Shareefa, a Muslim leader passes away

"Why are there no women speakers?"

This is how I came to know her, straight, forceful, full of haya, but not shy when it came to speaking the truth. Polite but firm. May God bless her with the best place in Jannah.

The occasion was the historic Rally for Bosnia in Washington DC, urging the US government to work harder at stopping the genocide in Bosnia (May 15th 1993). I was national coordinator of the Bosnia Task Force USA, an alliance of ten Muslim organizations.

She was right. The program did not include any Muslim women speakers. I changed the program at the last minute to include at least one Muslim woman who spoke in what became the largest rally organized by Muslims in the US to date. She was the only one who raised that question and pursued it. No other Muslim, man or woman, raised that question. That is the distinction for our Sister Shareefa Al-Khateeb.

I used to call sister Shareefa Al-Khateeb to persuade her to produce more videos for children. She was among the very few Muslims who produced anything for Muslim children. I appreciated her production on Prophet Saleh and Prophet Yunus, peace be upon them. I stayed in touch with her, encouraging her off and on to produce more, which she could not do because of an absence of funding.

The last time I met her was just a few months ago in Washington DC at a meeting of about forty Muslim leaders from across America, where we shared a table with each other. She spoke once again very eloquently on the absence of women's participation at the Muslim leadership level.

She was reading Asra Nomani's Tantrika those days and was extremely disturbed by the book and the author. I had not read the book, so I remain silent. But I could see that her worry was twofold: concern for reform within, for which she fought so hard, and the care for the honor of the community.

Following her public comments during the meeting, she told me with sadness in her voice that, she knew of many Muslim women leaving communities, and some leaving Islam, because of the behavior of Muslim men. "If you are not going to be listening to us, who then are you going to listen to?" She was quite concerned about women's space in Masjids, as well as of the dirty laundry of Muslims being washed in the public square. We stood outside that hall late, thinking of what we should do to make changes.

The difference between today's "me too Islamofeminist" and Shareefa, is that Shareefa never strayed from the middle path of obedience to God while remaining defiant to men instead of becoming disobedient to God in her protest towards ignorant Muslim men. Of course she was Shareefa, the noble one. I could almost see her crying while mentioning another Muslim woman who is writing "pornographic fiction" with actors being the great imams of the past, in order to illustrate her point.

None of us know when we will leave this world. I did not realized then, that it was to be my last meeting with this great Muslim leader, who was more capable and far more fearless than most Imams I know.

I promised her that I would arrange a training session for Imams in Chicago, if she offered a workshop on domestic violence. She agreed to do that. She was a pioneer of social services in the Muslim community. Neither she nor I knew that, the visit would never take place. The most certain thing about life is its uncertainty.

I don't know how she passed away. I don't know her degrees. Never saw her resume. But she remains in my heart for teaching a lesson at the occasion of the rally for Bosnia. Thank you sister Shareefa.

She lived a successful life of obedience to her Lord.

May Allah shower His mercy upon her.

I saw a noor of contentment around her in our last meeting.

May her grave become a window into the garden of paradise.

May her jihad for sisters' place in our community shine a path for many to follow, an honorable path in a noble way.

Inna lillahe wa inna ilaihi Rajioon.

written on Oct. 24th, 2004

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(Shareefa Al-Khateeb, passed away at on Wednesday, October 20th, 2004, Ramadan 5, 1425, according to the information send to me this morning by Prof. Aneesah Nader, President of Muslim Social Services Association. Here is the rest of the statement issued by Muslim Social Services Association).

Shareefa was one of the early community activists making significant contributions to Islam in America.  She was among America's foremost Muslim pioneers in the field of social services addressing issues facing Muslim families. She was a fervent voice in the area of domestic violence, advocating for awareness about this issue among Muslim families and about ways to promote peace within the family. Most recently, she served as the founder and Director of the Peaceful Families Project ? a nationwide survey of domestic violence within the Muslim community, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Violence Against Women Office (VOAW).

Among her activities included her work with the Muslim Students Association (MSA). During her involvement with MSA National in the 1970s, she was a passionate voice for the equitable and dignified inclusion of Muslim women at all levels of MSA. Alhamdulilah she lived to see MSA National elect its first woman president.

Shareefa was the co-founder and President of the North American Council for Muslim Women and the President of the Muslim Educational Council, a Mid-Atlantic non-profit organization educating public school staff and administrators about Middle Eastern Culture, Muslims, and Islam. She was one of the editors of the Marmaduke Pickthall Translation of the Quran and a co-author of the Arab World Notebook used in public school history classrooms nationwide.

