Meet Dilshad D. Ali, Journalist And Autism Activist

"Journalism is my career, my autism activism is passion."

Meet Dilshad D. Ali, Journalist And Autism Activist

“Journalism is my career, my autism activism is passion.”

By

Aishah Goumaneh

Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

Meet the journalist who serves the Muslim community for a great initiative. Dilshad D. Ali is a first-generation Virginia native writer, and autism awareness activist who studied journalism at the University of Maryland. 

Dilshad is known for her work as an editor for Haute Hijab, a modest fashion wear company, and the activism work she does with MUHSEN and Virginia Autism Project

MUHSEN is a nonprofit serving Muslim children and adults with any intellectual, mental, or physical disability. The organization was co-founded by Imam Omar Suleiman, a prominent Muslim scholar who saw the need within the community. 

Dilshad has worked for autism advocacy for 16 years and has dedicated her work to it.

Muslim had the opportunity to interview Dilshad to know more about the work she does for the Muslim community and how it helps at a greater scale.  

You have many careers under your belt, journalist, editor, and writer. Do you feel as if they are all connected somehow?  

Yeah absolutely. Journalism is a whole body of work. The way it has evolved from where I started to where I am now encompasses everything. Whether you’re a writer, or an editor, or a reporter, or an op-ed writer, it is under the body of work of journalism. Journalism itself is where you learn the fundamentals of reporting, broadcasting, radio work etc, all of this stuff is very technical.  

I understand that you work with autistic people, was this always something you wanted to do or was it a sudden realization?  

No, it wasn’t something I always wanted to do. When I got married and I had children my first son who was born, he was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. That was 16 years ago. So when you have a child with disabilities you are thrust into that world. It was something I had no knowledge of beforehand, and I never thought about it. But he was my son, and this is the world I live in now. I am going to advocate for him and help him advocate for himself. Journalism is my career, my autism activism is passion. 

Can you tell me more about the work you do with the Virginia Autism Project?  

This Virginia based group is something I have been involved in for as long as I lived in Virginia, which is about 16 years. The Virginia Autism Project lobbies state legislators for autism health insurance bills and other projects. We work on having meetings with representatives and state senators and talk about autism insurance bills, and hope to talk about medicaid waivers and funding for autism programs at public or private schools.

I was appointed to the Virginia autism council by the governor at the time. I was nominated by a Muslim who worked for the governor and I served on the council for four years. 

Can you tell me about MUHSEN? 

I joined MUHSEN about five to six years ago, from the time they were created. The co-founder of MUHSEN asked me to join the advisory board. As an advisory board member, our job is to help guide and give advice to muslim groups and help with fundraising, and sharing knowledge. Whether this be media work, marketing, fundraising, etc.  

Can families reach out to these organizations for help, and if so how are they able to receive help? 

Well with MUHSEN families can definitely reach out, that is the whole point of what they do. All the different programs revolve on how to help individuals with disabilities. You can start by going to their website and look at their programs based on where you are. They even have online programming. MUHSEN helps low-income families who are struggling to put food on the table as well. There is an application that can be filled so they can get funding. There are autism society chapters across the country that people can reach out to as well.     

I have two younger siblings with autism, I was wondering what piece of advice can you give families that have autistic family members?  

It depends on where you are on your journey. Are you diagnosed, or is a family member? The whole idea of it is embracing it for what it is. Autism is different from one person to the next. We need to be inclusive of each other in our abilities and also with our feelings. You guys need to have a lot of patience with each other. Be understanding of the challenges they have. Being annoyed, feeling grief is normal.   

What do you think bringing autism awareness to the Muslim community will bring?  

It can only bring good. It allows for more understanding and more inclusivity. We want to be acknowledged and included. We can’t be included all the time because of the challenges we face, but acknowledge those challenges. You never want to be forgotten, the simple act of calling and checking on you is the best that you can do. It all means something. There is only stuff to gain by being inclusive to families with disabilities. Everyone has complications, the more patient we are with each other, it can only be a good thing.  

To learn more about Dilshad and her work, be sure to follow her on Twitter.

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About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Wardah Khalid Is Pushing Muslim-Americans To Be More Politically Active

"Okay, you voted – now what? How do you engage past the ballot box?"

