerment of Muslim women through education, arts and assimilation/integration”. What really got me excited though is that one of the foundation’s objectives is torevive and promote female scholarship in Islam and create a platform for women to narrate their story.

Shaykha Reima is achieving this objective through conferences and symposium, among other forums.  The most notable of them is the yearly Shaykha Fest which is “intended to provide an exclusive platform to female Islamic scholars and thinkers from around the world to share their knowledge and expertise in a nurturing and inclusive atmosphere.”  This is very significant in my opinion, because even though women have played a substantial role in early Islam, they have had their voices muffled over the centuries, and it is time that women find their voices and tell their own stories.

To learn more about Shaykha Reima and her foundation, the Al-Rawiya Foundation, you can go to their Facebook page, or website. They also have videos on YouTube highlighting the work of Muslim women scholars and their journeys.  I felt like a kid in a candy store when I went to their YouTube page with numerous stories and lectures of Muslim women by Muslim women. You must notice by now that I love videos.  To me, videos tell a story much better than I could possibly do myself, and that explains my excitement of why I felt like I have hit a jackpot.

Shaykha Reima’s initiative to step in and fill a niche that is so needed, reminded me of a lecture by another female scholar, Sh. Tamara Gray by the title Lean In: Our Feminist Manifesto.  Shaykha Reima, by seeing a void and filling it, has definitely leaned in.

Peace and blessings.


To Beat or not to Beat

“There’s nothing in the Quran and in the Sunnah (life of the Prophet) that says hitting a woman is ok” say Sh. Reima Yusif in a lecture entitled “to Beat or not to Beat”.  In this lecture, Sh. Reima tackles a very difficult and very misinterpreted verse of the Qur’an that supposedly allows wife-beating in Islam under certain circumstances.

She explains the verse using linguistic implications; the sayings and tradition (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him); and scholarly jurisprudence to refute the common interpretation of that verse.

She takes the infamous Arabic word “daraba” used in 4:34 of the Quran, and commonly interpreted to mean hit or strike and showed that it actually has over 34 meanings other than just to hit, or strike.  To prove her point, she went on to show that the same word daraba has also been used in other verses of the Quran and does not have the literal meaning of to hit or strike a person.  To support her conviction that Quran does not allow hitting or striking ones’ wife, she quoted several hadith of the prophet that condemns men who hit their wives, stating that such people who do that are “not from me” or they are the lowest of people. Further, according to Sh. Reima, if such an action was condoned in the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) would not have contradicted the Quran and would have instead practiced it himself. Finally, she quoted several Islamic legal scholars who irrevocably refute that wife-beating is allowed.

It is very important to understand all the linguistic, historical and legal implication of this verse to achieve the ultimate goal of the Quran, i.e. to safeguard families and society.  It is especially important if we take into account that 30% of women experience domestic violence in their lifetime from their intimate partners.  It is for this reason, that I applaud Sh. Reima’s effort to crack the code so to speak, and many other brave women before her who provided alternative meanings to the verse.  A former colleague and friend of mine once told me that if a verse of the Quran does not appear to make sense, it is most likely that man has not interpreted it correctly; after all the Quran is considered a word of God and a perfect document, so any imperfection naturally comes from the people.

I believe this talk by Sh. Reima will be enlightening to everyone who have been struggling with this verse, be it man, woman, Muslim or not.

I will finish by saying that, it is time for every decent man and woman to stand up against domestic violence and use this alternative interpretation to condemn any abuser who would hide behind this verse.

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Peace and blessings

Muslim Women Do That

I admit that I was stumped as to what to post this week.  I have in the past posted on Muslim women in politics (From driving cars to running countries; Muslim women head of states), sports (The sky is the limit or in this case, Mt. Everest), film (Gender Separation Barriers in Mosques; Religious or Cultural?), religious leaders (Female Imams) and even Islamic feminism (Lean In; Our Feminist Manifesto) among others, and I was looking for a different angle this time. Then, I came across this video of three Muslim women in Texas, who shared with us a piece of their professional and personal life, and even their recreational interests. There’s Diana, a school Principal who is outgoing and loves to Jet Ski; Muna, a Project Manager who does capoeira; and Amanda, a News Media Specialist, who is a fun-loving and outgoing person, as described by her husband.

The objective of the video is similar to the objective of this blog, i.e. to share stories of Muslim women so as to dispel stereotypes, and eventually realize we have more in common as human beings than differences.

It’s a great video of your regular American Muslim women. It resonated well with me, as it’s always nice to see other like-minded people with adventurous spirit.


Peace and blessings.