Nagwa Ibrahim

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Former Outreach Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Nagwa IbrahimWe get so caught up in politics that we forget about our community and how we’re dealing with it. After 9/11, the first thing that happened was that kids started asking, “will they put us in camps?”

Kids are talking about the Patriot Act on the playground. They’re asking, could they torture us? Could we be locked up just for being Muslim?

Lots of kids are changing their name from Muhammed to Mike – they are ashamed of where they come from and who they are. They’re afraid of interacting with other people, because they’re wondering, what if they knew I was Muslim?

A kid in one of our workshops told us that he said his name in school, and added “I’m a Muslim and proud” – and  the response from the other kids was, “look out, he has a bomb.” Young Muslims are being informed about Islam and Muslims through the media – from “experts” spitting out racism and hate.

Kids are asking, could they torture us? Could we be locked up just for being Muslim?

So much hate is directed against me as a representative of the Muslim community. People bring up issues about the Armenian genocide. Or they say, there’s so much poverty and tyranny in the Muslim world – isn’t that what Islam promotes?

That’s what is being taught to students, Muslim and non-Muslim. Muslim students are afraid to speak up – if they ask questions, the response is, they’re not asking in order to learn but in order to attack.

Many schools have also welcomed us. After 9/11 we’ve received so many expressions of support – there have never been so many coalitions. With groups like the ACLU or the AFSC, or bringing different religious groups together – Muslims with Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, and Christians.

All the different groups, with no reason to stand beside us. It always amazes me. The Japanese American community has been standing with the Muslim community. 

Whenever there is darkness, you can always see some light. It’s hard to remember, because we are being bombarded with so much negativity…

Young Muslims are being informed about Islam and Muslims through the media – from “experts” spitting out racism and hate.

Project Islam is an interactive training workshop. It works with the community on how to address hate. We look at ethnic divisions, ideological divisions, the issue of extremism .

People see the need to start coming together – before, we thought of a Pakistani mosque, an Egyptian mosque – now people are coming together.

There are chapters of MSA [Muslim Student Association] all over college campuses – a lot of young Muslims are frustrated that they are not politically engaged. In Dearborn [Michigan]  the “Young Muslim Association” provides training  in how to deal with the media and how to use political system.

All the different groups, with no reason to stand beside us. The Japanese American community has been standing with the Muslim community.

We have not been a politically engaged community. Many MPAC chapters have formed because people came to us and said, our mosque is not doing enough politically.

There are chapters of MPAC throughout southern California, as well as the rest of the state. We also have chapters in Las Vegas, Arizona, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Iowa City, Wichita, Dearborn, and New York. DC has a new local chapter in addition to policy office.

Our members are people based in mosque communities, who wanted a more political vehicle. They are predominantly Arab, with growing numbers of South Asians. There are not too many African Americans – just a few, with white & Latino Americans. In Fresno [CA] our members are mainly converts, especially from Guatemala…

Nagwa IbrahimMPAC  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].

Before, we thought of a Pakistani mosque, an Egyptian mosque – now people are coming together.

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.

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.

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.