VA Anti-Hijab Event Results In Formation of Muslim Women's Group

Community News
From Ukrainian ultra-feminist group Femen to Act for America!,  everyone wants to speak for Muslim women. Sometimes Muslim women just want to speak for themselves.

And a newly formed group – the Muslim Women of Northern Virginia (MWNV) – did just that on April 28, 2013.

"So many are campaigning to speak for, and about Muslim women; rarely in a good way," said Sandra Amen-Bryan who attended an event hosted by the Republican Women of Clifton (RWC) on February 20, 2013 in Northern Virginia featuring Act for America's Stephanie Reis. The topic of the provocative was the hijab and how it can be a “catalyst for terrorism”.

Amen-Bryan said MWNV and their first event on April 28, 2013 are a direct result of last February's Republican “hatchet job”.

People from other faiths from the Fairlington community were present at the event, including Delegate Rob Krupicka (D) of Virginia's 45th District. But despite Amen Bryan's several attempts to reach out to the RWC, no one from the RWC attended the event. Amen-Bryan continues her outreach.

The founders say Muslim Women of Northern Virginia is a platform for Muslim women so "they can speak about themselves, for themselves, in a thoughtful manner, led by scholarly insights."

The group was launched due to the conversations dominated by those who are waging propaganda campaigns against Muslims. 

A large number of Muslim women attended the event held at the Fairlington Community Center although they were not the target audience. A volunteer stationed in the parking lot to help attendees noted an unidentified women taking pictures with an iPhone of Muslim women as they walked in. According to an eyewitness account, she circled the parking lot three times.

MWNV seeks to correct misconceptions about Islam as it relates to the roles and rights of women. It aims to promote the faith through dialogue, education, and service projects with others who share mutual values, ethics, and morals. 

The keynote speaker was Dr. Zainab Alwani. The lively, multi-ethnic panel also featured Sr. Zahra, Zareena Shakir, and Dewita Soeharjono; the panel was moderated by Tanaz Haddadi. Each woman told her own story.

Author of several publications, an Islamic Scholar, a mother and grandmother, Dr. Alwani laid out the Quranic foundation for gender relations in Islam with the following verses:

O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer. Quran: Surah Nisa' verse 1

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. Verse 49: 13

She urged the audience to question their own understandings. "Any question on women in Islam, we have to ask how does it fit with the Quranic model?" said Dr. Alwani.

With an agnostic father and conservative mother, Dewita Soeharjono an interfaith activist, was never forced to learn Quran. She knows just enough to communicate with God she told the audience. Raised in a Javanese Buddhist and HinduIslam mix, she did not embrace her faith until later in life when she found Allah. She explained that culture and religion can play a big part in the mistreatment of women. "No religion teaches mistreatment of another human being including women," she proclaimed.

"I am a  human being who happens to be a woman," said Zareena Shakir, the host of the TV show Perspectives of Interfaith. She said being an African American, a Muslim, and a women, some might say she already has three strikes against her. "I do not have any strikes against me- well it depends on what game you are playing; baseball or bowling; let's bowl," said Shakir.

Zareena uses quips to shoot down misogyny and bigotry. When people thrust her with misinformed questions about the status of a woman in Islam, she often answers. "Did God make a mistake? Allah knows best."

Her  work in the media has made her aware of the mistreatment of women everywhere. She broadcasts awareness of the humanity of Muslims through film and her show. Her latest project is a movie documentary of three Muslim women who started their spiritual journey to Islam in the late 40s, early 50s. Their Muslim journey covers 50 years each, living, worshiping in the nation's capital.

Sr. Zahra, born in Vietnam, grew up in four different countries. "1.5 million Vietnamese were lost to Agent Orange, massacred, raped.  My parents were Buddhist; five of my siblings are Buddhist, and five are Catholic. "Growing up, I was taught that female are inferior to males," she said.

She was raised in Africa. Her step-father was a cross between Norman Schwartz and John Wayne. He used to kick his Muslim servants, who would be praying on a prayer mat, with his cowboy boots.

"I needed solace and found it with the missionary kids- church gave me peace and contentment," said Sr. Zahra. It was an intellectual exercise in monotheism that led her to Islam: the rights of women in the religion, system of justice gave space in her heart for Islam.

With her real life witty stories, she informed the audience that there are many Asian American Muslim stereotypes. Her section really cemented MNVA's mission that one doesn't have to be famous to relay their own stories about women in Islam.

The audience asked a variety of questions. One question asked was statistically which country treats women the worst. To this question, Sr. Zareena said that she didn't know about other countries but the U.S. treats women the worst when it comes to the prison system. America has 2.5 million people in jail - the largest amount in the world- a portion of that are women incarcerated for drug charges that the men in their lives were involved in.

Soeharjono said that she could only speak about Indonesia, her birthplace. In Indonesia women have equality- equal pay,  a female president, ambassadors and ministers.

Another question asked by the audience was about the two testimonies for women and one for men.

Dr. Alwani explained verse 2:84--the longest verse in the Quran – which deals in debt, transactions with financial issues. "Revealed as if preparing women to be involved in the economy, in developing the economy of that time," she explained to the room. She said that over time it took a turn and the interpretation shifted from empowering a woman to devaluing one into half a man, whereas the Quranic objective was to empower women with that verse.

"Speak out online, network, stand tall and walk tall.  Predict [dangers] and carry your cell phones, we live in dangerous times," Sr. Zahra advised the Muslim women in the audience.

The organization of Muslim Women of Northern Virginia seeks to build coalitions and community partnerships with other faith-based groups, and with civic organizations that promote the empowerment of women.

A grassroots organization MWNV is open for membership. A website will  launch in the near future.