From 1993-1997, Shareefa Al-Kateeb produced, wrote, and hosted a monthly television program for Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) called "Middle Eastern Parenting," and was a diversity trainer for FCPS for five years.

We will miss her compassion and her passion for the sake of Allah.  We ask that you remember Shareefa Al-Kateeb and her family in your prayers.

May God have mercy on Her soul, forgive her sins and grant her a place in Jenna (Paradise). May God comfort her family in their grief and loss.

 

Comments

Bismillah. May Allah bless sister Khateeb for the sacrifices she made in this life.

Location

Your coverage of Muslim women and their struggle to become full members of their male-dominanted and often ignorant communities is truly commendable! It sadenes me to learn that such a great woman has passed away, but my spirit is uplifted when I read about the courage and devotion she showed in her life. I am encouraged that she is recognised, perhaps more in death than in her life, but that is true of so many people, men and women. The value of positive stories about Muslim women is immense. I also greatly appreciated the honesty and balance of this article, and also of another article earlier on the sharing of public space, decision making, especially in the Masjid, between Muslim men and women. Women are stakeholders in all aspects of the Muslim community and they must not be deprived of the equality that Allah has bestowed on them in this great religion. To ignore how women feel, and how frustrating it is for us to be treated like second class believers, is to tell us that we are not wanted. If Muslim men, who have power, do not change their attitudes right now, we will lose not only Muslim women, but also Muslim children!Thank you and may Allah Bless you!

Location

Vancouver Canada

May Allah's mercy be upon her, may He accepts her good deeds and forgives her sins. We, muslims in general and sisters in particular, grief for the great loss!

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Baton Rouge, LA

May allah reward her for all her efforts, we need more women like her, that are ready to stand up to ignorant men and yet not disobey Allah. I to wept when I read the article that you mentioned "I could almost see her crying while mentioning another Muslim woman who is writing "pornographic fiction" with actors being the great imams of the past, in order to illustrate her point." I know that Muslim woman and it is sadding to know that she was once a Woman on the right path and was thrown off by shaitan and ignorant men. I pray for her and all the women out there like her, who need to see Islam as seperate from the people who practice it. Rahmatullah AlaiaMaysa

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St. louis

Assalamu Alaikum,I feel the need to say that I am saddended to not have known or met Shareefa, before her passing away. May Allah bless her soul and allow her entry to the Ferdous. May Allah mulitply her rewards tenfolds.

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Edmonton, AB

I am moved to tears reading about the demise of this great Sister of Islam, shareefah.I am much consoled learning the great things she had done for Islam. May Allah accept her soul in Al Janat.

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abuja, Nigeria- Africa

This morning, I was shocked to read the news at Soundvision that Sister Shareefa Al-Khatib has passed away. The news stabbed my heart deeply, because I knew this sister and have met her several times in the last 10 years that I had known her. I regularly followed reports about her activities as a Muslim woman leader in the US. I remember Sister Shareefa, and respected her so much with the way she carried herself, a weighty figure, her important work, a hard worker, honorable, but full of humility. I wish we, as Muslim communities, should know each other more, so that if one of our leaders is ill or has been suffering from any kind of sickness, we as a community would know and could do something before s/he passes away. Even now, it is not enough for us to just feel sorry, we should make some kind of donation for her family, in this time of great loss, for them to use for whatever they think necessary. Action counts more than just words. If we could not fund her projects when she still lived, it is still not too late to contribute now. Innalillahi wainna ilaihi roji'un. May Allah put her in the best place according to her 'amal in this dun'ya.

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Washington, DC

Assalamu Alaykum, Allah is my witness that I don't know this Lady ( Sr Shreefa) and I've never heard of her till I got this mail. SubhanaAllah, the little I've read about her tells a lot about her love for the deen and how she lived her life. What a blessed month to meet her Lord. May Allah bless her work and not deny her of His mercy and may He raise her with those close to Him on that day. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioun, May Allah put baraka in our time on earth and make the best of our days the day we meet Him.

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England

Thank you for informing us about this noble Muslimah. She has already received a great reward from Allah s.w.t. as who would not wish to leave this world in the blessed month of Ramadan. May Allah s.w.t reward her for all her good deeds.

Location

Singapore

Another sister to admire without knowing her personally, may Allah ta'ala shower her with his mercy and give like her positive traits to all muslims. It's time for our ummah to stand up again, we need to stand up and reform in our communities to achieve this.

Location

Lebanon

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