As part of a fellowship program with the global Community Solutions Partners (thanks to a nomination by Global Minnesota), Minnesota Women’s Press worked with Bosnian journalist Amra Avdic in Fall 2021. We introduced her to several Minnesota women engaged in politics — from behind the scenes to sitting in a state legislator’s chair. Amra interviewed them for a series of TV shows she has broadcast in her own country. We have excerpted them below to make available for our audience as well.
Thanks to underwriting from the northern Minnesota Valvoline Instant Motor Oil franchise owned by Minnesota Women’s Press/Changemakers Alliance supporter Tanya Korpi, and the team at Vote. Run. Lead., we offer a 12-part series about the values and vision of statewide women engaged in politics, starting with this conversation with Nausheena Hussain, founder of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment.
What we do is highlight and profile Muslim women who are already in community doing fantastic work. Muslim Sheroes of Minnesota is one of our storytelling projects. We are not trying to sway the people at one extreme that think all the horrible things about us. Instead, we are looking at the people in the moderate middle that do not know a Muslim, have never interacted with one. If we tell our stories ourselves, it gives us a lot more agency around what the narrative is around who Muslim women are. This has been much more powerful in breaking those stereotypes, because when they watch our videos, when they listen to our podcast, when they read our stories they forget about the Muslim and they start to care about the cause.
What we have learned with Muslim women is that they never want to be in the limelight alone. They always want to bring others along when they are making change. If we are asking Muslim women to go and vote, she does not go alone. She brings everybody in the household. She finds her friends, she finds her sisters, she finds her adult children. She organizes everyone else to go out to vote.
This is the beauty of leadership. It is not just about one leader and one person. It is about building a movement. The only way you are able to do that is if you have relationships in the community and you organize the community to make that change.
I think we should get away from this understanding that politics and political democracy work is separate. Everything you do every day is political. In the United States, when I walk out with this hijab on my head, this is my First Amendment right, so that makes it my political right — but that is not why I wear it. I wear it because of my own understanding of what my religion is asking me.
At the same time that I was starting Reviving Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, we also were trying to bring a masjid — a mosque — into our neighborhood. We needed our local government to pass that — we needed a conditional permit use. We had to go to City Council and get permission to have the mosque. Do you know how many people came out against it? They were so afraid of Muslims in their backyard. Because we were involved in our city, because we had relationships with those elected officials, all of them had our back. They all supported us. They supported us as neighbors, not because we were Muslim, but because we were residents of our community and we were involved in our community.
So when we ask Muslim women to be part of their communities, this is what it means. It is not about getting out there and having political taglines and disrupting things. It is really about building relationships and being neighborly.
When we first began RISE, we held a panel discussion with three women who were part of political campaigns. We had one woman who had run a campaign and become a school board member. We had one woman, Ilhan Omar, who is our [national] Congresswoman right now; we knew her before she became a representative. We had a third woman who has worked on different political campaigns. All three of these women look different. They are from different walks of life. They are from different races. They have diverse lived backgrounds.
Ilhan told us to go out and caucus, and we did not know what caucus was. So we learned about it and trained women and got them to go out and become delegates and write resolutions and participate in the entire election cycle. Political movements happen all around the election cycle. They do not happen just in November. Even if your candidate loses, we tell Muslim women to contact the new person, congratulate them, and introduce yourself to them because later on, when something happens, they are going to remember you when you contact them again.
This was mind-blowing for us, because we did not realize we are the boss of elected officials. We are the leaders in that moment. So we trained women on how to tell their stories — pick an issue they care about, we ask them why, to tell the story of why this is important to you, and then go to their office and tell that what is happening in your community, to your family, and that you expect them to do something about it. That was a total change in attitude. We were often afraid that we had to come up with the solution and we do not — we need to first start by telling our stories.
When they see a Muslim woman running it shows all those little girls that they have an opportunity to do something bigger and better. That there is a mentor out there, somebody that looks like them — that they can really strive for something bigger in changing their society. it is about inspiration. It is about motivating people to get up and do something, and not just sit at home and complain about issues, but really getting involved.
We have more Muslim-led countries that have had women as leaders, such as prime ministers. Yet we have never had [a Muslim leader of country] in the United States, even though we are considered to be most progressive.
There are people in our lives that can support us in different roles. I have somebody who is like my mentor, when I need advice I go to her. I have somebody who is like a life coach, when I am trying to figure out which direction to go, I go to her for help. I have a therapist. I have a spiritual counselor, somebody who helps me be rooted in my own faith traditions to guide me in the decisions I made. I have other women who are running organizations in different parts of the city, the state, and I talk to them all the time because sometimes I feel like I am alone in what I am doing. When I see all these other women doing similar work, it gives me some validation and connection and feels like ‘okay, I can do this. I will be able to get through this.’
I would not have been able to do this if I did not show some vulnerability in making those relationships and connections. Sometimes you have to be able to share the losses, or the failures, or the things that you messed up, the mistakes that you made — because you learn from them. They are what help build you for the next major event or crisis that is going to come your way. I always remind women to reach out to each other.
One is to be an active listener to the people you would be representing. There are going to be so many other voices of people out there that tell you all the things you are doing wrong and you are going to mess up. Listen to the people you would be representing, because that is who you are accountable for. And as you listen, have empathy — build relationships with these people, because [they are your neighbors].
My last piece of advice is that it should not be just to win the position. It should be a motivation and an inspiration for everybody else who is watching you, because they are looking to see how you are going to lead. The final outcome of you winning, that is fantastic, but remember they are going to see how you are going to show up and how you are going to use your intersecting identities that you hold — of community, your faith, your gender — how these all come together.
To every woman out there, you absolutely should not hesitate to run for office, but be prepared and make relationships, and be an active listener.