Standing with You for 16 Years on the Frontlines of Civil Rights

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Misogyny is a part of all societies, and most certainly, the Muslim communities. Some of these men messed up translations of the Quran and created Sharia laws to keep the women under their thumb. They messed up Hadiths as well as the Seerah. All of this goes entirely against Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) teachings. He was the first man to liberate women.

Men and women are equally responsible for their deeds on the day of judgment. No man or woman is more privileged than the other, except for Piety—those who care for others and believe in the equality of all humans.

Farhana put Muslim Advocates on the map of civil rights organizations, and she has won many cases for Muslims. She made a mistake to appoint men who were misogynists on her board, who are now asking her to resign. A lesson learned to check out men in selecting to the boards. These men have no place in public organizations. They need to be checked out if they have misogynistic traces, prejudiced against fellow Muslims of different denominations and the LGBTQ community, and even African Americans. These men have no place in public organizations.

Fifteen years ago, a Muslima was recognized for her contribution to society by the Dallas Peace Center, of which I was a board member. She was called on the stage to receive the award and speak. The Muslim men sitting at her table walked out on her as they did not believe a Muslim woman to be on the stage. They heard from me, and I gave them my piece of mind. There was no one on her table; every non-Muslim noticed it. I left my table and joined her.

Mike Ghouse

Standing with You for 16 Years on the Frontlines of Civil Rights

By Farhana Khera

My life’s purpose is — and has always been — fighting for freedom and justice. I got my early inspiration from my widowed grandmother who fought bigotry and misogyny in rural Pakistan to create a pathway for my father to get an education and later immigrate to America and create a better life. That early inspiration would lead me to pursue a career in the law, to fight for civil rights as my life’s passion, and to found a national civil rights organization.

It is with profound sadness that I address my resignation from Muslim Advocates, the organization I founded 16 years ago at a time when American Muslims were experiencing severe threats to life and liberty and for which I served as president and executive director. I have been notified that I will be on leave until July 16th.

Before I say more about what I have experienced over the last four years in a very challenging relationship with the board of directors, I want to share more about the values and history that inspired me to found Muslim Advocates.

On September 11, 2001, I was working as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee for Senator Russ Feingold. In an instant, the national conversation would change, and suddenly my faith community would become the target of hate and the focus of racial and religious profiling by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Our rights and liberties were damaged in ways I could never imagine.

I found myself on the floor of the United States Senate arguing with senators and their staffers about how the PATRIOT Act was unconstitutional and hurt the rights not only of the Muslim community, but all Americans. As we all know, the PATRIOT Act became law in record time, but I am incredibly proud that Senator Feingold was the lone senator who had the strength of character and courage to do what was right and vote against the bill.

It was these values of strength and courage that I learned from my grandmother and Senator Feingold that inspired me to take a leap of faith and leave my dream job to start Muslim Advocates. I imagined a world where experts in policy and law could have a seat at the table to advocate for the rights of the Muslim community. I was determined to lift up the many diverse voices from within the Muslim community and envisioned greater Muslim engagement in all aspects of public life. From this perspective, Muslim Advocates was created with a core mission to protect freedom, justice and equality for all.

Protect the rights of all: this sounds like a simple statement, but it is a profound statement of values. It means that we see and recognize the entire community — not just Sunni Muslim men, but Muslim women, Shia Muslims, Ahmadiyya Muslims, LGBTQ Muslims, cultural Muslims, and others, and all their struggles. It means recognizing that allyship and diverse coalitions within and outside of the Muslim community are critical to standing up to bigotry and discrimination in all its forms. It means lifting up voices that often get targeted and dismissed. It means sometimes having to make difficult decisions and sometimes standing alone in order to do what is right.

These are the founding values that have driven the work of Muslim Advocates and our success over the last 16 years. I am tremendously proud of what our team has accomplished. Today, Muslim Advocates is a powerhouse and stands shoulder to shoulder with iconic civil rights organizations. It is respected and heard in the corridors of Congress, in the courts, and in communities.

But behind the scenes during the last four years, I’ve been fighting another battle.

Being a woman — particularly a Muslim woman in a position of power in the Muslim space — has not been easy. There is a loud minority of community voices who believe that the only “proper” Muslim woman is a woman who defers to men and male viewpoints and wears hijab. They believe that, even at a civil rights organization, she should be seen and not heard. Well, that is not who I am. I am a proud Muslim woman. I am also assertive, principled and will fight injustice wherever I see it. I will not subjugate myself to a man simply because he is a man. And I will stand up for myself and demand equal treatment for me and my diverse staff. Ultimately, I am departing Muslim Advocates because I felt that those qualities were not welcomed by the current board and its leadership.

Recently, a conversation has begun in the Muslim community about the sexism, misogyny and religious discrimination taking place at American Muslim civic organizations. This is an incredibly important conversation that must be taken seriously and must become a central focus of the community, particularly its nonprofit leadership, if the community seeks to progress. I will participate in that conversation at an appropriate time.

For now, I am mourning what Muslim Advocates was and what it could have been. In the coming weeks, I will be taking time to rest, reflect and recharge before I start a new chapter. I leave you now with my immense gratitude to the countless staff, individuals, donors, partners, organizations and public officials who have stood side-by-side with me and Muslim Advocates these many years.

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