We would like to thank everyone who joined us at our Mother’s Day Luncheon. Thank you to Rabbi Elana Ann Zelony, Shaykh Omar Suleiman, Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters. We hope you were inspired by these great panelists as much as we were!
Rabbi Elana Ann Zelony, Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters,and Shaykh Omar Suleiman
We are honored and blessed that we have such incredible great support! Thank you again for playing an important role in building peaceful communities.
With the theme, “All Our Brothers and Sisters,” the 5th Annual Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation (TMWF) Mother’s Day Luncheon took place on May 4, 2016 at the Glen Eagles Country Club in Plano, Texas. The meeting captured the spirit of what TMWF is achieving within its immediate and extended communities. From the speakers to the guests to the vendors, all are united in voicing one unifying message: we can best succeed if we work together.
TMWF Board Chair, Yasmina BenHalim, first laid out the broad scope of TMWF’s contributions to the community. She reminded us that, “Every day is Mother’s Day…from the moment you set your eyes on that beautiful baby girl or boy, your life long journey begins.” She also recognized and applauded the importance of men and fathers working with and standing up for women and mothers for the betterment and strength of the children and the family unit. “TMWF is involved with [strengthening] the family as a whole. We strive to fulfill our mission statement to empower, promote, and support all women and their families, through education, outreach, philanthropy, and social services. We engage all members of the community: women, men, seniors, and youth. We believe that each individual plays a vital role in fostering peace and wellbeing in the community in which they live.”
The importance of the social services component of TMWF was made quite clear through the second guest speaker, Nishat, speaking on domestic violence. This past March, Nishat’s sister was killed by her husband of twenty years, in Plano, after she initiated a divorce. After killing his wife, he killed himself, orphaning their three children. Nishat candidly and poignantly relayed how her sister did not speak to her about any of her suffering, nor did Nishat see any signs of it as her sister hid her fears. Nishat is more than ever steadfast in her commitment to helping other victims. Her primary advice to victims of domestic abuse is to not be ashamed, but speak out and seek help. To the rest of us, she advises that we encourage open dialogue about any concerns, and continuously reach out to all our loved ones, looking for any signs of suffering in order to intervene before tragedy occurs. She reminds us that domestic abuse is not only physical, but can also be verbal, emotional, and financial. Nishat is now giving a voice to her sister’s tragedy, and hoping that she can influence those suffering in silence to speak out so as to save themselves from a similar fate as her sister’s.
The third presentation highlights a member of the community not often in the public eye but critical in the assistance of those in need of help: the social worker. Adeel Najmi shared a close up look at the life and work of his late mother, Mrs. Qaiser Jahan Najmi, a highly dedicated and compassionate social worker. To honor their mother, her family created The Qaiser Jahan Najmi Memorial Fund and has chosen TMWF as its recipient, to use the funds in whatever areas are in need. The Najmi family felt that TMWF’s mission closely mirrored that of Mrs. Najmi. Among her many contributions in Pakistan, she established an orphanage, a woman’s shelter, and a ladies industrial home, which gave these women an income through the selling of their handiwork in monthly bazaars that showcased their work. These various institutions that Mrs. Najmi helped found are still functioning to this day. It was touching to see, Mr. Najmi, speaking so fondly of his mother’s remarkable efforts and accomplishments. He closed with, “My mother will be remembered for her love of humanity and compassion for the poor and oppressed.”
The family appreciated that TMWF describes itself as Muslim women working for all women, as Mrs. Najmi’s work in Pakistan showed the need for social services is indeed a universal need.
The panel discussions represent TMWF’s outreach to the extended community, in friendship and solidarity with the intent of peace building with those of other faiths. As Dr. Hind said in her introduction of the panelists, “They are awesome representatives of everything that we would like TMWF to stand for: peace, justice, true faith, and respect for all human beings across all ethnicities and all races.” The panelists addressed the need to solidify bonds between different faith communities, as well as, how to deal with discrimination in any context.
