Culture: wMN Breaking Barriers - Spring 2019
Not Your Token Muslim
Writer: Kristina Ericksen, Designer: Kelly McMasters, Photographer: Rodel Querubin
Reviving Sisterhood was born out of frustration. Muslim women gathered to discuss leadership and philanthropy, but they couldn’t help but notice how their efforts went unnoticed. Money wasn’t changing what they wanted it to change. And there was no platform solely dedicated to promoting Muslim women. On top of all of this, negative images of Muslim women saturated the media. “Someone else was telling our story. We needed to reclaim the narrative,” says Nausheena Hussain, Executive Director & co-founder of of Reviving Sisterhood. Created in 2015, Reviving Sisterhood envisions a world where all Muslim women are connected, reflected, celebrated, and emboldened. The mission of Reviving Sisterhood is simple: to amplify the voice and power of Muslim women. So, Hussain set about sharing their stories. First, through narratives about admirable local Muslim women, “sheroes,” as she warmly calls them. There were blog articles. Then digital shorts produced with a local station, TPT.
People were hungry for more.
From there, Hussain podcasted. With Reviving Sisterhood’s digital reach in the millions, she felt good about expanding the exposure of Muslim women in her community. The benefit was twofold — the storytelling was just as beneficial to Muslim women, who found themselves inspired and motivated by their peers. Spurred by this success, Hussain then sought to help local Muslim women in her community. For many, they didn’t know the skills they were missing. To alleviate this, Hussain launched a a Muslim women’s leadership conference. It’s held each year in March, Women’s History Month.
Prominent keynote speakers were scheduled alongside hands-on workshops led by local women, teaching everything from self-defense to public speaking to writing and intersectionality. Even improv was included, proving helpful for Muslim women unexpectedly bombarded with inappropriate and ignorant questions — an all too common occurrence.
In addition to the annual conference, Reviving Sisterhood also drives civic engagement, helping Muslim women gain an understanding of the democratic process. Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar came and spoke to the group. Through Reviving Sisterhood’s civic work, some women became commissioners. Others simply felt included in the system for the first time. One woman told Hussain, I’ve lived here all my life, and this is the first time I felt like I belonged. “Finally, it felt like we were doing something for ourselves, rather than for a process that’s not for us,” reflects Hussain. It was a time when, more than ever, Muslim women needed to be empowered. “As much as I wanted to, I could not shut down day after the election. People were looking to me for my leadership,” she recalls. She told women, if not now, when? And then she got to work.
She nominated inspirational Muslim women in her life for prestigious awards. They won. She fought the city to open a mosque in her Brooklyn Park community. Its doors opened six months ago. These were by no means easy feats, but Hussain’s relentless focus and drive led to their creation. “We’re seeing public policy that is putting people’s lives at risks. Take for instance the anti-Muslim sentiment of the past few years. It’s scary to think that history is repeating itself. We march to the capital and we’ll march to the polls. We need to vote for those who will have our best policy at heart.” Hussain works harder. Her strategy is this: “Show up. Build relationships. Evoke empathy. Develop understanding. Bridge those divides.” Though it’s young, Reviving Sisterhood’s accomplishments are already impressive. Hussain sees their impact long-reaching for years to come. “I envision a world where you no longer have to identify me as a Muslim. You’ll just see me as a fellow American. For our daughters growing up today, I hope that we leave them a world in which all women are celebrated.” For all her efforts, Hussain sees improvement around her. She’s hopeful. And most importantly, she’s seeing signs of change. “For a while, I was the token Muslim women. I don’t feel that anymore. And I love that.”
To learn more about Reviving Sisterhood, visit revivingsisterhood.org.