“This country has witnessed my birth, shaped my perceptions,and socialized my behavior. She knows me as well as I knowmyself, for my memories evoke her history and my dreams livein her future. I capture her history by writing my own.”
– Hadia Mubarek, in “I Speak For Myself”

This is the sort of book that I wish people would discover now, and years from now.  Whether online or on the shelves of popular bookstores, and perhaps someday even at local rummage sales, this is a book that should become a common and necessary find. 

A collection of essays written by some of the most successful Muslim women as can be imagined, this latest addition to the narrative on Muslim experience in America is a welcome one, though overdue. As its editors write in the introduction, this book indeed aims to express the ideas and contributions of Muslim American women who have lived lives fully rooted in American soil, while nurtured by Islam. The aim is to express the multitude of diverse views and experiences of women who are defying limited categorizations and who are in fact contributing to the strength of their nation.  

“The contributors to this book come from every corner of our community: environmentalist, mother, blogger, academic, feminist, spiritualist, conservative, fashionista, coach, lecturer, engineer, perpetual student, truth-seeker, sister in humanity, activist, advocate, writer, teacher, artist, lawyer, journalist, anthropologist, aid worker, consultant, and Facebook friend,” write the editors. 

I was skeptical at first. After all, there have been other books purporting to showcase the experience of Muslim women and I kept wondering if these essays would be sugary-syrup stories that sounded too good to be true and which hammered the same message over and over again. 

Not at all.  In fact, I learned something with every page and felt I was seeing Muslim women in a light I had only ever glimpsed fleetingly, even though I have countless friends and acquaintances who are both God-conscious and successful.  Trouble is, how often do we share our stories? How often do we celebrate our achievements, and reflect on our experiences? How often to we reach out to share our thoughts with others?  

“Although we had been born and raised in this country and knew no other place to call home, I and other American Muslims came to realize for the first time that we were not perceived as American in the eyes of a large swath of the general public. As our religious beliefs became a reason for our incrimination after 9/11, as our organizations and places of worship became the target of vandalism and hate crimes, and as we were perceived as potential threats to the security of our own nation, we felt our very identity as Americans was being subjected to scrutiny, challenge, and contestation,” writes Hadia Mubarek, one of my favourite contributors.  

With forty different essays, this is a book to be savoured over many days and even weeks. Like a box of chocolates, each story holds its own flavour and should be enjoyed for what it is. This is a book to leave out on the bedside table – for empowering nibbles now and then.  

Verbatim: Excerpts from “I speak for Myself”

On Family: Taking care of one’s aging parents is a Muslim duty, an Iranian duty, an American duty. I feel this duty keenly, even when my American upbringing teaches me to focus on only myself andmy future. My parents have not hinted at or voiced this idea. My brother and I just know it’s our responsibility. Our parents took care of us when we were small and weak; in return, we shall takecare of them when they are weak. It’s repaying the ultimate debt.”
- Fatemeh Fakhraie, author and blogger

Although my father subscribed to what I consider a traditional view of women, he contradicted this view when it came to his daughters. He was the proud father of three intelligent girls, whom he constantly pushed to overachievement. My father repeatedly told me I could be the best at anything I did and to always aim high.Once while in second grade, prior to the school’s annual field day, my father gave me a pep talk about the race I was about to run. “Make sure you set your goal to a point way beyond the finish line,” he advised. “That will ensure that you run hard theentire race and finish strong. Most people set their sights on the finish line and then slow down as they near the end. If you look beyond, then you will always have an advantage.” I did not yetrealize I would refer to this analogy for the rest of my life.”
- Hebah Ahmed community activist and mother

On hijab: It wasn’t until after my decision to wear hijab that I felt liberated and my identity as a Muslimsolidified. My desire to not be objectified was rooted in my faith, which taught me that physical appearance is something private, even sacred, and it is the internal qualities that are to be sharedwith the world. Only after I started hijab did I come to know its true value.
- Nousheen Yousuf-Sadiq, editor

On Politics: Sometimes, it feels like I am racing against a clock that always reads 9:11. Yet as more Arab-Americans and Muslims join the ranks of Congress and aspire to serve their nation (as Rep. KeithEllison and Rep. Andre Carson are doing), the more difficult it will be to associate Arabs and Islam with terrorism.
- Yusra Tekbali, freelance journalist

There is no inherent friction between Americans and Muslims, but there are many obstacles preventing mutual understanding. As Jalal ad-Din Rumi wrote, “Your task is not to seek forlove, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” By writing, I was removing the barriers within myself and nudging my readers to examine theirown. In this instance, I had been successful. I felt reassured that so many Americans were willing to support the Muslim American community at a time when political parties were not. Although Iknew I could not always depend on such a supportive response, it reinforced my belief that there was a need and a desire for opinions like mine to be voiced in mainstream media. Each ofmy articles gives me the impetus to continue writing about these political and personal issues while simultaneously pursuing a path to law and politics. It is important for me to wed my two passions—politics and writing—in my career. The need for human narratives in public discourse cannot be fulfilled without the voices of our growing Muslim community.
- Nafees Asiya Syed, Harvard graduate and writer currently working at the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC.



May 20th

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