The first panelist, Rabbi Elana Zelony of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson is the first female Rabbi in the Jewish Conservative Movement in the entire state of Texas. Rabbi Elana developed her approach to discrimination and interfaith relations through various experiences throughout her life. Her first encounter with discrimination was in third grade by her classmates who shunned her not being Christian. As she grew older, she was exposed to both positive interest in her identity as well as discrimination.
In college, she was drawn to interfaith work where she was pleasantly surprised to find that others wanted to know about her traditions and she could find out more about theirs. The sharing of traditions not only allowed for an appreciation of differences but also the discovery of clear commonalities between those differing traditions. From college on to rabbinical school, then on to her first experiences as a young female Rabbi, and then on to motherhood, Rabbi Elana encountered many forms of discrimination. She was either too Jewish or too female. However, she came to realize that if she tried to assimilate, by either being less Jewish or more male, she would be pretending to be something that she was not. Rabbi Elana explains that she had to be true to herself acknowledging that “the problem with assimilation is that everyone loses out; if I’m not willing to share the wisdom from my tradition then that piece of wisdom is missing from the world.” We must reach out and help others see that we are all the same in the sense that we are all valuable.
The next panelist was Reverend Dr. Michael Waters the founder and senior pastor of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Dallas. Reverend Waters spoke specifically about discrimination against African Americans.
Their ongoing struggles highlight how hate and violence lead to many difficulties and tragedies. Dr. Waters spoke about two of the worst terrorist attacks by white supremacist against predominately black churches in recent times: the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the 2015 mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In both tragedies, the majority of those killed were female. Dr. Waters noted that “women and girls are at the forefront in the fight for justice and liberty both at home and abroad” and that “we share tears with those who have lost, [but] we often forget the pain felt especially by women and girls.” Both of the above-mentioned incidents led to some positive change, albeit very tragically brought about. The 1963 attack was climactic in a series of previous attacks as it highlighted the need for the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 2015 attack highlights many points including that racial discrimination has not gone away in the 21st century in the United States of America where democracy and the pursuit of happiness should be a right for all its citizens.
Rev. Dr. Waters has met some of the family members of those women who were massacred. Their advice was to “turn pain into purpose…to ensure that others do not go through the same painful experience.” He also advises that we need to be aware of our history, including the history of all the communities that make up our country. We must educate ourselves and our children so that we do not take for granted the sacrifices of others who have given us the freedoms we enjoy today. We must have continuous conversations, not just on special occasions, and we must note the freedoms we have in “common spaces…[such as when we] cast a ballot or enter from the front door.” The Reverend ended with a convocation of hope, “Every season of darkness, every season of oppression, every season of marginalization we have ever faced, it is our work together and it is our faith in God that has given us the power to overcome. I pray this same faith and this same power be yours today, now, and forever.”
The Islamic scholar, Sheikh Omar Suleiman, the director of the Islamic Learning Foundation of Texas and Resident Scholar at the Valley Ranch Islamic Center in Irving, Texas was the last panelist. Sheikh Omar described how he dealt with discrimination as he was growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Palestinian immigrants. Because of his Muslim, Arab, and American identity, many people were not sure how to label him. He was often asked, “Where are you from?” Growing up in New Orleans, he saw and related to the discrimination faced by his African American neighbors as he witnessed Ku Klux Klan rallies. His experiences growing up showed him that racial barriers are “artificial and superficial,” and “it is the soul that defines a person.”
Sheikh Omar is steadfast in his belief that different faith communities uniting can “end the common ills and flaws of society.” He cited his work with the field group Muslims for Humanity that was helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Through their efforts with multiple other faith groups they all showed that “adversity brings people together in a way that prosperity cannot…when we are too comfortable, we are too idle and we don’t do anything to bridge those gaps.” He also noted that through adversity, what race or faith a suffering person was did not matter—all that mattered was getting through the adversity safely together.
In normal times, Sheikh Omar, advises us to see the human side of others, because “the more we humanize one another, the less we will discriminate against one another.” He sees bigotry as “a disease of the heart not the intellect…[whereby] good character and human interaction…[can remove] the locks from our hearts.”
