Dear New Fellow,
Congratulations! You’re probably so humbled, yet excited but also extremely overwhelmed by the recent notoriety and attention you’ve received since the announcement. Bask in it! Enjoy this moment. You have earned it. One thing I have learned is, be proud of who you are, what you have accomplished. Own your power. Show up with your whole self. And don’t stop. When things feel blue, go back to this moment and cherish.
The fellowship is not only a whirlwind of emotions, but a whirlwind of activities. So, keep calm, and get organized. I’ve learned to set up different apps on my phone, separate my finances, and journal. Journalling has been very important but also something I lose track of doing. It’s a time to reflect and regroup on what’s next. I’m sure you wrote in your plan “Self-care,” not knowing what exactly it is, but I’m telling you self-care is real! I started out on the fellowship with all cylinders on and firing. But burned out, by the sixth month. I grabbed that journal and wrote out what’s stressing me out, and made a plan of how to ask for help, de-stress, and take care of myself. Remember, it’s ok to slow down.
2016, despite the election, was my year! My life went through some pretty significant changes as well as new experiences. First, I quit my job and launched a new nonprofit, which is by no means an easy task. Quickly realizing I’m a social entrepreneur and a small business owner. Two months later, I received my fellowship. It was like I had two jobs! While working on increasing the engagement of Muslim women, I needed to understand the different layers and barriers of the Muslim American woman’s identity. She battles Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia and sexism. That’s a lot. But as I did my research, I came to the realization, another layer of cultural nuisances that confused religion with law and had a bigger, more negative impact on their lives. Misinterpretations of holy texts coupled with not understanding the system, often perpetuated a sentiment of, “I don’t belong. I don’t engage.”
Not only have I been working on my own leadership development, but also skills building for Muslim women. Bringing in trainers on public speaking, networking, and how to tell your story. Hoping that these skills propel women to step up. Which they do, however, I realized another barrier they end up facing. No matter how prepared she is, when she has a seat at the table, she sits there surrounded by others from the dominant culture. She is unable to lean in sometimes, and the environment isn’t truly inclusive. “They like the idea of equity, but not the work of equity” - Deray Mckesson.
Dream. Dare. Do. That was theme of the Women in Philanthropy conference I attended earlier this year. I’ve been working on understanding how to transform the Muslim community from a group of donors to philanthropists. But what I have come to understand about philanthropy is that we’re working on creating change agents. The myth of Muslims aren’t philanthropists was quickly busted, as I learned about the definition of philanthropy. Wikipedia defined it as “the love of humanity. A difference commonly cited is that charity aims to relieve the pain of a particular social problem, whereas philanthropy attempts to address the root cause of the problem—the difference between the proverbial gift of a fish to a hungry person, versus teaching them how to fish.” The more I studied this, met with foundations, philanthropists, experts in the sector, it meant how do you spend your time, talent and treasure while bearing testimony for the causes you care about. We often think about the Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or Mark Zuckerberg. Rarely do we think about Muslim women like Queen Zubeyda, Fatima al Fihriyya, Banafshaa’ ar-Rumiyya or Fatima of Cordoba.
Stories like these are never told, forgotten, or hidden. My research is leading me to find many Muslim women leaders, scholars, rulers, and changemakers. The Muslim women narrative is now being reframed and it’s because we have realized, others have been telling our stories for us. My learning journey has been working towards reframing this narrative, amplifying the voice and power of Muslim women. Storytelling is so important as it connects us to our past, while providing a glimpse into the future. Things happen to us, and through our unique perspective, we are able to shape the narrative of our lived experience. When we see ourselves in our stories, we inspire, teach, change social prejudices, and make meaning out of the everyday human life. This is why I’ve been spending time telling my own story, and helping others do the same.
Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly have I done? My fellowship plan has been a self-designed program. I’ve been to many conferences including TedWomen, PopTech, Women In Philanthropy, Women’s Conference by the Carlson School of Management, and Finance Conference. I’ve also attended the Executive Program in Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford University. That was a great experience, because I was able to learn many new concepts, and walked away with tools to use in my own nonprofit, and a network of other social entrepreneurs to tap into with ideas and advice. I’ve also had a great time traveling the world, meeting Muslim women-led organizations, female scholars, and learn about the work they are doing.
One last takeaway, just do it! This is something I have struggled with all my life, but if the fellowship has taught me anything, it’s this. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t waste time. Start. Take your passion and your idea, and make it real. No one is holding you back, but yourself. Be confident in you. Know you can do it, and then seriously, just do it.