"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
(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.