Sisters, as much as brothers, are responsible for contributing to Islamic work in America. There are a number of things that can be done on a personal, family and community level.
Sound Vision talked to four Muslim sisters who are active in their communities for their ideas. They suggested the following:
1. Remember you are a khalifa on earth
Both men and women are appointed by Allah as His khalifa (trustees) on earth (Quran 33:72-73). We have been given this amana (trust) from Allah, and it is our responsibility to care for it. We must not forget that we will all be asked on the Day of Judgement what we did with our time. What did we do for the sake of Allah while we were alive? How did we spend our time, wealth, health, knowledge and other resources Allah has entrusted to us as a gift. How have we tried to make our ummah stronger? Will we make the grade?
2. Make your intention for the sake of Allah
Where does success really come from? It's from Allah. But without the correct intentions and methods, success at home and work won't happen.
"Actions are but by intentions," said Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said in a Hadith in Bukhari and Muslim. Make your intention to please Allah first and foremost. This is the first and most important thing no matter what type of activism you get involved in.
3. Make Dua (supplication)
Who can really answer your prayers and help you? Allah, of course. Ask only from Allah. Ask Him for Guidance, understanding, and a straight intention. Ask Him to accept your efforts for His cause.
Then watch as Insha Allah, He helps you throughout your work for His Cause.
4. Seek knowledge, a path to Paradise and power
Once your intention is clear, how do you know what the right method is to contribute to Islam in America? The key is knowledge. Specifically, knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah. This is not necessarily the knowledge you may have picked up in the Muslim country or community you grew up in. We're talking about knowledge based on original sources — the Quran and Sunnah.
"For him who follows a path for seeking knowledge, Allah will ease for him the path to Paradise" said the Prophet in a Hadith in Muslim.
For starters, one simple thing you can do is to read a translation of the Quran in a language you feel most comfortable with. This is not to say that translations will give you a complete understanding of the Quran. What it will provide though, is a basic overview.
Sincerely seek the truth. Remember that your goal as an ordinary Muslim at this point, is not to "reinterpret" the Quran. It is simply to expose yourself to Allah's Message in a way that you can understand.
5. Learn about your rights and duties and change who you are accordingly
Is knowledge meant to just fill our heads? Of course not. If we want to work for Islam in America or anywhere else, we've got to start with ourselves first.
This not only means to know but to practice what we know. We must work from the inside out. We must fix our character first, then work with our families, neighborhood and further out within the community.
6. Raise good Muslim sons and daughters
Who raised those brothers who won't let sisters come to the mosque? Mostly women. For all the talk of Muslim women going out to change the world, we tend to forget about the one place where women have the most control: as mothers. Use this power.
It's mothers who can perpetuate notions of what a woman's place is, and they also can perpetuate a lot of the misguided notions about the position of women in Islam. Think through what messages you are giving your children. For example, how many mothers spoil their sons by not insisting they clean up their own room, put away their own dishes after dinner, help clean up the house or fold the laundry? Mothers can and should challenge gender stereotypes in their own homes.
This may be considered a small step for moms, but it leads to big steps for Muslim brothers.
With regards to daughters, mothers must orient them in the right direction on a personal level as Muslims, then at the academic and career levels. Not to forget but mothers are their daughters first role model. Be an example for her of a solid, strong Muslim.
7. Speak out against injustice
Feeling powerless against the Muslim men who won't let you come to the mosque? At least speak out against it. Did a speaker say something insensitive about sisters? Speak out against it. Use your knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah to challenge gender-unfriendly spaces and positions in the Muslim community.
Too often, the status quo is maintained because Muslim women do not speak up.
And don't just speak out against the bad. Ask questions and comment with wisdom as well.
8. Don't underestimate the power of social activities
Do you think organizing social activities such as dinners for sisters is just a waste of time? Not if you know the reality of the Muslim community here in America.
While many sisters have families they can easily turn to for company and support, there are many who don't. Our communities have plenty of sisters who are new to Islam, or sisters who are students from abroad, or who recently immigrated here with their families but who are hungry for companionship.
What better companionship than that of Muslim sisters for the sake of Allah?
Organizing weekly dinners, teas, Halaqas are all small practical steps that Muslim sisters can take to help each other not only cope with loneliness, but more importantly become closer to Allah, if He wills. This creates a much-needed social network.
9. Go into professions that are needed in the community
Often, we encourage our children to go into professions that are seen as prestigious or that will ensure them financial security. These may not, however, be professions that are most needed by the Muslim community. Identify what the needs are and encourage young women to pursue careers in these fields.
For example, there is dire need for Muslim community advocates, social workers, therapists, family counselors, and other support resources. The shortage of such professional skills within the community forces Muslims to go to non-Muslims who are often insensitive to our religious values.
Another field where Muslim women are needed is law. Marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance are all issues which directly affect Muslim women, and for which they will rarely find a Muslim advocate. There is a need for sisters who know Islamic law and the local law to help Muslim women deal with issues like these with sincere, sound advice, as well as sympathetic support.