Wardah Khalid Is Pushing Muslim-Americans To Be More Politically Active

“Okay, you voted – now what? How do you engage past the ballot box?”

By

Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

For Wardah Khalid, advocacy goes a long way. The Houston native is the founder of Poligon Education Fund (Poligon), one of the only few organizations made to uplift Muslim-Americans running for office and help guide Muslim-Americans in holding their representatives in Congress accountable. 

After moving to Washington DC, the last four years Khalid had dedicated her time in pushing for change at Capitol Hill. Prior to devoting her time in pushing for Muslim-American legislation, she was doing Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and then working at Church World Service doing refugee and immigration advocacy. Now, Khalid finds herself working at Capitol Hill as an anchorage Congressional Fellow with APAICS (the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies).

“I’ve been working in Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office, which has been a really interesting experience to see advocacy from the inside. Or like how we make policy from the Inside while I have been advocating for it outside.” 

Currently, Khalid finds herself writing about different foreign affairs and national security issues or Islam in America while running Poligon, a national nonprofit dedicated to amplifying American Muslim voices in Congress.

Muslim asked Wardah about Poligon, the initatives she’s currently working on, and the future of politics for Muslims in America.

 

Photo - Flickr

Tell us about Poligon, what do you guys do?

In our first two years, Poligon trained over 5,000 Muslims on web training and in-person training. We also advocate with Members of Congress and educate them on issues that the Muslim community cares about. We also have educated Muslims themselves on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, we have a weekly newsletter that goes out that talks about what’s happening called Hill Happenings. It’s a very quick digest, I would encourage everybody to sign up so they can keep up with issues. We make it very easy for people to understand what’s going on and how they can engage.Less than 17% of our community reached out to their Members of Congress in the last year and so we’re the lowest of all faith groups. So there’s definitely a lot of work to do.

What Poligon does is it teaches you like, okay, you voted now what, like, how do you engage past the ballot box. How are you holding your elected officials accountable after you elect them? Normally our community is doing fundraisers for these people. This is photo ops, you know, photo ops and then they don’t ask them for anything. 

 

What prompted you in creating Poligon?

I worked with Quakers, a smaller Christian lobby group that has a lot of international presence, on the Iran nuclear deal and getting that through Congress, how much their network was mobilized, how engaged they were with their representatives, how much influence they had on the representatives. My job was to educate them and educate the representatives about the policy. I was just able to see how they were interacting with the White House and they were interacting with the State Department and then the Congress. So I was like, what’s stopping us (Muslims)  from starting something up like this, when we have anywhere from three to 8 million people in the United States? 

So actually, even before I started that fellowship, I came up with the idea and just  did a lot of research, figuring out why something like that hadn’t been started before, starting training groups on how to engage with their representatives, and then put together a team of people to help bring that vision to life. We made sure to do everything from the ground upright before the 2017 inauguration. So basically, we launched in January 2017, a few days before Trump was elected. People were really excited to see some way they could engage. Which, you know, worked out really well. 

 

What are the current initiatives Poligon is working on?

One of the big things that we’re working on right before this Coronavirus issue happened was the NO BAN Act to repeal the Muslim travel ban, which was first issued in 2017 banning immigrants from Muslim countries and refugees.  We were actually very close to getting a floor vote in the House of Representatives. It was actually already scheduled, but then Coronavirus happened and Congress delayed it. But you know, we were working to collect cosponsors. We were delivering petitions on the Hill with 150,000 signatures of people who supported this legislation. So we were very active in that coalition and working on that. 

During this pandemic, Poligon has actually one of the few Muslim organization that actually focuses on domestic human needs and helping the marginalized and economically disadvantaged, achieve economic justice. We’re working on issues like hunger, poverty, health care, housing, for since our inception, so when Coronavirus hit, it was very natural for us to work on that issue. We actually created this policy update center on our website where people can go and see what’s like the latest thing that happened with Coronavirus because there’s so much legislation moving there’s so many different packages being introduced it’s confusing.

 

Are there any comments or messages you’d like to share with our audience?

