by Nagia Moharram
January 21, 2017, was an eventful day. While many citizens in the United States and worldwide marched in solidarity for the rights of women and minorities, a group of over 500 men and women of all faiths, ages, and ethnic backgrounds gathered at a hotel in Dallas, Texas for the same cause. The 12th Annual Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation’s (TMWF) Fundraising Gala offered a powerful and timely message. Board Chair, Mahmuda Hossain, welcomed the audience, along with TMWF Event Sponsors, auction donors, businesses advertising in the event and TMWF staff for the impactful work being done. TMWF Executive director, Dr. Hind Jarrah presented the accomplishments of TMWF since inception, noting that TMWF and its supporters parallel the diversity of the United States, and represent working together for a good cause. The agenda for the evening offered stories from all four of TMWF’s programs, Social Services, Youth Leadership Development, Education, and Interfaith Outreach.
The first story was both truly personal and yet represented the tragedies of many other victims. A TMWF Social Services client, speaking in anonymity, told of mental, physical, sexual, and financial abuse at the hands of her husband. She expressed her gratitude for an organization such as TMWF that helped her get out of her horrific cycle of abuse and reclaim her dignity. The client’s story showed how TMWF Social Services saves lives and helps victims find peace and community. Read her story.
Youth speaking for the Youth Leadership Program highlighted the importance of volunteering and youth involvement in strengthening themselves as well as the community. TMWF Youth Council member, Izzah Zaheer, acknowledged that at first her involvement was to earn service points, but as she became more involved she realized how much she was learning and growing. The experience of volunteering humbled her and helped her gain confidence in her ability to lead and serve society. As many youth have expressed when working with TMWF, the impact of helping others only strengthens ourselves.
Pledge of Young Men Against Abuse
The intertwining of youth involvement and social service was punctuated by the presentation of fifteen year old Hamza Iqbal, who lead the “Pledge of Young Men Against Abuse”. Speaking boldly, he acknowledged that as a young man he is not only gaining in physical strength, but also in responsibility. He knows he must not abuse his strength, but use it to support and protect others. Hamza denounced any abuser, “I don’t care how rich or educated, how old or strong you are. If you are an abuser, you are not my hero.” All the men in the audience were invited to follow his recitation of the pledge against domestic violence and to affirm their steadfast maintenance of peace in the home. Hamza Iqbal highlighted the Youth Leadership Program’s promotion of youth as our community’s future and the need for adults to support them on the their path to adulthood.
Islamic Arts Revival Series (IARS)
The education component of TMWF can never be understated. Dr. Jarrah lauded the Islamic Arts Revival Series (IARS) in bridging between cultures through their work. The partnership between the IARS team with the Irving Arts Center’s Marcie Inman and Todd Eric Hawkins created what Mr. Hawkins called “a table for us to sit together.” Their exhibits, performances, and workshops have created ways to bring diverse communities together through the beauty and creativity of art, intrinsic to our shared humanity.
The two highly anticipated keynote speakers focused on TMWF’s Interfaith Outreach program as well as its efforts to empower women. The first keynote address was given by journalist, Carla Power. A secularist, Ms. Power expressed her gratitude to her friend the Muslim scholar, Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, the subject of her book, If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and Journey to the Heart of the Qur’an. Through her year-long study, she came to understand the nuances of the faith, helping to denounce misinformation, break stereotypes, and foster mutual respect and understanding.
Ms. Power also cited multiple woman scholars in history, whom she learned of through the research work of Sheikh Nadwi. She emphasized that these Muslim women believed strongly in seeking knowledge, as their faith encourages, and sharing it with others, teaching both men and women students. The significance of her friend being an Eastern male (raised in India) Islamic scholar researching and saluting 10,000 women in history in 40 volumes of research cannot be discounted. His findings magnify the gap that exists today between these Muslim women’s scholarly Islamic tradition, practicing fully in public life as equals to men, and modern day practice in many Muslim countries. Ms. Power sees TMWF as trying to change these practices of many centuries, so that they can once again empower women and, through their empowerment, better society as a whole. She closed by saying the command by God in the Qur’an for people to get to know one another and to do good works together are both Qur’anic and deeply American virtues.
The second keynote speaker, American Muslim scholar and leader, Imam Omar Suleiman, praised the work of TMWF and its efforts to unite people of all backgrounds to support the common good. Imam Omar Suleiman shared a personal story to elaborate on the significance of TMWF’s focus on empowering women through respecting their humanity and equal status. He shared that his mother had been quite ill when he was a boy. His father had to take care of her as well as the children. His father never complained, but, instead, said that his greatest blessing was his wife. Imam Omar explained that it was his father’s faith that compelled him to treat his wife that way. He made the point that “the best thing a man can teach his children is to treat his wife well.” He added that with the coming of the message of Islam, the divine revelations helped the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) promote respect for women in public policy and in society. Among the many things that the Prophet said in his final sermon was to keep connected to God through prayer and to treat women well.
Imam Omar noted the current disrespect for women and those who are seen as “other” in contemporary society requires that “we respond by repelling evil with that which is better” as we stand united together with love and respect for one another. He sees faith as the driving force behind TMWF’s commitment for championing peace in the home and society at large.
Through out the Gala, the message of strength through unity and civic engagement was loud and clear. The women and men of all ages and faiths who gathered that evening clearly stand for a vision of a bright future that they will continually commit to, together, in these United States and the world at large. TMWF shares that same vision and is steadfast in its ongoing commitment to the well-being and empowerment of the human spirit.
Thank you for your support in championing our cause. Thank you to our gala sponsors, silent auction donors, program advertisers and the wonderful ladies who donated the delicious treats for our guests!
If you were unable to join us at the Gala, please consider making your gift today at www.tmwf.org. We need more #PeaceChampions to stand with us to bring “Peace in the Home”.