Is there a Muslim woman doctor in the house? For the most part, the answer is no. It is no cliche to say that there is a crying need for women in the medical field. Sisters are especially needed in sensitive fields like obstetrics and gynecology, fertiltiy specialists, etc.
These are among many areas where women, especially Muslim ones, feel most comfortable discussing exclusively with other women who will understand where they are coming from.
10. Teach in Islamic weekend schools
Does getting an education degree sound too far-fetched? If so, consider helping Islam in America by teaching at the local Islamic weekend school. This is where a number of Muslim kids (most of whom attend public school) find their only Islamic environment throughout the whole week.
The presence Muslim sisters as mentioned above, is not just in imparting knowledge but it's also in being a positive role model.
As well, teaching in Islamic weekend schools provides you with the opportunity to clarify the position of women in Islam, to clear it of the cultural baggage so many Muslim parents tend to pass down to their kids.
11. Enjoin the good and forbid the evil
The Prophet said: If one of you sees something evil he should change it with his hand. If he cannot, he should speak out against it, and if he cannot do even that he should at least detest it in his heart, this being the weakest form of faith (Muslim).
Enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is not the domain of Muslim brothers alone. Sisters are also required to do this, whether it is on an individual or community level. Look for opportunities and build your strength to do this.
Not only will you be fulfilling a religious duty, but you will become stronger and Allah willing, gain the strength to speak out against wrong regardless who is doing the wrong.
12. Promote and appreciate sisters doing good work
How many of us spend time to appreciate the work Muslims sisters do to promote the cause of Islam?
Whether a sister has given an inspiring speech, written a useful article, established a fantastic program for the mosque, a number of sisters tend to beat each other down instead of trying to build each other up.
Promoting and appreciating sisters who are doing good work will not only serve as encouragement for them, it will also pinpoint acceptable role models for young Muslim women. This is important when many or our young girls look up to women who are models, actresses and singers, as opposed to those making a positive contribution to society.
13. Support other sisters in need or difficulty
Do you know a sister who takes care of her own kids, plus an ailing mother-in-law? Or a sister who needs a night out with her husband after a frustrating week juggling work and home responsibilities? Give her a break. Offer to babysit for a night, or take her kids to the park so she can have some free time to herself. These small gestures give a big boost to sisterhood and Muslim community support, not to mention support for a Muslim family.
14. Get sympathetic speakers and scholars invited to the community
Who are the top five speakers in your community? What is their understanding of Islam and especially the role of women? Do they speak out against injustice? Or do they promote the status quo?
Sisters can encourage community leaders to invite speakers to shed light on Muslim women's issues, and who can address problems from an Islamic perspective in a wise and sensitive way.
15. Teach sisters how to deal with discrimination
How many sisters know how to respond effectively to discrimination and harassment? It seems that most will tend to ignore it. Others may respond with a rude remark of their own. But neither of these approaches is usually appropriate.
Muslim women can help here by developing an effective strategy in consultation with Imams and community leaders. Informing and enabling Muslim women on how to seek legal recourse if they so choose is another needed service.
16. Become journalists and media professionals
Do you think the ability to write well and communicate effectively has no effect on others?
You're wrong. A knowledgeable, practicing Muslim woman who can write and speak well is a powerful weapon against those who say Islam oppresses women, or that women can't come to the mosque for instance.
The media is an unavoidable tool in the spread of Islam amongst Muslims and non-Muslims and sisters should not avoid this field of study.
17. Use what you have
If you're already a working Muslim woman, how can you contribute without necessarily changing careers? Use your professional skills for the community.
If you can write well, establish a well-written, organized and attractive community newsletter. If you're in business, establish a community fundraising project for the local mosque's expansion. Use what you've got. It'll take some thinking and planning, but you're almost bound to find a way you can contribute, if Allah wills.
18. Know and teach women's history
Do you think women's history means learning exclusively about American feminists? Think again. Muslim women have their own heroes. Aisha, Khadijah, Maryam, Asiya (may Allah be pleased with all of them) are our role models. Remember that Muslim women's history does not start and end with these four righteous women. Muslim history is full of women who have made positive contributions. We also need to recognize and know the efforts of the pioneering Muslim women who came to North America and worked in partnership with men to establish the various Muslim institutions now flourishing in North America.
Know the history of the first generation of Muslim women as well as those who established the Muslim community in North America.
Read to your daughters the stories of the great female companions of the Prophet in books like Abdul Wahid Hamid's Companions of the Prophet.
19. Understand the issues of the day
Do you know what your kids are learning in school? Is there a sex education class promoting unIslamic ideas? What are you going to do about it? Do you participate in your child's Earth Day activities at school?
Muslims sisters have to know the issues of the day in order to make an impact. Whether it's sex education, drunk driving or rape these and other issues should be of concern to us as well, and not just non-Muslims. Being vocal, and most importantly, knowing and advocating the Islamic position on issues of the day affords you the opportunity to stand up for justice and to make Dawa. Don't pass it up.
Photo Attribution: Zul - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Two_Muslim_women_in_tudungs_at_an_engagement_party,_Brunei_-_20100531.jpg