Muslim American Women Are Finding Their Voice and Confronting Islamophobia

The bombing of Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, last week was a reminder that hate and intolerance towards Muslims is all too acceptable in America today. In July, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that in the first half of 2017, there was a 91 percent spike in anti-Muslim bias incidents compared to the same period last year.

These hate crimes send a message to American Muslims—they tell us that our community is always under suspicion, that our identity as Americans is always in question. But they do something else, too—they call on us to come together, to peacefully protest, to be unapologetically loud, and to keep working until all oppressed communities are free.

That’s why I work with the International Muslim Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE), a self-defense and leadership program that prepares young Muslim women for the challenges they face in an environment of rising Islamophobia and intolerance.

After experiencing a hate crime, Rana Abdelhamid founded WISE in 2010, believing that self-defense training would help her and other young Muslim women targeted by hate reclaim their confidence. Now WISE has branches in New York, Texas, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and abroad. Alongside self-defense classes, the initiative offers leadership and entrepreneurship training, too.

Like many women before me, I first came to WISE to learn self-defense. As a Latina Muslim convert, I had multiple reasons to want to feel safer and more in control. I was still in the process of discovering my faith; I was learning the norms of mosques and Muslim-centered spaces; and I had to unlearn the harmful stereotypes that my Muslim sisters faced in order to learn the truth about the relationship between my faith and my gender identity.

What made me return, though, was the opportunity to be part of a sisterhood of incredibly powerful and dedicated women. Sitting in the circle at my first self-defense class, I told my conversion story. For the first time, I felt able to be vulnerable with my Muslim sisters in a mosque, and I was empowered by their support and love.

Mosques lie at the heart of Muslim community life. That’s why attacks like the one in Bloomington are so upsetting. Amid this surge of hatred—an average of nine mosques per month have been targeted with threats, vandalism, or arson—our work has become even more important.

I saw that work in action this summer, when WISE collaborated with Pearls of Hope to bring a summer training program called Mentee Muslimah to Brooklyn’s Thayba Islamic Center. Our workshops did more than just show young women how to defend themselves against physical assaults, however. We also told them about resources they could use if they ever experienced bigotry, or were the victims of domestic violence. And we focused on ways for them to build up their inner strength and self-worth in the midst of a culture that so often greets them with ignorance and discrimination.

Above all, we at WISE work to help young Muslim women raise their voices and claim their space. WISE practices vocal techniques that are intended to push Muslim women out of their comfort zones and get them accustomed to screaming their discomfort and asserting their right to be heard.

At the end of every workshop, our self-defense facilitators perform a chant based on the words of Assata Shakur. It usually takes about three recitations before the room echoes with the sound of Muslim women shouting their commitment to “fight for their freedom, to win, to love and support each other, and lose their chains.”

Hate might attempt to silence us, but it will never succeed.

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I am horrified by the recent events of terror attacks both in Barcelona, Spain and Charlottesville, Virginia and the many other terror events taking place throughout the world including my motherland, Somalia. This is a raw, troubling and horrifying events of terror occurrences. As a practicing Muslim woman, I am intimidated by the actions of these sick, coward and murderers disrupting peace and harmony throughout the world. These groups are powered and wrapped up in hate and antiquated awful Man-made ideologies. It is very important to see, learn and understand what major religions said about violence and war.
For instance, Islam, one of the major World Religions of over 2billion followers, specified and imparted in detail the importance of adhering and garnering peace and harmony forbidding all forms of attacks. Fatwah by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Grand Islamic Scholar and Chairman of the Sunna and Sira Council, Qatar, et al.: said "All Muslims ought to be united against all those who terrorize the innocents, and those who permit the killing of non-combatants without a justifiable reason. Islam has declared the spilling of blood and the destruction of property as absolute prohibitions until the Day of Judgment.”
1. God (glory be to He) said: 'Because of that We ordained unto the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a human being -- unless it be in punishment for murder or for spreading mischief on earth -- it would be as though he killed all of humanity; whereas, if anyone saved a life, it would be as though he saved the life of all humanity.' Qur'an: 5:32."
2. Another important Statement by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi: said "Al-Azhar is against terrorism, regardless of its source or target. The killing of innocent men, women, and children is a horrible and ugly act that is against all religions and against rational thinking."
a. Any Muslim who is aware of the teachings of his religion and who adheres to the directives of the Holy Qur’an and the sunnah (the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad)
i. will never involve himself in such acts,
ii. because they will invoke the anger of God Almighty
iii. and lead to harm and corruption on Earth.”
2. it is the duty of the Muslim ulema (religious scholars) to make facts clear in this respect, and to clarify that Islam never accepts such acts.
3. the media which try to defame Islam and Muslims
i. in order to rally against them the feelings of various nations,
ii. should immediately stop this unacceptable and unjustifiable practice, Since all reasonable and just people know that such biased accusations have nothing to do with Islam. Shaikh Saleh Al-Luheidan, Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council in Saudi Arabia, stated: “As a human community we must be vigilant and careful to oppose these pernicious and shameless evils, which are not justified by any sane logic, nor by the religion of Islam."
Finally, I express my deepest sympathy and sorrow. I condemn, in the strongest terms, these incidents, which are against all human and Islamic norms.

I think the best bet for Muslim women in America within this period of surging hatered against Muslim communities is to speak out and explain that Islam is the religion of love and those who committed atrocities under the name of Islam has nothing at all to do with Islamic Teachings.

i think the best way for muslim women in America to join together in this period of surging hatered against muslim Ngo to speak out our challenges facing our religion but ineed to ask if your group can support women from east africa in Tanzania to do some group like that to educate our society of muslim

I cannot imagine Muslim women having to defend themselves in a US society. Yet we know it happens! As a Catholic woman we still think that your religion, by origin, thinks that as female you are less than. And we cannot abide by that. Every person is born equal no matter gender!I am not speaking for my church but simply as a woman. I hope that one day you can go out in public with the trust of your husband and father and just go ON with your own life. Be all that you were meant to be! Which is not really a brood cow and housekeeper for men. They can just get educated too and stand for their own selves in this society! If they do not? Well YOU now have education and can show them the door. Men are supposedly the strongest sex yet they give all to women while out "drinking tea" looking and dressed for sex. Guess what? Likely score sometimes while lying and abhorrent to Allah. Do they care? Exactly why you cannot leave else you would learn. If YOU make the $, then YOU rule the home! Worthless men while understanding why they insist on complete RULE. LOL

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