Amina Mirza here. On an unusual warm winter day, Women clad in colourful Hijab and beautiful smiles, gathered at Humphrey school of public affairs, Minnesota to discuss and help women empowerment and Muslim women rising to power. This does not surprise me why the winter morning was unusually warm in Minnesota where the climate in March is in the lower 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
On March 4th, RISE(Reviving the Islamic sisterhood for empowerment) held its first Inaugural Women’s Leadership Conference – “Muslim Women Rising.” It featured different workshops, a resource fair, and keynote speaker Linda Sarsour. 250 women attended the conference and walked away equipped with new skills, ready to engage in their communities.
The mission of the RISE, Sisterhood is to amplify the voice and power of Muslim women through leadership development, community engagement and philanthropy. RISE trains and equips women with the necessary skills to engage and participate in civil life, become part of the solution-creating decision making process, and improve society as a whole.
Linda Sarsour is the advocacy director of National network for Arab-American communities (NNAAC) and access and locally serving as the director of the Arab-American association of New York, a social service agency serving the Arab community in NYC. Linda is ambitious, outspoken and independent. An activist, a writer and most importantly an inspiration to the Muslim women in US. Linda is also a board member of the New York immigration coalition- a coalition of over 200 non-profit agencies serving the diverse immigrant communities of the new york state- and the network of Arab American professionals – NY chapter.
Linda Sarsour walked in the conference with audience applause wearing a black blazer and turquoise hijab. With a beautiful smile on her face, she addressed the crowd ‘All Women’! Linda commenced her address describing the experience of the aftermath of the Women’s march and how she became the lone target of the right wing activists so much so, that she was given death threats.
In her speech she said, she already knew that she would be targeted and the reason why she took the risk of organizing the women’s march was to send a clear message across the United states that “No matter what I wake up every morning unapologetically Muslim, I will not allow anybody to silence me or intimidate me”, she said. “This has not deterred me, this has made me bolder” she said.
The keynote speakers session lasted for an hour and people were not missing any opportunity to thoroughly enjoy her session. Women were heard thunder clapping and whistling listening to Linda shattering the stereotypes. She ended her speech by saying:
“When one muslim women rises we all rise, when one woman in a community in any community rises she just opened that door little bit wider for us”.
Mecca post got an opportunity to interview Linda that beautiful afternoon. Linda welcomed me with a warm hug and her contagious smile.
Amina: I am very honored to be interviewing you today
Linda: Thank you. I am very honored to be interviewed by you
Amina: Given the short time we have here let me get started with my questions
Amina: You got married at 17 and were a mother at 19. Do you believe that your early marriage gave you the necessary emotional support to fight against all the critics?
Linda: I grew up in a palestinian immigrant family, my parents immigrated here from palestine and arranged marriage in the 1990’s in the united states amongst many palestinian and yemeni girls was normal. I feel I have become mature much earlier in life than may be other sisters who are still in high school or in college and I was able to be a mother and become a nurturer of a family. By the age of 24 I already had three beautiful children a son and two daughters I believe that has helped me understand the sacrifices that I had to make as a parent, for my children I do this work because I want my children to live in a world that respects them, that allows them to bring all their complexities as part of their identity and to feel embraced on the larger society.
Amina: You have previously expressed a desire to run for City Council. Are you planning to enter politics?
Linda: I think that over the years I have had many different roles. [And] I was ambitious towards including politics. Now in this political time my role is more national and the city council is more of a local role in a local community, in a local district and that the issues that I now care about and the issues that are more important from the communities that I come from require that we work on a much larger scale than a New York city council. I am now supporting a Palestinian American from the city council district I am from and I am very proud to support the leadership of others, it doesn’t always have to be us as long as we get more Muslims and more Arab Americans and more women in public office.
Amina: Muslim Community in US and elsewhere is facing the challenge of lack of strong leaders. Where do you think Muslims are going wrong?
Linda: I think Muslims are going wrong because we are often times working towards acceptance vs the respect for our communities. We are always unfortunately trying to appease people in power instead of showing those in power that we too have power and influence and instead of building the resilience of our community , instead of training more young leaders, instead of bringing up more women leaders in our community we are too busy trying to defend ourselves or defend our humanity to other people. We need to start focusing internally as a Muslim community, start working from a place of value and place of worth and understanding that we are demanding the very rights that our communities already deserve.
Amina: You are a such huge inspiration to millions of Muslims, especially working women with children. How do you manage three kids and yet pull off organising the largest protest held in US in modern history?
Linda: People see me and think I am an anomaly but we all have the potential of organising the largest protest in US here what I have been able to do in the past 16 years is to find support, we all have support in our community network , sometimes it is our sister friends, sometimes its sisters at the Masjid, take care of our children may be it is our parents if they are here or may be sisters who are non-Muslim, neighbours. I really built a support network for myself. People who believe in my vision, who believe in the work that I do. So when people see me I am not here because of myself as an individual, I am here because my community supported me, I am here because my community has invested in my leadership , because my family supports me, it is because my neighbours supports me, it’s because institutions support me so we have to really look at ourselves as one very small part of a larger entity that we are part of and I created an entity, a circle of people who love me and support me and embrace the work I do every day. You just need a support network and we all can organise the largest protest in US history.