Don’t underestimate the power that you have. I think I’ve heard somewhere that over like 50% of Muslims in the US are youth. They’re a big population – and being a big population and coming into voting age, you guys are going to have a lot of power. This includes determining who are your elected officials, so please do not be afraid to hold them accountable.

A lot of the older generation Muslims have “the old way” of how our community was engaging with candidates. Like doing photo-ops without asking the candidates for anything. We have to change that dynamic. We have to ask, we have to push for our community members. And if they’re not doing what we’re asking, you know, don’t be afraid to vote them out. We saw that in Virginia – one of the first things that Poligon worked on was an ant- hate resolution that was actually a local Member of Congress had introduced. Unfortunately, she had been endorsed by another Muslim civic engagement organization. So the first thing when we came in it was like, why did you endorse somebody who has a 95% Trump rating when they’re doing all these awful things to our community? 

So if you feel a certain way about a policy, if you’re impacted by health care, or Coronavirus, or whatever it might be, or Islamophobia or bullying in schools, then make your voice heard and let them know. You can do a phone call to a Member of Congress, it only takes like 30 seconds or a minute. Poligon provides scripts that you can follow word for word, the only thing you have to do is add your name.

Social justice is a big part of our faith, that it would seem very natural that we’d be engaged in this. But we’re not, we’re still not fully there yet as to how other communities are. So that’s gonna take us to get involved and be pushing that, and pushing our Muslim community. So yes, get out the vote, definitely. But also think about what happens after you elect your candidate. How are you holding them accountable? How are you making sure that they represent you?

To learn more about Poligon, and what Wardah Khalid is doing, be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to Poligon’s mailing list to stay engaged.

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About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Lisa Vogl On Why Muslims Need To Understand Domestic Abuse

I feel like I naturally work with projects that are geared towards my community. Even with domestic violence.

Lisa Vogl On Why Muslims Need To Understand Domestic Abuse

I feel like I naturally work with projects that are geared towards my community. Even with domestic violence.

By

Ameena Qobrtay

Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

Lisa Vogl is on the forefront of changing the game for Muslims. She is the co-founder of Verona Collection – the first modest clothing line to be sold at Macy’s and ASOS – is an award winning fashion photographer, and a mother to two boys.  

Vogl is a survivor of domestic violence and continually uses her platform to empower others to speak out and call attention to these issues that are all too often not discussed in many communities. 

Muslim asked Vogl about Verona Collection, her Muslim identity, and raising awareness about domestic violence. 

What inspired you to launch Verona Collection?

 There are two main reasons why myself and Alaa Ammuss started Verona Collection. One, was out of pure need. We just like many of the millions of Muslims in America and across Europe felt it was hard to find modest, affordable, yet fashionable clothing. Shopping for new outfits always seemed like a dreadful task. The clothing that was available either seemed to not fit my American Western style or it was extremely overpriced. The second reason and the reason that is near and dear to my heart is I want Verona to give women like myself in America the confidence to be proud of their Muslim identity and even more proud to wear their hijab … All of this negativity directed towards muslimahs staying strong in who we are may not always be the easiest task. Meanwhile, another struggle we face is constantly bombarded with images of women wearing next to nothing photo-shopped head to toe giving women a false sense of what it means to be beautiful. So I want to send a strong message that you can still be fashionable, chic and feel beautiful but you don’t have to uncover to do so.

 

Has your Muslim identity informed all the different projects that you do?

 I’d say so. My Muslim identity is everything to me, so I feel like I naturally work with projects that are geared towards my community. Even with domestic violence. I fight against domestic violence regardless of one’s race, religion or gender but I feel like I’ve been able to use my voice more within our community.

 

How has coronavirus (Covid-19) impacted your work? What does this mean for the future of Verona Collection?

We have a lot planned for Verona. When we launched with Macy’s and then soon after with ASOS our resources and manpower were tied up with the department stores. However, over the last 9 months we have been focusing on a relaunch coming out with lots of new designs and a fresh marketing perspective. 

Due to Covid-19 our relaunch has been delayed. I don’t know the exact date when we will release our new items but I’m hoping within the next few months. I felt a bit defeated when it happened, but that’s a part of business. You have to roll with the punches and sometimes you have to learn to take a few steps back in order to move forward. And that’s what we’ve done. 

