(Exhibited at the International Museum of Women in 2014)

Spirited Tenacity highlights the fortitude, brilliance, and vitality embodied by American Muslim women leaders in their roles as educators, authors, entrepreneurs, professors, attorneys, artists, social service providers, political activists, and community advocates.  Their lives run contrary to popular images over the past 50 years that have portrayed Muslim women as oppressed, passive, and uneducated – masking the strengths and courage they manifest in their lives as passionate and visionary leaders.  Of diverse races and ethnicities, these remarkable women represent several generations ranging in age from their 30s to 70s. They include indigenous American Muslims in addition to first and second-generation immigrant families.  Several are pioneers in their fields, and many are socially, politically, and morally influential in the wider American sphere. Despite their extremely busy schedules, not only are all the women multitalented, but each and every woman is also a community volunteer or activist in some form.

In addition to each leader participating in a qualitative survey, I had an opportunity to shadow some of these women.  The intellect, talent, confidence, and conviction they displayed was striking.  I observed one leader preside over a roomful of senior male leaders with humbleness and grace as she listened respectfully before offering her firm recommendation – which these leaders accepted with respect.  I was pleasantly surprised and impressed.  This was not the typical cultural gender dynamic I remembered from my youth – certainly not from the male leadership.  At a small dinner with a top level U.S. official, another American Muslim woman was the most intellectual, articulate, and charismatic presence in the room – a testament to the advancement of American Muslim women.

Universal themes expressed in interviews included embracing tolerance towards all people, a desire for peace in society and the world, and utilizing their faith as a source of empowerment and gender equity devoid of patriarchal culture.   Another common thread was motivation to pursue careers that would help to eradicate the myths and perpetuate the facts regarding Islam and Muslim women, both outside and within their faith communities.

I am eager to see how the path that these extraordinary leaders have paved will impact the next generation.  Courageous, creative, and dynamic, the accomplishments of these visionaries are a living legacy that is empowering the next generation of American Muslim women.

This project is dedicated to my mother, Sharifa Alkhateeb (1946-2004).  

When she spoke, everyone listened.


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