Amina: With Donald Trump trying to impose Muslim Ban, middle-easterners are being openly targeted across the country. Do you think, there is a need to remind the western audiences that, Middle-Eastern man founded Christianity?
Linda: Often times people who call themselves Christians, people who invoke the name of Jesus and Jesus was a Palestinian Jewish refugee and if you wanna ban Muslims or you wanna ban middle eastern people you are basically speaking up against a wonderful prophet and messenger like Jesus who is someone who is very co-essential to us Muslims as well. So a lot of this hate against Muslims is antithetical to everything that Jesus stood for and he was also a man who stood for the most opposed. He always fought for the poor , he always stood up against injustice, he was an organiser , he was an activist and I think people will really have to understand who truly Jesus was and in order for them to know that, if they really knew who he was, they would be activist, they would love Muslims, they would love Jews, they would welcome the refugees, they would welcome the strangers, they would take care of the widows the orphans, the poor people the homeless, that is who Jesus was.
Jesus was a Palestinian Jewish refugee and if you wanna ban Muslims or you wanna ban middle eastern people you are basically speaking up against a wonderful prophet and messenger like Jesus who is someone who is very co-essential to us Muslims as well.
Amina: After your speech at women’s march , you were accused of being allied with ISIS, before the ImarchwithLinda hashtag surfaced there was a coordinated attack campaign against you. Though there were always attacks campaigns against you this was very intense.How did you deal with it and what advice would you give to all the aspiring women activists in similar situations so they can get inspiration from you.
Linda: I think right after the women’s march the right wing supremacists, they couldn’t believe that there was a muslim women in hijab who was standing on the stage speaking to women and men from all across the country, that I was able to resonate, people saw something in me even as a muslim and they did not want to see someone like me have that type of influence. They engaged in alternative facts and false accusations there really is nothing that they said that really is true.
Many of the things that they accused me of were taken out of context from tweets from like 8 years ago. I had a clear message to them, I am not afraid , they are trying to silence and intimidate me that I can go back and get away from the public eye and may be leave the work all together.
It’s not easy and no one claimed it to be easy. If it was easy everybody would be doing it. It requires certain type of character , certain type of courage and I find that courage in my religion. I find that when I think about the way we have been taught about the sunnah about Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the seerah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) he was an activist he was a human rights activist, he stood up for the poor, he wanted to stand up against tyrants and oppressors , he loved animals he loved earth and taking care of the earth, he talked about environmental justice may be he didn’t call it environmental justice but his actions were about environmental justice. He talked about racial justice, and uplifting people regardless of what colour their skin was.
So I have had that as an inspiration and I also think about Islamophobia now, the man who experienced the most Islamophobia they did not call it Islamophobia 1400 years ago was our beloved Prophet (SAW)and how could a man who experienced so much violence and Islamophobia and people criticising, ridiculing him and calling him a magician guess what he was still able to inspire millions of people across the world to become Muslims. So he is my inspiration and he was not intimidated , he could have left and said I am not gonna do this any more but he continued and he stayed resilient and that is what our religion teaches us to do.
Amina: Keith Ellison lost the DNC chair despite being the most eligible candidate for the post. There are allegations that, Zionists in US ran a smear campaign, which led to several democrats crumbling under pressure. Do you think, this is a lesson for Muslim lobby to take on Zionist lobby more effectively?
Linda: Absolutely the right wing Zionists targeted Keith, it was a very coordinated attack on him. He is one of the most eloquent and proven track record progressive in this country. He has been on the right side of many issues and he has been a strong supporter of Palestinians and calling for an end to occupation of the Palestinian territories so I knew that he is gonna get attacked and i think it is a message to the rest of us that you can be the most qualified candidate, you could have every endorsement, you can do everything right but if the right wing Zionists lobby with their money , with their influence gets a hold of you, you will not be able to make it to where you need to go which brings me to our community, the Muslim community, the Palestinian community, the Arab American community and even those who are people of conscience , people who are pro justice , pro peace, because being pro Palestinian is about being pro justice and pro peace , we have the opportunity to organise in the same way.
We have the resources to organise, we are not out numbered by the opposition we are out organised by them. They have specifically focused on the demonization of anyone in this country that stands for the Palestinian people. But they are losing ground , they may have won a little bit may see this is a small win for them but in the long run they have lost because the american public in particularly young people under the age of 35 are based on studies , they are now more inclined to be pro justice and pro Palestine.
Calling and end to campaigns in many forms including having NFL players saying we will not go to Israel and be tokenized , we have had entertainers that have cancelled shows in places like Israel, people say what does that do, well, it costs Israel economically, hurts the country like Israel. Will make them understand that if they do not adhere to the human rights and to human right law and that they are going to have impact and the impact is going to be economic and it is not going to be good for the people of Israel so I see a lot of progress and I see a lot of unity and I see a lot of more people understanding that injustices that are happening to the people of Palestinian people.
This is not about politics it is about humanity there are people who suffer , there are people who can’t get to doctors, people who are standing for 5 hours at a checkpoint. There are elders, there are people who are being killed at the hands of Israeli military and this is been going on for 70 years and we just say enough is enough and that we as a community has a chance to organise build power and start sending out a message pro justice and pro peace in the middle east.
Amina: I thank you for all your time.