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 Subject: Synopsis of survey results on Sisters' Activism

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PostSubject: Subject: Synopsis of survey results on Sisters' Activism   Sat May 18, 2013 10:31 am

Subject: Synopsis of survey results on Sisters' Activism

* SISTERS' ACTIVISM within the MSA *

In October of 1994, a survey was conducted to evaluate the degree of Sisters' participation, as well as, the degree of cooperation between Brothers and Sisters within the MSAs. The majority of the responses came from Brothers. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Unfortunately, in many of the MSAs in North America, with respect to Sisters' activism....there is none. This, of course, is a vast generalization as, Masha Allah, there are many MSAs in which Brothers and Sisters work together (within the Islamic guidelines) for the sake of ALLAH. In fact, there are campuses where the Sisters are the MORE active force behind the MSA's activities despite their lower numbers. Those who were or are still involved with MYNA may recognize this trend which is being continued on some campuses as Muslims graduate into the MSA. However, the question remains as to what reasons underlie the prevalent lack of Sisters' participation in MSAs across North America.

Survey responses were collected from MSAs across North America with representation from a range of campuses with very active participation from Sisters to none at all. One of the main problems identified from the surveys is a lack of communication both between the Brothers and the Sisters, as well as, amongst the Sisters themselves. The increased accessibility of electronic mail (e-mail) to university students has made this a preferred means of communication. Yet, at many campuses, the Sisters do not have access to this medium. Another major problem seems to be "Brother domination" within the MSAs. Of course this domination may simply be because of the lower numbers of Muslimaat on campus. There are campuses, however, where this is due to or results in discouragement of Sisters from participating in the MSA. In many cases where there is a lack of participation from the Sisters, there is a common attitude that strict segregation should exist between the genders to the extent that one should not even say "Salam" to the other. On one campus, Brothers actually prevented some Sisters from setting up a Dawa'ah table as they felt that "Sisters should not appear in public"! This attitude may be, to some extent, due to cultural attitudes which have not yet been distinguished from Islam.

Stemming from this "Brother domination" is a tendency for the Brothers to forget the existence of the Sisters in the MSA. How many of us (i.e. the Sisters) are familiar with the phenomenon of "male bonding" after prayers; it seems that they physically bond to create an impermeable barrier in front of the exit. Of course, this is usually a purely unintentional act, yet it shows a needed increase in awareness of and consideration for the Sisters. This "forgetfulness" can be extended to the MSA structure in that responsibilities may tend to be assigned exclusively to the Brothers, partly due to the fact that there are no Sisters involved to give these responsibilities to. Thus, Muslimaat are not involved in the decision-making and planning process whether due to this "forgetfulness", active discouragement of involvement in the Executive, or lack of interest. There may also be conflicting opinions as to whether a Sister can be President/Amirah of an MSA. Moreover, in some cases, even if Sisters are allowed on the Executive, it is simply to fill the "token" position of the Sisters' representative.

The absence of participation may, of course, be due to a lack of motivation and willingness to participate on the part of the Sisters. Muslimaat may be wary of joining the MSA as they feel they are being judged by the Brothers using "preconceived stereotypes". Moreover, some Sisters feel that Brothers are more judgemental with them than with the Brothers implying a gender-biased lack of tolerance. This judgemental attitude is, by no means, restricted to the Brothers. New Sisters may also be wary of being judged by Sisters at two extreme levels: i) they may disapprove of the involvement of females in the MSA or ii) they may feel they are being judged for not wearing the hijab, having different ideologies etc. Of course, it should be noted that Muslims active within the organization are usually NOT judgemental.

The situation of a "commuter campus" holds unique problems which may underlie the lack of participation from Muslimaat. Many of the students on this type of campus live relatively far from the university/college, with an average commuting time of 30 minutes to an hour. Thus, Sisters "can't or won't participate in events held in the evening".

Obviously, the problems underlying the lack of Sisters' participation differ with each MSA. The former list is simply a compilation derived from the survey responses. Therefore, the strategy to eradicate the problems will be unique to each campus. Some general solutions have been identified from the experiences of campuses where Sisters are actively involved. Recognition that there is a problem is the first step in trying to solve it, Insha Allah. With respect to increasing participation, it is important that at least a few Sisters become involved to encourage others to join. One effective way, as seen in many campuses, is simply through personal contact. Open communication is essential in order to clear up any misunderstandings before they result in friction between the genders. In addition, it is important to have representation from both Brothers and Sisters (as well as international, indigenous students etc.) in the Executive so that decisions and plans are made which are sensitive to the needs and views of the entire MSA (in accordance with Islamic guidelines), not just one part of it.

One significant point which was brought up in the surveys is that Sisters and Brothers may be shy in dealing with each other. This is due, in part, to ignorance of the Islamic guidelines for interaction between the genders. By minimizing situations with both genders involved, one minimizes the possibility of unintentionally "crossing the line". Thus, it is important that we educate ourselves with respect to these guidelines so that all members of the MSA can contribute to the work involved to make its activities successful, Insha Allah.

If we look at society at the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and during the days of the early Muslims, it is obvious that Muslim women played an active role in societal affairs. We are all familiar with the story of the Muslimah who stood up in the mosque to challenge Umar (RAA) when he proposed to put a limit on the mahr. We say that women are given equal rights in Islam, and ALLAH has told us that we are all equal in HIS eyes. This was obvious in the early days of the why do we have this problem 1400 years later?


In the name of Allah, Most Gracious Most Merciful.

By (the Token of) Time
(through the Ages),
Verily Man is in loss.
Except such as have Faith,
And do righteous deeds,
And (join together)
In the mutual teaching of Truth,
And of Patience and Constancy.

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