By Laila Shaheen
Women’s empowerment and the means to achieve it were highlighted between sips of fragrant teas and cucumber sandwiches at the Sisters in Solidarity to Educate, Respond and Serve fourth annual fundraising tea last month at the Dar al Noor mosque in Manassas, Va. More than 80 ladies were in attendance as SISTERS honored the efforts of Karamah, an organization of Muslim Women lawyers dedicated to human rights.
Susan Riker, the development director explained Karamah’s goals.
“The program believes in the empowerment of Muslim women within their own spiritual and cultural contexts. In its judgment, only this approach will enable women to address and successfully eradicate the social ills in their communities,” Riker said. “For this reason, KARAMAH seeks to develop a comprehensive, just, and thoughtful Islamic jurisprudence, which takes into account the current concerns of Muslim women worldwide. To this end, KARAMAH has rooted its work in the best of the classical Islamic jurisprudential tradition.”
Karamah (which means, “dignity”) strives to achieve their goals through education and scholarship, with a focus on Islamic law and leadership development. Members of the group publish research papers, host lecture series and conduct seminars on various issues facing Muslim women globally. They also participate in various human rights and peace initiatives. Recently they hosted a lecture on the impact of Islamic law on global development.
One of their most intense programs is the law and leadership summer program. It is held each year in Washington D.C. and in Brussels. The program brings together more than two dozen participants from across the globe. The program’s goal is “to develop a global network and grassroots movement of Muslim women leaders so that they may share ideas, expertise and knowledge to collectively create beneficial change in their communities and countries. Women leave the workshop equipped with the legal tools they need to articulate their rights within their own religious and cultural contexts, as well as the leadership and conflict resolution skills needed to negotiate change using non-confrontational methods.,” Karamah’s communications officer Jina Hassan explained.
“The days were packed with inspirational lectures and a wealth of information,” said Farhana Shah, who attended the camp in 2006.
Shah was most impressed by the message of the program. “Besides the laws and legalities information, it teaches humility. Unlike western feminists who like to throw a “gotcha” with their facts, Karamah’s leadership program says,’ here is the evidence, but be gentle when using it; you don’t want to demean anyone.’ This is the way of the Quran.”
This was a message repeated by fellow guest speaker and the summer program’s coordinator, lawyer Mais Abousy. She reiterated the importance of remembering who your audience is when discussing Islam and to be sensitive of that in the delivery of your message.
Many of the attendees were not familiar with the group’s work. SISTERS’ member, Laura Brown was impressed by what she heard. “This year’s highlighted cause, Karamah, was an organization with which I had no familiarity, but after hearing about the incredible work that they do, I was motivated to give a donation.”
Afterwards, the guests were encouraged to donate to help sponsor one participant to the summer program which typically costs $2,500-$4000. To date, more than half of the money has been raised. Insha’Allah, if SISTERS can raise enough money, Karamah has agreed to recognize SISTERS by designating a “SISTERS Fellow” for the summer program. Donations will be accepted until the end of May via paypal on SISTERS website, http://www.sistersinsolidarity.com or can be mailed to SISTERS.
Donations of business attire were also collected during the tea for the non-profit group Dress for Success. The program provides clothing as well as career tools to women transitioning to the workforce. This collection will continue through May 15th.
SISTERS also awarded their annual scholarships to three very deserving students:
- High School Senior winner: Firdoos Mukati from George Mason High School in Falls Church, Va;
- College winner: Sumaya Sahin from Prince Georges Community College, Largo, Md;
- Graduate winner: Tahmina Ahmad from George Washington University.
As in the previous years, this year’s tea was another success of sisterhood. Al l the guests enjoyed it with many remarking how they now look forward to the annual event.
“Everyone was friendly and warm and I was glad to meet so many lovely sisters with whom I may have otherwise not had the privilege to cross paths,” described Cecilia Hanna, who hopes to attend the event next year. “I love the atmosphere of the teas – a beautiful setting where my lovely sisters push me to know more and do more for our community,” added Laura Brown.
Upcoming events for SISTERS include the Spring Garage Sale on May 15, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on June 5 and the Ramadan Soup Swap.