Finding our Voices: A Reflection on the WISE Public Speaking and Leadership Workshop

By Neghena Hamidi

Violence, bigotry and hate crimes have become a norm for Muslim women living in America. It's to a point where our actions are determined by what society may think. "Should I raise my voice? Or will that make me sound angry? Should I defend myself or will people think Muslims are violent? Should I wear hijab or will people think I'm oppressed?" Every decision post 9-11 is a constant walk on eggshells to prove to people Muslim women identify as strong women.

On November 28, WISE hosted a public speaking workshop and forum on being a Muslim woman in America.  Naomi Eisenberg, a competitive public speaker who is well equipped to train young women confidently in front of others, led the girls in a series of exercises in their public speaking skills. The workshop began with the sentence, "I use my voice to..." Every girl stepped up towards the middle, awkwardly saying what they use their voice for. We held our tongues, we practiced with tongue twisters, we walked in a circle, and we threw some punches to emphasize what we use our voices for. We sat down, said it again, but we were stronger, we were more confident and we were more sure of ourselves.

One participant Mohammadee Bhaiyat elaborated on her experiences after the workshop.

Participant Mohammadee Bhaiyat taking part in the discussion on "Identity" led by Darakshan Raja 

Participant Mohammadee Bhaiyat taking part in the discussion on "Identity" led by Darakshan Raja 

“I walked in thinking, it would be just like any other event, but i was wrong. I walked in feeling just ordinary, and left feeling extra ordinary. I felt empowered, motivated and growing more passionate to attain my goals. Being around such inspiring strong muslim women was exactly what i needed especially due to recent events. It’s a great feeling knowing that your accepted, welcomed, and embraced wholeheartedly and unconditionally among others that you just met literally 10 mins ago.”
— Mohammad Bhaiyat


Following the workshop we had a discussion led by community organizer, Darakshan Raja, who is the Program Manager at the Washington Peace Center. The discussion was an opportunity to create a safe space for Muslim women to answer a very simple but personal question. "What do you identify as?"  We identify as a lot of things, but with each label we put on ourselves there is a struggle. We try to identify as Muslims, but even practicing our faith is scrutinized by community members or society. We try to identify with our culture, but sometimes our culture was the main reason we had a struggle finding ourselves. We try to identify as an American, but even with identifying as an American we are deemed as too traditional, too oppressed and too misunderstood. Many of our participants expressed how hopeful they felt after connecting with other Muslim women with similar narratives.

 

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Every time I go to a WISE event or meeting, I walk in with burn out but walk out with hope, inspiration, and light that fills the air and my soul.
— Susie Abdelghafar

 


Our identities as Muslim women in America is undefined. It changes as the climate surrounding Muslims change. Only when we finally feel safe we will  be comfortable with our identities, but for now, many of us will remain undefined but powerful in our voices.

The workshop ended with a good note. We all embraced each other for sharing our stories. We promised each other that WE as Muslim women will break the wall of systematic bigotry and hate that has been so normalized. We will struggle 99 times just for our Muslim women to make it on her hundredth. We are WISE Women.