 

You have been brave and courageous to share your story of domestic abuse. Thank you so much for sharing this story. What made you come forward? 

Thank you. I only pray that speaking out helps others. In 2017 and 2018 I was in many major articles as I was being interviewed left, right, and center due to our partnership with Macy’s. And as a result of my interviews I gained a small platform. Many looked towards me as a business woman who had it all together but nothing was further from the truth. 

I had escaped an abusive husband in 2015 and finally divorced in 2017. However, at that time my ex was always harassing me and threatening me. I couldn’t go a day without experiencing anxiety or fear of what he would do next. Although he was extremely physically abusive in our marriage it was the mental abuse that I was traumatized over. He was no longer able to physically harm me so he did everything he could to make my life miserable. So I felt it wasn’t just my right but my responsibility to come forward with abuse that I had faced. 

I realized that women who were suffering abuse needed to know that they were not alone. That if I was able to leave and make it they could too. When I went public with my story I received thousands of messages mostly from women within our community. I still to this day receive messages daily that I’m often not able to keep up with but do my very best.  

We need to be better. We must be better. As a result of the way it’s handled women lose their life. Women are often told to have Sabr in the face of oppression. The perpetrator is told to pray more and read more Quran. 

We of course have exceptions and there are many Imams who speak out against abuse. I’ve always applauded Imam Khalid Latif and Sheikh Omar Suleiman who take a public stance against domestic violence. This is what our religion teaches us. 

However we don’t need Islam to tell us speaking out against injustice is the right thing to do. We really don’t. We just need to be human. But our religion does teach that. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught us when faced with abuse or witnessing it we must try to change it, and if we can’t change it with our hand we must change it with our tongue (speaking out against it), and if we can’t do either at least hate it in your heart. But our Prophet (PBUH) said this is the weakest of Iman. So it’s clear what our religion teaches us, we must never tell a woman who is faced with abuse to have patience. This is one for the most backward mentalities I have seen and unfortunately it’s prevalent within our community. 

 

What more do you think can be done about domestic abuse in Muslim communities? Do you think it’s a taboo subject? 

I believe we must all learn to speak out against abuse. The more we collectively speak out it will start to become less of a taboo topic. Pretending abuse is not an issue in our community only makes the problem worse. We also have this idea that the victim must feel shame there for must stay quiet. We need to reject this idea. The perpetrator needs to feel the shame, not the victim.

 

What work do you do to help victims of sexual assault/domestic violence? 

I’ve raised money to build women shelters for both Penny Appeal USA and ICNA Relief. I serve on the advisory board of ICNA Relief and help them whenever they call upon me. I try my best to help individuals when I’m able to and last but not least I speak out. 

I use my platforms to educate people on the effects of abuse and how we must take a stance against it. There is not a day that goes by that I am not working to fight domestic violence at least in some capacity. I do as much as I can and pray it’s helping.

 

Are there any messages you’d like to share to our audience regarding domestic abuse and relationships? 

Yes, I think it’s important to note that abuse happens to men as well. 1 and 9 men have suffered abuse and we don’t speak about it as much, me included. I need to make a conscious effort to address this more. 

We also need to understand that abuse is not just physical. Mental abuse is  often way more traumatic and can sometimes take longer to heal from then physical abuse. 

And lastly, one myth I’d like to break is when a victim leaves an abuser she/he is “breaking up a family.” A single parent home that is healthy full of peace and laughter is way more beneficial for the children than one with two parents and abuse. This is not my opinion, this is what studies have proved to be true.

To learn more about Lisa and her work, be sure to follow her on Instagram.

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About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Combatting Coronavirus As The First Female Muslim Mayor In The U.S.

Mayor Sadaf Jaffer describes the feeling of responsibility to protect the residents of Montgomery Township during these times.

Combatting Coronavirus As The First Female Muslim Mayor In The U.S.

Mayor Sadaf Jaffer describes the feeling of responsibility to protect the residents of Montgomery Township during these times.