Sheikh Omar asks us to have “genuine interaction on a very human level…talk about your life, your family, etc.” Have a continuous conversation on a regular basis to form strong and genuine bonds. He warns us that the devaluing of human life is pervasive in our contemporary society, so we must recommit to breaking down barriers that lead to hate and violence. And he notes that it is this devaluation of human life that leads to both domestic violence and terrorism. We must be part of the solution. We must “fight divisiveness and rhetoric that results in death of people.” Sheikh Omar concludes with a quote from the Qur’an, “Whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved all of mankind, and whoever takes one life, it is as if he has killed all of mankind.”
The panel discussion could be summed up as encouraging everyone to get involved and reaching out to others to try to build bridges of peace for all peoples to benefit from. The faith leaders stressed going out beyond our religious communities, by opening up our places of worship and opening up our homes. We must also serve wherever there is a need and there is an opportunity to serve and collaborate for “the betterment of society and the purging of common evils.” Additionally, we should not allow people of bad character to teach us bad character; instead we should reach out further with compassion and a smile to create genuine bonding and true understanding of one another.
The vendors at the event support TMWF by giving a portion of their profits from their sales during the event to the organization. They also support the organization as community members. Salma Husayni of Moda Designs Jewelry is a former TMWF vice president of programs and events coordinator. She praises TMWF as working for “a good cause, with a good mission, and with good people.” In keeping with TMWF’s mission to empower women, two other female entrepreneurs, Sairah Rasheed of Steel Paisley (which produces home furnishings, accessories, and apparel) and Kawtar Idrissi of Tizirii Moroccan Argan Oil Products (for Hair, Nails, and Skin) both work with international artisans and farmers for their products.
Another organization in attendance with a mission to empower women was The Ladies of Austin. One of their organization’s members, Mouna Hashem describes it as, “a social club with a charity twist” based in Austin, Texas. They sold products at the luncheon that support and fund Syrian refugees living in camps in Turkey and Jordan. Women in the refugee camps make the products, which include hand made scarves, table linens, bottle holders, hot water bottle covers, dolls, and other items. Some of the proceeds also go to a school in Turkey serving 400 Syrian refugee children.
Many of the guests at the TMWF luncheon expressed similar sentiments to the speakers and the vendors and showed that they truly understand the spirit of the organization. When one guest, Zeinab Ellam, was asked why she is involved with TMWF, she said, “Life is good, so help wherever you can.” Another guest, Dr. Shah said that he appreciates how TMWF takes up “women’s causes and helps a lot of people.” Zain Ali applauds the efforts of the women’s shelter because it “fills the gap and fulfills the need” of the community; additionally, the counseling “helps people get back on their feet.” He also praises the youth program as having a very positive influence on his own children.
Jan Robinson, a TMWF guest and member of Zonta International, the global organization that empowers women through service and advocacy, said, “we are ‘professional do-gooders.’” She looks forward to starting a relationship with TMWF as they are working in the same vein. Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt of Peacemakers Incorporated, an organization that “empowers peacemakers, locally and globally, through education, communication, and action” said she is very excited to get to know about TMWF. Her impression of the luncheon was, “I want many to know you and know more about you. It shall be my pleasure to pass the message along. I am so proud of what you stand for. I am so proud of what you are doing. I am so proud that you and I live in the same community. Thank you for being a gift to us.”
Some of the TMWF staff interviewed highlight which of their passions motivated them to get involved TMWF. Shafaq Ahmad, the resident artist and the Islamic Arts Revival Series (IARS) juried art exhibit director, enjoys the concept of IARS as a support organization for TMWF’s vision of community building through the arts and interfaith outreach. Mahmuda Hossain, TMWF Vice Board Chair, says “It’s a great organization of hard working people from the staff to the board to the volunteers.” She wants to get the word out to everyone to “Come join us so we can grow together to perfect us and all the community!”
