Changing Visions of Ourselves > On Shifting Ground: Gender & Sexuality

Los Angeles

Nagwa Ibrahim

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Former Outreach Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council

MPAC  stresses women’s participation and leadership, you can see it anywhere. We stress gender equality. Our chapters have coordinators – a majority are women. Some wear the hijab, some don’t.

We offer leadership training for everyone, and we stress the importance of having women involved in political activity.

When I do trainings in public speaking, women come up and thank me. At one event in Houston, where an older gentleman was acting as moderator, he didn’t like what I was saying but the audience defended me. The majority tended to embrace it.

Three out of seven members of MPAC’s board are women. One is young, one wears a hijab, one is married – there is a lot of diversity within [the organization].

The attitude is, “just because you’re on the board doesn’t mean you’re better than any other volunteer.” At MPAC, it’s all about your intelligence, if you can present your proposal and argue for it. Even the chapters are not hierarchical – every decision is consulted with chapter members.

The chapter in Wichita has a large number of converts, especially women. Many seek out MPAC because the local mosque community will not allow women’s leadership. Our chapters do what the mosques haven’t – interfaith work, coalition building.

Our goal is really to create leadership – we are training trainers. We don’t want people to mimic us, but to develop their own ideas. It makes them feel important, to have power over decisions. We didn’t want people under our wing but to create a space to support women’s creativity.

In Islam, everyone is equal. It is so clear … 

Most Muslims don’t think for themselves, there is a lack of people voicing opinions. In this office, the main qualification is, who is eager?

Women are in the forefront of where the community is going. The younger generation, especially women, grow up here thinking they can do what they want.

We show them how the issues are connected – not because we believe we’re going back somewhere that we’re never going. Even immigrant women, once they see the opportunity for themselves, they join in.

Women embrace Islamic ideology we’re presenting. We are not a secular organization.

Women haven’t heard the leadership affirming women’s participation and women’s leadership, and that’s what they’re responding to. It’s inspiring to see Muslim women being strong and outspoken on TV. It’s so important for our kids. It’s refreshing for women – and also for men who believe that this is what Islam is about.

Muslim men are the most affected by being targeted – they respond to prejudice by affirming their identity. It’s harder for Muslim men to feel like it’s worth it to work within this society.

Women are more the ones who are more courageous, more ready to deal with whatever is out there in front of us. Women are going out there and facing hate in interfaith spaces.

Men in the community face more of a burden – it’s not a lack of courage, but not wanting to endanger their family. My dad was politically active in Egypt; he came here because he chose not to continue down that path because of his family.

I’d say that equal amounts of men and women are beginning to embrace these ideals — but Muslim men are targeted more.