By

Ameena Qobrtay

Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

Sadaf Jaffer is not your average local politician. The Ivy League graduate and postdoctoral research associate at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies is the current Mayor of Montgomery Township in Somerset County N.J., on the frontlines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

And if that’s not impressive enough, Dr. Jaffer is the first female Muslim mayor in U.S. history, and the first woman of South Asian descent to serve as Mayor in N.J. 

Mayor Jaffer took office in January 2019, deciding to run for the position after the Muslim Ban was enacted. 

Dr. Jaffer explained how people in her community were scared about what the Muslim Ban meant for them. She said, “The elected officials at that time said, ‘just think about Montgomery, don’t worry about what’s happening elsewhere.’ Obviously as Muslim Americans, we know that you can’t get away from that, you know it’s it’s a part of your reality.” 

Although one of the reasons she ran was to address Muslim discrimination, Mayor Jaffer faced exactly that on her journey to political success. She described how her opponents called her ideas “dangerous” and “extreme” – a rhetoric that many Muslim politicians are attacked with in the U.S. – which made her feel targeted for her faith. 

But Mayor Jaffer didn’t let any of these types of attacks slow her down. Focusing on community-building and good governance, Jaffer tackled shifting demographics and other problems in her town by organizing a platform based around communications, transparency, diversity, and inclusion.  

In the past year Mayor Jaffer has already worked to ensure the environmental health of her town, preserving over 100 acres of land. She also organizes intercultural holiday parties like an interfaith iftar, that accompanies over 150 people in attendance. 

Now, Mayor Jaffer is shifting her focus to face the COVID-19 pandemic in a state at the epicenter of the pandemic. She explained how her town was one of the earliest to begin closing schools and government offices before the rest of the state did.

Photo - Courtesy of Montgomery Township

 

Jaffer said that she is working with other leaders in her town to help mitigate the effects of the virus. 

“I’m proud to say that our township’s health department received accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board, and a commendation from the CDC, just within the last month,” she said. “So they’re doing an amazing job, and we’re very lucky that our rates of infection and fatality have been relatively low as compared to other municipalities in N.J.” 

Dr. Jaffer is doing everything she can to maintain the community bonds that she worked hard to establish and maintain during her time in office. She holds weekly videos featuring some of Montgomery Township’s leaders to help keep people informed about the situation. The town also launched a site that includes artwork and musical performances of students to create a sense of community and a digital public sphere. 

Jaffer described the feeling of responsibility to protect the residents of Montgomery Township while also managing her home life. As a Mayor, mother, wife, scholar, and active member of her community, Jaffer is managing many roles and doing her best to meet the needs of each. 

She said, “You know, it’s hard to take a break when you’re in an emergency. And this is kind of a protracted emergency. So, I’m trying to do it the best that I can. I have my good days and my bad days …” 

Jaffer discussed what gives her hope during the pandemic, mentioning how COVID-19 related deaths have been dropping in N.J. due to efforts from social distancing. She also discussed the wonders of “the spirit of service” during this difficult time. 

Mayor Jaffer uses a skill to inform the decision she makes that is all-too-familiar to scholars: research. She explained how leaders who use expert advice usually make better decisions than those who rely on instinct. This research-based approach to leadership is how Jaffer is working to mitigate the effects of the virus on her community. 

Although Dr. Jaffer is facing the crisis head-on, she also discussed how she would never have expected to be involved with electoral politics, mentioning that when she was sworn in as Mayor, she told her husband she “crossed an unexpected life milestone.” 

As a word of advice to young people who may be feeling uncertain about their future job prospects or who may need some general advice, Jaffer reminds everyone to “just keep trying.” 

Dr. Jaffer said, “Not everything will work out. But the more different opportunities you try to go after the more likely that something will work out.  I have applied for so many things in my life and probably most of them I have not gotten. But some of them I did, and that is probably the only thing that I remember now.”

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About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Muslim-American Maha Elgenaidi On Advocacy And Experience

"Be first and foremost clear on your intentions for why you want to do this work."

Muslim-American Maha Elgenaidi On Advocacy And Experience

“Be first and foremost clear on your intentions for why you want to do this work.”

By

Srihari Nageswaran Ravi

Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

Meet Maha Elgenaidi, a well-established American Muslim advocate. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and an author of training handbooks on outreach for American Muslims and training seminars for public institutions on developing cultural competency with the American Muslim community.

