Nausheena Hussain has a quiet composure, sitting at the back of the Daybreak Bookshop on the University of Minnesota campus, surrounded by books about cultural change through individual empowerment and the female voice. As she explains how she and other Muslim women are becoming connected and engaged, her enthusiasm bubbles over.
“We need to be visible, taking action, in order to have a more significant impact.” RISE increases visibility and engagement of Muslim women by empowering them to participate in political caucuses, advocate to their elected representatives, defend themselves, act as delegates and election judges – and gives them the tools to take their own action.
It isn’t simply about being organized to confront Islamophobia and hate rhetoric, or to know how to deescalate a situation when targeted for wearing a hijab. Muslims have been in this country for hundreds of years, she says, yet “we’re still not considered fellow Americans and neighbors. What do we do to change that?”
As a wife and mother of two, Hussain has an MBA and has worked in multicultural marketing at Best Buy and as a deputy director at CAIR Minnesota (Council on American-Islamic Relations). She has transitioned into her role as co-founder and executive director of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE) – also known as “The Sisterhood.” She is a 2016 Bush Leadership Fellow, has served on the board of the Brooklyn Center Islamic Center mosque, and has quickly emerged as a Twin Cities leader. Hussain was selected as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and serves as an election judge and wants to teach others to do the same.
Her mission: Help Muslim women “show up and have a presence in civic engagement.”
At the first RISE meeting in September 2015, Hussain discovered that many Muslim women didn’t know each other. So the first step was to “build sisterhood. There are awesome women in our community who no one knows about.”
In Spring 2016, for example, they learned from the now newly elected Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar, about how to have political influence. They discussed politics at a local, grassroots level and learned the ways they could get involved and make real difference. They have benefited from the safety tips of a Brooklyn Park police officer – who gave them self-defense instruction as well as tools to use if they are being harassed or followed.
Recently they watched a guest speaker leave a phone message about an issue for the Governor. Women pledged to contact a candidate or elected official about something important to them and report back the next month.
She adds, “What happens at the local level affects us personally much faster than at a federal level. And we can influence decision-makers faster. We forget that our elected officials are there to serve us. They work for us.”[[In-content Ad]]
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3. Read the RISE Sheroes blog to learn about female trailblazers: www.revivingsisterhood.org/muslim-sheroes