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Muslim Women Activists in North America

Speaking for Ourselves

Edited by Katherine Bullock

Publication Year: 2005

In the eyes of many Westerners, Muslim women are hidden behind a veil of negative stereotypes that portray them as either oppressed, subservient wives and daughters or, more recently, as potential terrorists. Yet many Muslim women defy these stereotypes by taking active roles in their families and communities and working to create a more just society. This book introduces eighteen Muslim women activists from the United States and Canada who have worked in fields from social services, to marital counseling, to political advocacy in order to further social justice within the Muslim community and in the greater North American society. Each of the activists has written an autobiographical narrative in which she discusses such issues as her personal motivation for doing activism work, her views on the relationship between Islam and women's activism, and the challenges she has faced and overcome, such as patriarchal cultural barriers within the Muslim community or racism and discrimination within the larger society. The women activists are a heterogeneous group, including North American converts to Islam, Muslim immigrants to the United States and Canada, and the daughters of immigrants. Young women at the beginning of their activist lives as well as older women who have achieved regional or national prominence are included. Katherine Bullock's introduction highlights the contributions to society that Muslim women have made since the time of the Prophet Muhammad and sounds a call for contemporary Muslim women to become equal partners in creating and maintaining a just society within and beyond the Muslim community.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I decided to put together a book about Muslim women activists after the tragic events of 9/11. The mainstream reaction in the United States and Canada at the time was, naturally, to question a religion that could inspire such carnage against innocent civilians. This was understandable given Osama bin Laden’s blessing of the attacks and his argument that this kind...

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pp. xi-xii

This book has been a joy to put together. My thanks go first of all to the wonderful women who responded to my invitation to contribute to Muslim Women Activists in North America. It hardly needs to be said that without their stories, this book would not exist. I am grateful they agreed to share their personal stories with the public. It has been a pleasure to work with...

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pp. xiii-xix

Throughout the centuries, Muslim students have been known to travel great distances to learn from renowned scholars. One scholar whom students used to seek out, often undertaking long journeys in order to do so, was Ai’sha bint abd al-Hadi (723–816), a woman scholar considered to be one of the most knowledgeable of her time about the hadith (the sayings of the...

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1: Silent Revolution of a Muslim Arab American Scholar-Activist

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pp. 1-18

After thirty-five years of living in the United States, every time I meet a new person, I am asked: “Where are you from?” My own personal, political, and scholarly journey along with that of some of my cohorts engaged in search for answers to this and similar questions has shaped my silent revolution. It is a revolution against the way Muslim Arab girls have been raised unprepared...

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2: Allah Doesn’t Change the Condition of People until They Change Themselves

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pp. 19-32

The hot sun beat down on me as I hurried to the tram stop tightly gripping my hefty textbook in one arm and holding my bag in the other. I made my way through the crowded streets and reached the steps of the tram just before it started to move. People were still streaming in and out of the doors as the tram began to move, but as the speed picked up the last few jumped...

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3: War Zones: Anecdotes

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pp. 33-54

I had entered Bosnia. However, it looked like Sarajevo airport was as far as I would get. It was the spring of 1994 and the Bosnian war was still raging. I was trying to deliver money and mail to central Bosnia, which had been cut off from the outside world for the past two years. As president and one of the founding members of the Toronto-based Bosnian Canadian Relief Association, I had been to Bosnia on three previous...

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4: Activism as a Way of Life

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pp. 55-72

I ran down the street to the bus, heart pounding as I rounded the corner. If I was lucky, I would be in time to catch the early bus home… But not today. I slowed to a disappointed walk as I saw the bus pull away from the bus stop. “Hmmph!” I exclaimed as I waited for the next bus. I had packed up my school books at 3 P.M.—fully twenty-five minutes before the school bell...

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5: My Life Journey

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pp. 73-78

I am an eighteen-year-old girl who lives with her parents, three sisters, and a brother. I was born in Afghanistan and in search of happiness and security ended up in Livermore, California. I am currently attending Las Positas College in Livermore. The question, “How did you get to Livermore?” has a story attached to it. My life journey started in Kabul, Afghanistan, when...

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6: Rawahil

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pp. 79-88

Rawahil is the plural of the Arabic word “rahila,” used by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to describe Muslims who have the stamina to go the distance. Insha’allah, this is the motto by which I live. September 1997: A standing-room-only auditorium in the Hilton Hotel, Chicago. The new members of the Majlis ash-Shura (Executive) of the...

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7: Rocking the Boat and Stirring the Pot

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pp. 89-96

I’m not sure of the origins of this prayer, but it appeared in many places in my childhood home as it was one of my mother’s favorites. This prayer could be the inspiration for all activists. My mother was raised Catholic in South America and my father is a Palestinian and is Muslim. After meeting in South America, they came to the United States in 1956 to seek their...