Recently, Muslim interviewed Maha on the impact of Islam on her American Muslim advocacy, the development of ING, and its more controversial approaches to her work. Maha shares her hopes for future generations of Muslim advocates.

Being the Executive Director of ING, what do you believe is your organization’s mission?

Peace-building. We started out by teaching Americans about Islam, which then evolved into doing the same work in the context of religious pluralism where we teach about Islam alongside people of other faiths, because we realized that the more Americans understand their own faith, the more they’re likely to understand Islam’s diversity in its interpretation by both historical and contemporary Muslims. 

We’ve also branched out into anti-bias work by tackling Islamophobia in the context of other forms of bigotry, by looking at both the history of bigotry and racism and the interconnections between Islamophobia and different forms of bigotry such as anti-blackness and anti-Semitism.  

Our stated mission now is to promote peace among all by fostering a deeper, more nuanced understanding of Muslims and other religious, racial/ethnic, and cultural communities, through teaching, learning, and engaging across differences.

How has your personal background informed your work and what aspects of your life have made you interested in Muslim advocacy?

I grew up in a secular Egyptian-Arab home where we didn’t practice or even learn about Islam. In fact, I was pretty cynical about religion in general. Growing up in the United States and watching how Muslims were portrayed in the media, in books, and in my own public education instilled in me biases against the religion and its people, even though I still identified as both Arab and Muslim.

It wasn’t until I read the Quran for the first time in my life during the first Persian Gulf War in the early 90’s that I made a 180-degree turn and started exploring both the community and the religion further by first reading several books and then meeting and participating in the Muslim American community. A year later, after studying how the community was organized, I started ING to have Muslim Americans teaching other Americans about Islam, which is exactly what we continue to do today.

What actions have you taken that may be deemed controversial, but that you believed were important in furthering peace and justice for the Muslim community? Why so?

Everything we did was first deemed controversial! Controversy is never-ending in my line of work. If I had to name the most controversial work we’ve done, it is continuing to work with the Jewish community despite the criticism and threats and charges of “selling out Palestine.” 

Unless you work with pro-Palestinian organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, which is a political organization and something we’re not, then you’re considered to be selling out. Some Muslims miss the fact that all organizations evolve over time and are not monolithic. They’re not going to change without our engagement with them, which is something I strongly believe in. Unless the organization is a hate group or is fomenting bigotry against a group of people, then we shouldn’t be afraid of engaging with them if our interests intersect.

Have you experienced any setbacks in your advocacy and if so, how have they affected you? What have you learned from them?

I’ve experienced many setbacks from the very start of the organization as an independent-thinking woman who was accustomed to leading and managing before I became active in the Muslim community and as a virtual unknown, so my experience was probably similar to that of a convert. I was first accused of being a spy for Mossad, the FBI, and the CIA, and these rumors lasted for more than a decade and had a devastating effect on funding. I became so poor at one point that I didn’t even have enough money for food or gas for my car. But I didn’t give up, and people didn’t know my circumstances because I still had my old nice clothes from my days of corporate work. Then they accused me of desiring fame and fortune even though I was neither paid nor the subject of any of the media interviews I initiated for community members with news agencies. Then came the accusation of the work itself having no value, until 9/11 happened and then everyone was doing education and interfaith work and seeking our ING material. 

Honestly, I still don’t feel appreciated by my own community, nor is the work of education and engagement taken as seriously as is civil rights work, for example, or political engagement. That doesn’t make me happy, but it doesn’t stop me from doing the work because I am clear on my motivations and objectives which have always been about peace-making, and this overrides any criticism or lack of appreciation. My faith in God and worship and the impact of our work based on surveys from our clients is what sustains me, quite honestly.

What advice would you give to young Muslims and especially young Muslim women who are interested in interfaith/intercultural, Muslim-centered advocacy?

To be first and foremost clear on your intentions for why you want to do this work. If it is to convert others to our religion, then this is not the work for you. But if you’re humble and sincere and your motives are to build bridges based on an Islamic theology of pluralism that sees everyone as potential friends of God, who might be nearer to God than yourself, then that’s the prerequisite for doing interfaith/intercultural work. 

