1. Tell us about a project or an accomplishment that you consider to be the most empowering?
After 9/11, I left the corporate world to dedicate myself to building community, which was not only a defining moment but also a deeply empowering experience. My priorities had shifted and I really felt the need growing in me to make a change. I realized in that moment that the situation of Muslims would not change if I simply stood on the sidelines and didn’t get involved. As an educated, empowered Muslim woman who has never been anything but supported by the men in my life, I began to feel that my position gave me a responsibility to help other Muslim women who perhaps were not so lucky. This enabled me to stand up for myself, to make myself visible, to define myself in my own terms, to write my own script, and to give voice to other Muslim women around the world. In 2006, I founded WISE (Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality) to empower Muslim women to fully participate in their communities and nations, and to amplify their collective voices at all levels of political, economic, religious, and social discourse.
2. As an activist, what message are you promoting regarding gender equality and women’s rights?
In 2004, I read Helen LaKelly Hunt’s book, Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance, which details the experiences of American suffragettes who believed that they, like men, were created in the Divine image, and used their Christian faith to agitate for the right to vote. I came to realize that historically, women from all backgrounds have struggled and experienced challenges to their rights – not just Muslim women. Before I really knew about how much the suffragettes drew upon their faith to argue for their equality, I had been unsure how to reconcile feminism and my Muslim faith. Gradually, I realized that gender equality is an intrinsic part of my faith and the most effective way to promote women’s rights was to use arguments based in my sacred text. Today, we are living in a pivotal moment where women’s activism has taken on a whole new significance. It has never been timelier for women to collectively stand up for themselves and join with other movements, for peace is possible when unity is driven by women across all continents and cultures.
3. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
A good leader’s aim should always be human transformation. This requires a period devoted to self-discovery where we truly get to know ourselves, our beliefs, and our talents. The path to leadership requires remaining open to new ideas and continually staying on a quest for knowledge. It is essential to stay true to our values even in times of adversity. As long as we hold true to our beliefs and devote ourselves to serving others, we can inspire others to make a positive social change in our communities.
4. What is your message to Humanity?
We are all born with wings, why crawl through life! Human beings have been created with inherent dignity. We need to see this dignity in one another. We are all made up of many stories: our own and those of our ancestors, but also the stories and cultures of people whose lives intersect with ours. The more we share our stories, the more we open ourselves to one another, the more respect and love can flow between us. Once we see ourselves in the faces of others, we can stand side by side on the basis of our human identity, as Westerners or Easterners, as religious or not, as black, white, yellow, red, or brown. We should aim for creating layers of identity nested within a broader sense of human identity – “out of many, one,” in a single space.
5. The last but not the least. “To be a Mayshad Woman is a choice a woman makes to live a stimulating life with a positive philosophy based on Gratitude, Acceptance, and Accomplishment, in order to be who she wants to be. She handles different aspects of her life and makes sure to always remain herself, guarding her own values. She is a free spirit, who designs her own life inspiring others to do the same.” Based on this description, how do you relate to the Mayshad philosophy?
There is nothing more freeing than discovering your own wings. I loved the freedom that came with being a career woman when I was working in the corporate world, but I felt that something was missing from my life. This yearning precipitated a spiritual search. Once I delved deeper into myself, I discovered my inner power. When I spread my wings open, people started coming to me with questions, and answering those questions became my mission. My journey all began as a dialogue with myself, and then with others. This resulted in my marrying an imam and finding myself at the center of a community in which, as the imam’s wife, women turned to me for advice. Becoming a women’s advocate has probably been the most freeing experience of all, as it allowed me to stay true to my values while also serving others. I wrote my memoir, Born With Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman, because staying silent against women’s oppression compromises our values and our self-worth and is counter-productive to our development. Today, when I see the passion and bravery of women on the front-lines all over the world promoting peace and fighting for their rights, I see a new kind of partnership. I see the future of faith. For too long, women were not permitted at the table; now, we are now creating our own place to sit.
By Mayshad Team