Soraya Deen: Saying ‘Yes’ to Change

Soraya Deen is the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, and Co-founder of Peacemoms (Promoting Christian Muslim /Dialogue). She is a spiritual activist, lawyer, and author of PEACE MATTERS – Raising Peace Conscious children. Her vision is to create 10,000 VOICES OF HOPE. She brings together Muslim Women and women of all faiths empowering them to resolve conflict, and be effective communicators, social activists and say “YES” to civic engagement. She calls on her community to rethink the central concepts of the Islamic Religion. She also organized the first Interfaith Women’s Leadership conference at the Los Angeles City Hall October 2016. Of utmost importance today is to give power and place to Muslim Women’s Voices. Soraya is a mother of two and encourages women not to stay at the bottom because it is too crowded.

This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide. UN Women and partners around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, launching from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th until UN’s International Human Rights Day on December 10th.

 

I remember the day when my seven year old son looked up at me-his eyes welled in tears, his face sad and confused- and asked “Mommy, are we terrorists?” It was the sixth anniversary of 9/11. I was picking my son from his school. I realized at this moment that my words had the power to liberate or enslave my son- to bring hope or fear not only to my son, but to the world. So I took a deep breath and firmly told my son, “Baby, we are not terrorists. You are not a terrorist. Your baby sister is not a terrorist. Mommy is not a terrorist, and Daddy is not a terrorist.”

 

That day I also realized that my son was bullied because he was Muslim. And I knew that evil will continue to prevail if good people did nothing. I began a personal and profound journey sharing my story with friends and in gatherings. People loved to hear my story, the struggles, the bullying and my journey into social activism and civic engagement. Women, mothers rose above religion and politics to support my journey. Later I founded the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, empowering women to become better communicators, understand that their story had the capacity and the power to transform the world, give people hope. It became clear to me that no matter how bad the past, how rough the present and how daunting the future seemed, we must not let circumstances define who we are. We have the capacity, if we show up and speak up to change those circumstances.

 

Our stories are unique and they matter. Gradually I was invited to speak in churches and synagogues. I addressed large congregations, did corporate workshops on communication, I stood behind pulpits and podiums. BUT when it came to my community I was told that it was against our tradition to speak at mosques and speak to men. There are no men in my community daring enough to explain to the masses that a Muslim Woman can lead prayer. My deep desire to inspire and empower young girls were dashed again and again. I felt humiliated and violated. To me this was a form of an abuse. I realized that most men and some women condoned and normalized this violence. The practice was deep rooted. The inequality in the roles, the rights and opportunities for women to make their voices known was dismal. What good is our better if it is not our best? How can I let an ancient ideology that is derived from 7th century Arabia rob me of my passion and purpose? Who were these men who were making these roles? What application does this rule have today? Without experiencing the present day challenges and trials?

 

No matter who disagrees with my views I know that I cannot remain silent. To those who want to silence me or crucify me I say, I want you to remember that I speak for the woman/girl in remote Afghanistan and Algeria. The woman/girl in Pakistan and India, the woman/girl in Sudan and Saudi Arabia. These women and girls who are told every day that their voice doesn’t matter, that they have no place in the public square and that they must shut up and put up. These girls and woman who are subjected to extreme patriarchy and misogyny, by the very people who find it extremely challenging to transform and reform their traditions and practices. I speak to create 100 Malala’s. I speak to empower 100 Malala’s. I speak to inspire 100 Malala’s. I speak for a safer America, a safer community and a safer world. I speak to make the voices of women heard in our mosques. I speak to deconstruct the received theology. I speak to represent the voicers in the margins. I speak to address the tough issues that are crippling our community. I speak hope I believe that it must be a matter of principle for us to admit and acknowledge that Muslim women’s voices matter.

 

There are so many people speaking today. 50% of them have nothing to say, but they continue to speak. The other 50% who have much to say are not saying anything… Let’s transform our world by making our voices heard. I want to empower all girls to move from compliance and complacency to creativity and change. Conformists never moved the world. Violence against women often stems from taking her dignity and voice away from her. Melinda Gates reminds us that, “A woman with a voice is inherently a powerful woman.” If we seek to end the abuse of women we must give them a voice. Hear them and empower them.

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