The Rise of Muslim Women in Civic Engagement

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Poor work-life
balance, long hours of hard work, and frequent burnouts have always been a
common trend within civic engagement organizations.


Feeding the poor and needy is an act that draws us closer to Allah. We earn His forgiveness, mercies and blessings through this act of charity.

“Anyone who looks after and works for a widow and a poor person is like a warrior fighting for Allah?s cause, or like a person who fasts during the day and prays all night. (Bukhari)

This trend has been a deterrent for many Muslim women who inspire to have families and a fulfilling professional career outside the realm of civic engagement.

Many of our Islamic organizations have traditionally been founded and led by men. This lack of female representation had a lot to do with the amount of work involved, lack of resources, and the political climate within our communities.

According to an article printed in the New York Times, civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes. 

In a post 9/11 world, civic engagement has been on the rise in Muslim communities. Islamophobia forced Muslims to be more actively engaged in politics, policy, and community issues in the United States. This need has allowed the development of many civic Muslim organizations and a vast opportunity for funding. 

“My organization
was developed based on a need to engage Muslim women in leadership roles within
our community. This could not have been done without widespread support from
our larger American community,” Sarah Amali, who asked to keep the name of her
organization anonymous, told

As a result of a
growing need within our communities, Muslim women have been pushed to the
forefront of active civic engagement.

Thousands of organizations have been developed and founded by Muslim women, such as the Islamic Speakers Bureau, The Muslim Women’s Professional Network, and Muslim Advocates for Exceptional Children.

In addition to
founding organizations for the community, Muslim women are leading
well-established Muslim organizations, which may have previously been led
primarily by men. Why has this shift occurred? Well, here are a few reasons why
Muslim women are leading the way.

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The Rise of Muslim Women in Civic Engagement - About Islam
Sara Wada, ICNA Relief

It aligns with a desire to have a positive impact on humanity.

“It first started
as a hobby, and now it has
become my career,” Sara Wada, Volunteer Manager for ICNA Relief, told “This
has all stemmed from the hadith: “Even
a smile is charity.”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari)

“No matter the
size of the effort done, it all counts. A pure intention to help will
undoubtedly cause a ripple effect, in
sha’ Allah
. There is always someone being helped directly or

Many Muslim women
have a deep, burning desire to make an
impact in their community. Civic engagement allows for Muslim women to make a
direct change in society and make changes that matter. Social reform and policy
changes are just some of the issues
addressed in these Muslim organizations. 

The Rise of Muslim Women in Civic Engagement - About Islam
Shaheen Bharde, Roswell Community Masjid Outreach Director

Increased resources have allowed for
an improved work-life balance amongst civic leaders. 

“When I first began, I had to really focus on networking and
getting the Masjid’s name out there so we could be known as an organization
that wants to make a difference,” Shaheen Bharde, Roswell Community Masjid
Outreach Director,
told “For the first two to three years, it took a lot of time
from my family. Now I see it coming full circle and finding more balance. Even
my oldest son was able to find time to get involved in community work.”

Organizations such as AMCLI, American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, strives to empower pioneering Muslim civic leaders to realize their full potential. In doing so, they have a more effective and sustained impact on the issues affecting their communities and America at large. AMCLI provides opportunities for Muslim organizations to connect and share the necessary resources to sustain one another. 

“I honestly was
close to quitting my
organization until I found AMCLI,” local non-profit leader based out of
Chicago, IL, explained to “They
provided me with the tools and connections to build bridges with other thriving

Many civic engagement organizations
have created a space for professional development and career advancement. 

“In the last 10
plus years, I have been lucky to work with so many different organizations,
faith groups, media, law enforcement, public officials and more,” Bharde told “I
never imagined I would be able to make such a difference advocating for my
community to people who sometimes have never met a Muslim and have their own
preconceived notions on Muslim women.    

“Even working
with Muslim communities has been empowering to show that I too can make a
difference in some usually male-dominated conversations. For me to show them
that the voice of a Muslim woman holds its value just like any other woman or
person has really given me the motivation to inspire and be inspired.”

Work-Life Balance

Although there
are many amazing reasons why
Muslim women are actively involved in civic engagement, there are still a few challenges in maintaining a
proper work-life balance.

Many young Muslim women leaders express concerns about marriage and finding a suitable mate when time and communal obligations take priority. 

“I’ve been
working in civic engagement for the past ten years and one of my biggest
challenges is having time to find a suitable spouse,” Aleen Mahmoud reported to

There are many
reasons why finding a suitable spouse is a growing concern amongst young Muslim
civic leaders. Some believe it is related to the time commitment and structure
of working in civic engagement. Others, however, believe it has to do with the
intimidation that may come with being a very public Muslim leader. The work
involved in civic engagement isn’t easy, and it typically comes with countless

“I am well into
my thirties and I believe I should have been married by now,” Karima Mehal
told “I have found it challenging meeting
suitable brothers. I work in policy reform, which can be a tough field to
navigate. I put in
long hours, and I am often overlooked by
my male counterparts.”

As civic
engagement organizations advance into well-balanced workplaces for all, we hope
to see an improved social life amongst Muslim women leaders.

Leadership should
never come at the price of a happy family, and it is time for our organizations to address
this issue during their strategic planning sessions. 

Ultimately, civic
engagement allows for a greater presence of Muslim women in the public sphere.
It pushes women to engage with political
leaders, advocate for the poor, and to empower marginalized groups of people
within the community. This work is powerful, but to some it will always come at a


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