By Husnaa Vhora
In recognition of International Women’s Day, a diverse group of Chicago Muslim women activists participated in a panel discussion and question and answer session at the Downtown Islamic Center (DIC) on March 8.
The panelists included Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, Executive Director of Syrian Community Network, Rummana Hussain, Criminal Courter Reporter for Chicago Sun-Times, Nareman Taha, Co-Founder of Arab American Family Services, and Hoda Katebi, Communications Coordinator for CAIR-Chicago.
Each woman spoke on who or what inspired them to take on their respective fields, the obstacles they have faced, and what the community can do for the Muslim cause. Katebi shared her experience as a young Muslim living in Oklahoma. She was punched in the face in sixth grade for being “visibly Muslim” after adopting the hijab. She said that the anger from the injustice she sees drives her to take action.
Hussain touched on the topic of needing more Muslim voices in the field of journalism. She expressed that although the number of Muslim journalists has increased in recent years, the Muslim community and parents needs to be encouraging towards those who want to pursue a career in news media.
A question from the audience about why women are more involved in activism drew spiritual responses from Suzanne Akhras Sahloul and Nareman Taha. Akhras Sahloul referred to women during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) such as Khadīja b. Khuwaylid (may Allah be pleased with her) who was a successful businesswoman that eventually married the Prophet Muhammad. She became the first Muslim woman ambassador and played an integral role in helping spread the message of Islam through her teachings and service.
Taha echoed on that same sentiment, adding that cultural traditions have led to women being under-recognized for their contributions, and that while women have always had the ability to be in the forefront, they have not always been allowed to stand there. Although some women may face these issues in their communities, the panelists serve as excellent examples of women who are breaking through barriers and paving the way for Muslim women, and women in general, to create positive change in their communities and around the world.