Shared from guest Sameena Karmally –
“Great program at the 5th Annual Mother’s Day Luncheon hosted by Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation, hearing from Elana Ann Zelony, a woman rabbi in a conservative synagogue describe her encounters with discrimination, Michael W. Waters, a Methodist pastor reminding us that women are always on the front lines and disproportionately affected by violence, and Omar Suleiman a muslim imam decribing how faith communities came together to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Very inspiring!”
A Texas Foundation with Muslim Roots Promotes Violence-Free Homes for All
Amaya* came to the United States with her three children, seeking asylum because of the severe abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband in her country of origin. Other providers gave her resources regarding pro bono legal services, but no one actually helped her because her case was complex.
Mahira* feared she’d never get her seven children back after they were removed by Child Protective Services (CPS). She was also fearful because when her children were first removed, they were separated, and one was molested in foster care.
Amaya and Mahira are among the many helped by the Plano-based Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation (TMWF), a grantee of the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Family Violence Prevention and Services Program. Founded in 2005 by a group of Muslim women, initially to address general issues facing Muslim women, TMWF has focused primarily on domestic violence since 2011.
TMWF helped Amaya to retain a private immigration attorney and coordinated with all the local mosques in the area to raise funds to cover her legal fees. Her asylum petition was ultimately approved, and she received her work permit.
TMWF helped Mahira to get her children back. The staff worked with CPS to place the children in their grandparents’ home before Mahira regained custody of them. Mahira also participated in parenting classes through TMWF.
With 25 employees, 20 of whom work exclusively for its domestic violence program, TMWF operates a 24-hour emergency domestic violence shelter with 16 beds (where residents can stay as long as needed, typically 90 to 180 days) and five units of transitional housing. TMWF also offers outreach and nonresidential supportive services, including immigration and family law legal services. The organization provides individual and group counseling to adults and children (residential and nonresidential), intensive child play therapy, and even yoga. TMWF also helps women apply for Section 8 housing and locate Section 8 units upon exiting its program.
The organization serves everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim. Its first shelter client, a non-Muslim woman who stayed there with her three children for an extended period of time, hoped to further her education. TMWF helped her to access crime victim compensation funds, file a Violence Against Women Act petition (so that her immigration status would not be dependent on her husband’s), and negotiate a divorce settlement that secured her a car and the house. With this support, she accomplished all her goals, including finishing school.
Economic empowerment is a top priority for TMWF. Beyond helping clients apply for public assistance, the organization works to build survivors’ confidence and capacity to navigate their own life in their own hands. The focus is on finding permanent solutions for the clients.
All services of TMWF are trauma-informed and culturally responsive. Staff members speak 14 different languages, and the TMWF website can be translated into 24 languages. Its brochures are available in Arabic and Urdu.
Partnerships with others in the community help TMWF to take a holistic approach in serving its clients. For example, TMWF has helped five individuals (three of them domestic violence survivors) to prepare for working in the medical field by enrolling in a two-year medical education program. It is working to recruit Muslim families willing to become foster parents and help them get trained through CPS. TMWF has developed partnerships with faith leaders (imams, pastors, rabbis) to raise awareness about domestic violence within their congregations. It also works with local university students, who educate their peers about domestic violence and host fundraising events benefiting TMWF.
TMWF continues to face challenges. One is finding culturally appropriate services for drug-addicted abusive husbands whose wives do not want to leave them but do want them to receive treatment. Another is developing services for male victims of sexual assault. A third is addressing comprehensively the mental health needs of clients, especially refugee clients who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of fleeing war. Like most nonprofit organizations, it has funding and staff development challenges as well.
Despite the challenges, this organization of “Muslim women for all women” is absolutely committed to its mission. As TMWF’s website states, “We believe that by promoting and supporting women and their families, we can build stronger communities based in cultural awareness and understanding.”
TMWF’s Executive Director Hind Jarrah, Ph.D. and Chief Operating Officer, Mona Kafeel, were recently interviewed on CBS “Plugged in to DFW” show by Karen Borta. We are thankful to the producers and reporters for highlighting how our programs are fulfilling the critical need of our community and society at large.