For women who are working for male-centered organizations it’s an easier lift. But if you’re independent and starting out on your own, then it’s a much heavier lift because it’s very challenging for women to fundraise in the Muslim community, as it is for women to raise funds anywhere, and that’s part of the reason why we’re starting an endowment to carry this work and support the people who initiate it in their local towns and regions. 

In my opinion, education about Islam and interfaith-intercultural work for peace are the most important works we could be doing as Muslims apart from charitable works in feeding the hungry and taking care of people. And if we’re going to fight for civil rights, then let’s do it for all marginalized groups and not just ourselves and make sure our political system is just and fair for all.

To learn more about Maha and ING, you can visit the organization’s site here.

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About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Hatem Bazian On Creating The First Accredited Muslim College In The U.S.

Hatem Bazian, 55, holds many titles not the least of which is a devout Muslim trying to make the world a better place.

Hatem Bazian On Creating The First Accredited Muslim College In The U.S.

Hatem Bazian, 55, holds many titles not the least of which is a devout Muslim trying to make the world a better place.

By

Nuran Alteir

Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 


Hatem Bazian, 55, holds many titles not the least of which is a devout Muslim trying to make the world a better place. 

He is a father, a husband, a faculty member at UC Berkeley, founder of Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at UC Berkeley, founder and national Chair of American Muslims for Palestine, a columnist, and a professor and co-founder of Zaytuna College — among many other things. 

Acquiring many of these titles came from decades of working to fill various needs of the community. For example, founding Zaytuna College alongside Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir was in response to the growing complexities facing the Muslim community in the early 2000s. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the number of hate crimes directed against Arabs, Muslims and people perceived to be Arab or Muslim was increasing, social justice groups protested against more frequent and blatant racial profiling, and the mainstream media sought to highlight Muslims and Islam more than ever before. 

“The process of only doing halaqas or a weekend class was no longer sufficient,” said Bazian, Ph.D. in philosophy and Islamic studies. 

What would suffice was an academic institution that integrated western and Islamic tradition with the purpose of graduating morally committed leaders, Bazian said. Planning took years.  

Today, Zaytuna College is the first independently accredited Muslim college in the United States. The college, located in Berkeley, Calif., offers a bachelor’s degree in Islamic law and theology and a master’s degree in Islamic texts. 


How would you describe the significance of Zaytuna College being the first accredited Muslim college in the United States?

There were earlier attempts at formulating a college, but they were not successful in getting accredited. This is the only independently accredited Muslim institution in the western world. If there are institutions, these are institutions that either have an accreditation by a partnership with an existing western institution that gives them the right to issue a degree or they’re getting accreditation from a Muslim majority state institution like a certification or accreditation from Al-Azhar University in Cairo or from Turkey and so on. Zaytuna College received the same accreditation from the same agency that accredits UC Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, USC. Now, Zaytuna College is sitting on the same academic table being able to offer ideas and perspective on higher education coming from the long history and long tradition of Muslim academic institutions. Some of the early colleges in our human history can be dated back to the Muslim world. The fact we have been able to arrive at this point is something not for us to celebrate but actually to give to the Muslim community and to the future generations.


I’m sure there were people who doubted you at the beginning and doubted this could be possible. How did you and the group keep going?

You always have critics. You always people who say “Well, so-and-so tried but they didn’t succeed.” But again, the fact that this was not done before is because it was difficult. We don’t have a book on how to build colleges for dummies. If there were such a book, then we would have bought it. In general it was a major challenge because there isn’t a framework. The most difficult task was how to create a Muslim college that brings in the Islamic tradition with a seamless integration into Western tradition. We are trying to carry both scholarly approaches of tradition to empower our students. 

We began right around the time of the economic collapse in 2008. We did not have an endowment — no resources. If you think miracles don’t come about, then you should come visit Zaytuna College because that was a miracle for us to get the college going at the height of the financial crisis.


What is Zaytuna College’s place in empowering Muslim Americans to speak up and take a position in American society?