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8: Struggling with Words, Striving through Words: My Odyssey in Activism

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pp. 97-102

"Activist Muslim woman?” The truth is, I have been a scaredy-cat most of my life. I did not start out as an activist, and I definitely didn’t start out as a “Muslim” activist, at least not in a conscious sense. Sure, I learned early on that life was neither just nor fair—whether from mean schoolmates’ taunting, teasing, and racial slurs, or by the smirks of those privileged with trendier...

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9: Working to Help All the World’s Children

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pp. 103-110

What page are we on in Treasure Island?” “I wrote a speech for running for treasurer for school council, do you want to hear it?” “Mama, can you come over now?” The above quotes from my three children seem standard enough for any mother whose kids are clamoring for attention. The only difference here is that they were asking these questions from the comfort of home in L.A., talking to me on my cell phone while I was on my way to the Egyptian...

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10: Building a Community for the Next Generation

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pp. 111-116

I am a Muslim Canadian-born woman of Egyptian heritage. I studied education to become a public school teacher, but eventually found myself too busy to teach. Besides being a wife and mother, I became the author of a teacher’s manual about Islam, a Muslim Ladies Committee chairperson, the principal of the local weekend Islamic school, and even sometimes an...

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11: In Pursuit of Peace and Justice

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pp. 117-128

The quest to achieve peace and justice remains the heartbeat of every activist. The ardent desire to pursue a promising global agenda constantly and vigorously runs through the activist’s blood every second of his/her life. The overwhelming yearning and willingness to make a significant, worthwhile, influential, and long-lasting change is viewed as a grave and imperative...

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12: Activism: A Passion for Justice

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pp. 129-134

It is said that “good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day.” My faith in Allah, my desire for a just society and a peaceful world, have framed my life and strengthened my character for the past forty years. I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, and raised in Buffalo, New York. I am the only child born to Raymond Johnson and...

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13: Activism: A Part of Life

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pp. 135-150

The term “activist,” to me, describes someone who goes beyond the call of duty to work for changes in society. As such, it is not a term I would use to describe myself. The “extracurricular” activities which I have taken part in throughout my life are not things that I consider as activism but, rather, as part of one’s duty as a Muslim. One of my favorite surahs (verses) in the Qur’an is...

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14: Life of a Muslim Woman Activist

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pp. 151-164

I was born to Ethel (Keener) McNair and Daniel McNair March 31, 1934, in Clayton, Alabama. When I was three, my father decided he had had enough of sharecropping and moved my mother, my three brothers, and me to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where he had previously lived with his first wife and baby daughter, working for Bethlehem Steel Corporation. (His...

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15: Muslim Activist: Mother and Educator

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pp. 165-176

I was a typical white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP), born and raised in a small town in northern California. My ancestors fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War. They traveled to Missouri in a covered wagon and settled there as farmers, storekeepers, teachers, and upright churchgoing members of their communities. Their children, me included, assumed they...

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16: Taking the Bus to the World of Islamic Activism

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pp. 177-182

I trudged up the slushy steps of the city bus, flashed my pass at the driver, and proceeded on a quest for a seat to settle my weary, sixteen-year-old bones into. I was going to be late for school. Again. The next move I made changed me forever. It was winter 1991, during the Gulf War, and on this particular day, I was wearing a black hijab (headscarf ). It wasn’t a political statement, this choice...

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17: Is the Reward for Good Other than Good?

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pp. 183-192

I grew up in Pakistan, in an extended family system where uncles, aunts, siblings, and grandparents lived as one unit. This enhanced my nurturing and provided various parental figures that contributed to a secure and extremely loving environment. In addition, the schooling I received at a Roman Catholic convent school exposed me to other faiths and a strong, intellectually...

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18: Undoing Internalized Inferiority

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pp. 193-198

The first time I resolved to change the world, I was seven. Having just emigrated from the Caribbean to Canada, I stepped from an earthy world with warm sea breezes and carefree childishness into a new world of snow, ice, and adult caution. Caution because I was now different from those around me. Admonished by my loving parents, I was encouraged always to behave perfectly, speak eloquently, and dress impressively so that...


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pp. 199-200


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pp. 201-202

About the Contributors

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pp. 203-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796614
E-ISBN-10: 0292796617
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292706316
Print-ISBN-10: 0292706316

Page Count: 237
Illustrations: 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Muslim women -- North America -- Biography.
  • Social action -- North America -- Case studies.
  • Voluntarism -- North America -- Case studies.
  • Women in Islam -- North America -- Case studies.
  • Women social reformers -- North America -- Biography.
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