Below are the links for the 4 segments of the show:
Mary*, is an American born woman married to a Middle Eastern man, and a mother of 3 girls who used to live overseas. When one of her daughters moved to Texas to continue her studies, the family decided to pay her a visit. During this trip, Mary’s husband became very abusive.It escalated into a very dangerous situation and Mary and her daughters were forced to seek safety at the Peaceful Oasis Emergency Shelter. The family became very depressed and they lost all hope after realizing that they would no longer be able to return to their home. The father began actively searching for his family and it became an extremely tense situation for both staff and the clients to stay safe.
Working with the supportive staff at TMWF, they began to receive case management, counseling and legal services to move them forward to happier state. With persistence and hard work, Mary actively sought out employment to set her on the path to financial self-sufficiency. She qualified to move into our transitional housing and finally felt happy and secure with her daughters in their new apartment.
Her older daughter resumed her studies and Mary’s good fortune continued with the good news of her approval for affordable housing. She continues to take great strides towards achieving her goal of creating a better life for herself and her children. They are now living with peace of mind and happiness and are very thankful for the services and support they received from TMWF.
Religion has made its way into many global conflicts, and there is no doubt that religion can be divisive and cause harm. That said, countless religious groups, congregations and individuals around the world offer daily demonstrations that faith can offer deep spiritual wisdom, be a major vehicle for service to the world and promote peace.
Here are 100 examples of how faith-based groups are doing good in the world today in no particular order.
Women of diverse generations and backgrounds gathered at the Dallas Palms event center on May 8 to celebrate mothers at the Third Annual Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation Mother’s Day Luncheon. The event themed “Rhythm of Life,” showcased the artistic talents of the Muslim community including a musical performance by renowned world music artist Jamal Mohamed.
The annual fundraising event supports the broad array of social services Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation provides to women of all faiths and their families, including the state’s first and only domestic violence shelter addressing the specific needs of Muslim women. Proceeds also benefit the nonprofit’s programs in youth leadership development, education and interfaith outreach.
“In the Islamic faith, mothers are revered for their role in the foundation of life. We were delighted to celebrate mothers at this special event, and appreciate all the support we received from our board and the community,” said Hind Jarrah, executive director of Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation.
Domestic violence is an abhorrent problem that affects families from all ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. On January 25, 2014, more than 250 members of the North Texas Muslim community came together to stand up against domestic violence at Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation’s ninth annual fundraiser.
The event featured Imam Yaseen Shaik as keynote speaker. Imam Yaseen was the imam at the Islamic Association of Collin County in Plano, and recently became the resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. The much beloved religious leader returned to North Texas to speak out against domestic violence and ask men in the Muslim community to adopt a zero tolerance policy toward domestic violence. He was joined by honorary guest Imam Abdel Malik Mujahed, several imams from the mosque shuras in North Texas, and the young men of Alif Laam Meem, America’s first Muslim fraternity, to recommit to a 2011 pledge against domestic violence.
Proceeds from the event supported Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation’s Peace in the Home initiatives, including the Peaceful Oasis shelter, the first and only domestic violence shelter in North Texas to serve the specific needs of Muslim victims of domestic violence. Since opening in December 2012, the Peaceful Oasis shelter has served 122 women, nearly double the number initially estimated. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters at the annual fundraiser, we will be able to continue providing outreach, shelter and counseling to domestic violence victims.
In 2013, Hind Jarrah, our Executive Director at Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation, was asked to serve as a mentor for the Women’s Initiative Fellowship, a signature program of the George W. Bush Institute. The Fellowship is a yearlong program designed to enhance the leadership skills of women around the world, and pairs each Fellow with a prominent female American mentor.
For the past year, Hind has mentored an Egyptian woman, Shaima Tantawy. Shaima is the executive manager and treasurer of a start-up NGO that helps educate destitute women and children living in the slums of Cairo.
“Our mission at Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation is to empower women, to help them identify their needs and discover ways to meet those needs. The Women’s Initiative Fellowship is a tremendous opportunity for women to learn from each other. Like our mission, it emphasizes the powerful role women can have when they receive the tools and training to achieve their dreams,” said Hind.