CAIRO – Taking benefit from the wide scope of freedom in the United States and Canada, Muslim women are making inroads into their societies, acquiring higher profiles and enjoying education levels better than their American and European counterparts.
“What we’re seeing now in America is what has been sort of a quiet or informal empowerment of women,” Shireen Zaman, executive director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, told The New York Times on Tuesday, December 28.
“In many of our home countries, socially or politically it would’ve been harder for Muslim women to take a leadership role.
“It’s actually quite empowering to be Muslim in America.”
Estimates show that Muslim women have achieved a level of success and visibility unmatched elsewhere.
They are better educated than the average Americans and than their counterparts in Western Europe, according to a recent Gallup survey.
“Muslims coming to North America are often seeking an egalitarian version of Islam,” said Ebrahim Moosa, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke University.
“That forces women onto the agenda and makes them much more visible than, say, in Western Europe.”
Their high education rates are translated into greater numbers of American Muslim women into the labor market.
“Yeah I’m Arab, yeah I’m very American, and yeah I’m very Islamic,” said Najah Bazzy, an American-born nurse and founder of several charities in Michigan.
“But you put those things in the blender and I’m no longer just a thing. I’m a new thing.”
Though there is no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to nearly seven million Muslims.
Celebrating their cultural diversity, many Muslim women have sought to highlight their pioneering role in American society.
For instance, Tayyibah Taylor, a convert of Caribbean descent in Atlanta, launched a magazine, Azizah, to celebrate achievements of Muslim women in the US.
The magazine, with a circulation of 45,000, profiled successful stories of Muslim women as well as other hot topics such as AIDS and spousal abuse.
“I didn’t see Islam as taking my freedoms as a woman,” Taylor, 57, who studied the Noble Qur’an in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for six years.
“It really opened up worlds for me.”
Taylor is not alone.
Soumaya Khalifa, who was born in Egypt and raised in Texas, campaigned to build relations between Muslims and the American community.
Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, she managed to form her Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta group as “a bridge between Islam and Americans of other faiths.”
Nevertheless, the terrorist attacks were a defining point in her quest.
After the attacks, she started to fight the growing misconceptions about Muslims and their faith, working with students, executives, soldiers and the FBI to overcome the stereotypes.
Ingred Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), is another example of the successful Muslim women in North America.
“[Mattson’s election] broke a barrier and made it much more acceptable for women to take a leading role as leaders of the entire community, not just women,” said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and a former adviser on faith issues in the Obama White House.
Imam Plemon T. el-Amin, a retired leader of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, agrees.
“That’s exactly what ISNA and many of the Muslim organizations needed to see,” he said.
Mattson, a Canadian, was elected ISNA president in 2006, the first female Muslim to assume the post.
She believes that the growing anti-Muslim attitudes in the post-9/11 American have energized many Muslim women to play a role in defending their faith.
“What happened on Sept. 11 and after has led American Muslims to be more involved in civic society,” Mattson, 47, who teaches at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, said.
“And Muslim women were finding that a very rich area for activity.”
Muslims make up around 1.9 percent of Canada’s some 32.8 million population.