I realized that someone is always telling our stories, so we need to take back the narrative and do it ourselves.
Photo: Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment Conference; Credit: Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment
Taking Back the Narrative
With fiscal sponsorship through Propel Nonprofits, an idea can get off the ground quickly to test whether it has appeal and staying power, such as the notion that sparked the Twin Cities-based Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (the Sisterhood) and its leader, Nausheena Hussain.
The Sisterhood began with informal conversations just a couple of years ago. “We got together to talk about what it means to be a Muslim woman,” says Hussain. “We said, ‘let’s talk leadership, and the lack of women holding positions of power in our community.’”
After nearly a decade in marketing, then working for the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hussain began to see patterns in Muslim donations and activism, including an absence of women’s voices within the community as well as the broader society.
“I saw a lot of Muslim women doing work that went unnoticed,” Hussain says. “And then I saw imagery attacking women – ‘she’s wearing the black burka, she’s oppressed and uneducated and being abused.’ Things that are so far from the truth. I realized that someone is always telling our stories, so we need to take back the narrative and do it ourselves.”
Tools of Empowerment & Change
The vision for Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment is based on empowerment and professional mentorship; shared knowledge, resources, and networking; and civic engagement and activism. The organization’s leadership development focuses on workshops, training, and events with speakers, scholars, and professionals focusing on practical skills-based learning.
The Sisterhood’s priorities in legislative activism include eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual abuse, countering the rise of mass shootings by strengthening criminal background checks for gun purchases, and increasing penalties for hate-motivated property crimes. All policy work is done in partnership with other Minnesota social advocacy organizations.
In parallel with political initiatives, the Sisterhood’s Love Your Muslim Neighbor campaign promotes generosity and positive discourse in the Muslim community. Based on the Islamic concept of Sadaqah, which loosely translates into “voluntary charity,” Love Your Muslim Neighbor emphasizes public connection with downloadable calling cards to hand out to accompany good deeds and acts of generosity. “When I was doing a lot of donor development work (for CAIR-MN), I noticed that we are a very charitable and giving community,” says Hussain.
Sheroes Tell Their Own Stories
Through the “Sheroes” series of narratives, video shorts, and podcasts, the Sisterhood tells the stories of diverse Muslim woman with vignettes about their distinctive experiences. “We’re highlighting these phenomenal women,” Hussain says. “There’s a woman whose child was born deaf, and when she found there were no resources in the Muslim community, she created her own for the Muslim deaf community, finding ASL interpreters and resources for translation for family time. Her video has a reach of almost 900,000 globally.”
Another installment of “Sheroes” (produced in a partnership with TPT-Twin Cities PBS) features the work of a blind woman in interfaith dialogue in Rochester, as well as a Minnesotan’s love for the outdoors and her strategies for canoeing in a full burka. “Islam isn’t monolithic, which is what these stories are about,” says Hussain. “This is a platform that shines a light on the wonderful things that are happening.”
Legitimacy & Support through Fiscal Sponsorship
The Sisterhood embraces a gamut of services from Propel Nonprofits: training, payroll, accounting, budgeting collaboration, and technical assistance. “We looked initially at 501(c)(3) status,” Hussain says. “In the beginning, we weren’t sure if Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment was something that people were going to understand, and whether women would get behind it and get involved.”
Hussain is an executive director with a talent for networking and collaboration. She excels at making the most of partnerships, as well as resources to build and expand her organization’s vision.
“With fiscal sponsorship, I get balance sheets and income statements without having to ask for them,” says Hussein. “It gives us legitimacy when a funder asks me for financials, they’re right there. I don’t have to grasp for those numbers or ask a treasurer or a board. And vouching for us says a lot to nonprofit funders, that Propel Nonprofits has our back and supports us. That extension of their credibility has really helped.”
Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment appears poised to become a major player in the Muslim community of Minnesota, if not beyond. For Hussain, the organization’s multi-pronged approach circles back to women’s stories and who tells them. “How can you aspire to do more,” she asks, “if wherever you look, no one looks like you?”