Each of our students must fulfill 50 hours of community engagement. In this way we wanted to have knowledge, al-ilm, attached to action, al-aml. Not to say al-aml comes before al-ilm. We wanted our students to have the knowledge and to go out and address the broader needs of the society.


What is your hope for the Muslim youth living in America today?

We are beholden to a tradition of a prophet who was born in Mecca, illiterate, an orphan and we are here whether in the United States or the western world as a result of the idea of our beloved prophet. He came with one of the most powerful messages that humanity has received calling on us to read, iqra. That for me is the main source of most transformative power of knowledge. What I want is for our Muslim youth to understand that our tradition put knowledge at the center of everything that we do. It is knowledge that makes the human a human. Muslims are here to stay and to contribute and be beacons wherever they are.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

To follow along Hatem and to stay updated, be sure to follow his Twitter.

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About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Islamic Scholar Dalia Mogahed Wants You To Know That You Are ‘Muslim Enough’

“We have to demand the right to be fully human, which means Muslims being allowed to be as messed up as anyone else and still treated as equal."

Islamic Scholar Dalia Mogahed Wants You To Know That You Are ‘Muslim Enough’

“We have to demand the right to be fully human, which means Muslims being allowed to be as messed up as anyone else and still treated as equal.”

By

Rania Rizvi
Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

 

Islamic scholar and Muslim media figure Dalia Mogahed got candid with Muslim about identity, her personal battle with being the “perfect” Muslim, and her experience as a minority figurehead in America.

After going viral in 2016 for her raw Ted Talk on “What It’s Like to Be Muslim in America,” Mogahed was named by CNN as one of the “25 Most Influential American Muslims” and has made several appearances on major media outlets, including MSNBC, PBC, and even The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

But despite the name that she has made for herself as an Islamic figurehead in American media, Mogahed shared how growing up she, too, felt the immense pressure to be a “perfect” Muslim to “counter-stereotype” the villainic, belligerent image of Muslims pervading the media. 

“My biggest struggle was both being misunderstood and having to do the emotional labor of being a walking educational webinar…  to be the perfect representative of Islam,” said Mogahed. “It is exhausting to be a mascot, a 24-hours-a-day counter-stereotype… What if I don’t give my rightfully obtained parking spot to the white lady who came after me? Will she now hate all Muslims and I’m responsible?” 

Dalia Mogahed with Trevor Noah, on his show.

 

Though Mogahed is no stranger to the systemic oppression that Muslims must face on a daily basis for simply existing, she offered valuable advice for those who feel that they may be crumbling under this debilitating pressure, insisting that regardless of one’s religiousness and the status quo, all Muslims are allowed their right to being human.  

“Be your human self in full, and not a counter-stereotype, which is as dehumanizing as being a stereotype,” stated Mogahed. “We have to demand the right to be fully human, which means Muslims being allowed to be as messed up as anyone else and still treated as equal. We should not have to be perfect as the minimum requirement for inclusion,  while the dominant culture displays its deep and pervasive flaws, and still demands full rights. 

Outside of the media world, Mogahed is also the director of research for, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a research and education organization that studies American Muslims and the issues that impact them in Washington D.C. 

The non-profit is dedicated to providing thousands of schools, workplaces, and media outlets with leading research on issues impacting Muslims in America. 

“Our vision [Institute of Social Policy for Understanding] is an America where Muslims are thriving and equal,” said Mogahed. “Our research helps provide the recommendations needed to build more inclusive Muslim spaces,” shared Mogahed. 

Mogahed continued on, stating that the organization only aims to continue “to do groundbreaking research on the American Muslim community and the issues that impact the community disproportionately” with the goal of reaching “the hands of change-makers to make a positive impact.” 

As for her own future plans, the scholar divulged that she would like to extend into the field of rehabilitation for Muslims. 

“’I’m very passionate about building a rehab center to address addiction in the Muslim community  that builds on the 12 steps program with additional Islam-based principles and strategies,” shared Mogahed. 

When she is not doing ground-breaking work as a researcher or making appearances on the news as a powerful voice for Muslims in the media, Mogahed resides in Washington D.C. with her husband and two kids. 

To learn more about Mogahed’s work for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, visit ISPU’s website here. 

 

 

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 About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.