Inspired by Malala: Local Muslim Women Discuss Activism, Community, and Islamophobia

Earlier this evening at an event hosted by the International Museum of Women, and held at San Francisco’s World Affairs Council, four Muslim women from the Bay area discussed their experiences as Muslim women in the US in a post-9/11 world, in a time where a young girl (Malala Yousafzai) has become a symbol for the strength of Muslim women and girls.

The four women on the panel were of various ages and each put forth her own views on topics such as how anti-Muslim discrimination in the US has changed since 9/11 (if at all), in which ways the American Muslim community (although I use this term with hesitation, as it is by no means a monolith) should work on building relationships with other marginalized (or mainstream) groups, and the positive and negative effects the Malala story has had on the image of Muslims.

As a young Muslim woman, I usually feel that these sort of events are more geared towards non-Muslims for the sake of a better understanding of our community, but I still felt like there was (for me personally) something really valuable in listening to what the panelists had to say. I think a lot of times with communities (not even just religious communities, but also political communities, racial/ethnic communities, etc), there tends to be a sort of standard of acceptance that most people feel like they need to adhere to in order to be accepted by the group, or they risk being “not Muslim enough” or “not feminist enough,” etc. I myself still struggle with this. But it is really refreshing to hear the diversity in opinions (in this case, Muslim women), that resonate with your own, and make you feel like you belong.

For example, a couple of the panelists mentioned steps that many American Muslims have been taking to build relationships with other racial groups and LGBT groups in order to step back from racism and homophobia. As someone who has a very social justice-oriented educational background, this was so important for me to hear that this is a concern for many other Muslims as well, not just for me or my close friends.

I also really appreciated a comment one of the panelists had about how she is still choosing which parts of Islam are the ones she feels the closest to. In other words (at least from my interpretation), that religion is very much still a journey and a process to be dealt with, and might always be. I love this perspective because it allows for more freedom in religion than a one-size-fits-all approach that a lot of us may have felt is the only way to be Muslim.

And lastly, another woman on the panel mentioned how American Muslims have found ways of online organizing in recent years, in ways that have helped it build better relationships with non-Muslims. My favorite example of this is the blog Love, Inshallah (which followed the book published under the same name in 2012). I would argue that this blog (and of course there are many other examples of Muslims organizing online, as well as other anthologies that have been written) is also a powerful tool for Muslims, to finally address some difficult issues (in the case of Love, Inshallah, the taboos around dating and relationships).

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the event and appreciate the women willing to be a part of it, and I hope for more in the future!

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