Harassed For Wearing A Hijab, This Muslim Woman Now Empowers Others Like Her To Raise Their Voice

Rana-Abdelhamid

Are you sick of the Islamophobia coming from a certain US presidential candidate yet? We know the answer to that…

But imagine what it must be like for Muslim men and women who have been on the receiving end of hateful, bullying, and even violence behavior thanks to rhetoric that seeks to alienate all Muslim people into one narrow-minded category. One young woman who knows this feeling all to well is 22 year old Rana Abdelhamid, a Muslim woman who is not allowing Islamophobia to get the better of her or her community.

ABC News reports that at the age of 16, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government student was accosted by a man in New York City who tried to pull of her hijab. There is no further explanation of why the man did this, but we can take a wild guess and say it wasn’t because he was eager to see her hair-do underneath.

Rather than let the incident fuel anger inside of her, Rana decided to put that energy toward something positive and help other young women who have been in the same situation as her. She created a program that has a two-fold mission: teach Muslim women self-defense, while also encouraging them to raise their voices and becomes leaders in their communities.

Rana told ABC News that ever since the San Bernadino and Paris attacks by the hands of extremists using Islam as an excuse for their horrific actions, the hate toward Muslims, especially women has increased.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s becoming more needed and we’re getting so many calls,” she said.

Rana-Abdelhamid

While she could’ve easily retaliated to the man who accosted her in New York, it’s no surprise that Rana chose the higher path. During high school, she participated in program by Turning Point for Women and Families, an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in Muslim families. Now that she has gone on to create her own initiative to help other women, Robina Niaz, the executive director of Turning Point says Rana is a great role model for her community.

“Rana is a living example of what one can accomplish when we invest in these young girls. If we believe in them, if we support them, watch their back — they need just a little bit of nudging and mentoring and they are ready,” she said.

Rana’s organization is called Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment which is an all-encompassing empowerment platform for Muslim women. Whether they want to become public speakers, entrepreneurs, or just have the confidence to do everyday things, WISE is their first point of all.

The entry-level Mentee Muslimah program is a summer camp course consisting of 13 sessions, where roughly 50 women come to study from an outline Rana created. The organization largely relies on donors, and is in the process of becoming a non-profit.

There are some within the Muslim community who are opposed to Rana’s initiative, but that will not stop this fearless woman from accomplishing her mission.

“We have had some challenges and pushback from more traditionalist members of our community who don’t necessarily see space for women in leadership, unfortunately. It’s really, really disheartening because you want your allies to be within the community,” she said.

Rana-Abdelhamid

With all the negativity surrounding Islam and its place in Western society, this kind of program for young women should be embraced and touted as the REAL face of the Muslim community. But thankfully WISE is reaching the right demographic who want their voices to be heard. They are planning on expanding to other cities, and created a similar program for Jewish women also.

Rana is not the only young Muslim woman taking a stand for her faith and wanting to be a public voice for her community. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, an opportunity for important dialog was created by Mona Haydar, a Muslim woman who set up a stand outside a public library and encouraged passers-by to ask her about her faith.

Luring them in with free coffee and donuts, she and her husband stood in front of a sign that read “Talk To A Muslim” with the hope it would break down any misconceptions and barriers any non-Muslim in the area might have in light of what is peddled by political news media.

Inspired by a man who created a similar campaign in Iraq, Mona told NPR the reaction she got was surprising, given that she was fearful of backlash.

“Initially, I thought I was going to get a lot of negativity, we were going to face a lot of Islamophobia. And I was going into it with that mindset. To be totally frank with you, people just wanted to say hey and connect and say, ‘Hey, I really love what you’re doing’ and a lot of folks were apologizing for things that are happening in the world right now, for all the discrimination that Muslims are facing in the world, especially in America,” she said.

Mona-Haydar

In a social media post after the event, Mona told gave her followers an important mandate: “We weren’t out there that long today but the take away was clear: Keep your heads held high, dear Muslim family,” she wrote in that post. “There is an overwhelming amount of love and so remember this post when you are faced with bigotry and hatred towards you or your faith,” she wrote.

These two women are incredible role models and should be given more media coverage that the extreme and hateful rhetoric we are used to seeing. It is undeniable that we are heavily influenced by what we read online, see on TV and by the things we hear from public figures. But if we had the chance to view different types of role models and leaders within our communities, it could change our perspective drastically.

Heather Neuwirth, the associate director of Middlebury’s Entrepreneurship Center, told ABC News that Rana Abdelhamid’s mission to empower Muslim women with WISE speaks to a specific type of Muslim identity that needs to be talked about more often.

“She took what could have been an experience that could have shut her down, she really realized the power in that and I think the way that she connects to others is deeply caring,” she said.

Identity is something that we all value greatly, but imagine if we had our identities hijacked by an outside source which then became fuel for hatred by the rest of society? The most powerful way to fight back against hateful rhetoric is to stand up and raise your voice unapologetically. We hope both Mona and Rana will inspire other Muslim women and many others not to cower in fear just because of a popular public opinion.

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  1. Pingback: Our Conversation With Dr. Nora Amath About Feminism, Islam & Interfaith Dialog, Part 2 - GirlTalkHQ

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