Throughout the United States, Muslim organizations and individuals are taking action to better their lives and communities. The Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow is one organized group of such activists. Their charter reads:
“As Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, we proclaim our commitment to improving our communities and our world for present and future generations. Driven by sincere intentions and leading by example, we create a platform for informed, collective, and sustainable action; true to the diversity of the Ummah [community of Muslims] and the pluralism of Islamic thought, we work together and empower others to find solutions to difficult challenges; and, guided by the teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet, we strive to create secure, peaceful, and thriving societies for the benefit of all humanity…”
The charter emphasizes the group’s intention to use Islamic teachings to overcome society’s difficulties and bring about improvements within their community. This group is an example of the many Muslims in the United States who are taking on leadership roles. Their goals are a good place to begin the discussion on leadership in Islam. However, leadership occurs in many forms and on many levels within the collective community. Here, we focus on the development of women as Muslim leaders.
Of recent national prominence was the election and service of Ingrid Mattson as the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Serving from 2006 to 2010, Mattson was the first woman to hold this prestigious position within the American Muslim community. As a scholar, spokesperson and activist, Mattson’s leadership continues in a less formal but very influential way.
Mattson is among many Muslim women who are assuming leadership roles throughout the United States. Their efforts have differing, and sometimes conflicting, goals. As one example, beliefs regarding appropriate rights for women may vary. Some may want the right for women to lead jumaa (Friday prayer) while others may protest such a development. As we will discuss later, these divisions are attributable to the diversity that is found in the Ummah of Islam. The methods used and characteristics of accomplishment also vary. Some believe direct action is the best way to bring about change while others believe mediation is best. Furthermore, some aim to bring change on a national level while others focus on their local community. A variety of leadership movements are taking place across the United States of Muslim women working to better their communities.
“Muslim Women Gain Higher Profile in U.S.” provides an overview of a grassroots effort of women to gain leadership within their male dominated communities. These women, mostly immigrants to the United States, speak of the advantages and disadvantages that they face because of their unique identities. Some of their activities included the organization of interfaith dialogues, the boycott of a local newspaper, and creating a magazine of Muslim women of achievement. As their stories show, their work occurs both within the Muslim community and their community at large.
Asra Nomani led a movement to gain rights for women within her local mosque community in Morgantown, West Virginia. Specifically, she wanted women to be allowed to pray in the same room as men and to enter the building through the same entrance. By being delegated to a second entrance Nomani felt the women were being segregated into “separate and unequal quarters.” Her effort to reclaim the rights she felt were denied to her was made into a documentary by PBS. In “Being the Leader I Want to See in the World,” Nomani tells how difficult situations in her life led her to take action to improve her circumstances. As she overcomes obstacles to claiming her rights, she finds leadership within herself and her community.
Find out more about the leadership roles of Muslim women through non-profit activist organizations.