Resilience and Resistance: The Story of Muslim Women For
When Muslim Women For (MWF) was a small but passionate volunteer-run group, MVP was the first large funder to support their civic engagement work. From that initial grant, MWF has grown into a key leader not only in the North Carolina ecosystem but the South and country as a whole doing capacity building programming for the entire ecosystem of BAMEMSA* led groups. They are an example of how outsized impact investing in under-resourced communities — deeply and consistently — can have as we move forward towards a multi-racial democracy that includes us all.
MVP connected with Lela Ali, Co-founder and Director of Policy and Programming at MWF, during the holy month of Ramadan to talk about the roots of their work and their journey that includes a deep commitment to community and their vision for a better world for Muslim women.
Read the full story below:
The story of Muslim Women For is one of resistance, love, community, and sisterhood. Seven years ago, I co-founded Muslim Women For with two of my best friends, Eiman Ali and Doha Medani, as student organizers fighting to protect democracy, immigrant justice, and our rights to the ballot box. We were grounded in the Islamic values of justice and liberation, the vision we have for a better world for Muslim women, and the history and resistance of our people. We recognized that Muslim women are often excluded from mainstream movements, spaces, and conversations about issues that impact us including bodily autonomy, policing and surveillance, gender-based violence, immigrant justice, voting rights, housing, and more.
In the backdrop, we existed in a North Carolina community that was grieving and processing a tragedy that left three of our community members killed because of anti-Muslim bigotry and white supremacy- Deah Barakt, Yusur Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. Our only option was to be in community, hold each other, and create our own space, led by and for Muslim women.
Our journey started with a simple idea – to share our stories and build a strong base by fostering and nurturing relationships with trusted messengers and community partners. For the first three years, we poured our hearts and souls into growing a pipeline of Muslim leaders and volunteers in North Carolina. We operated mostly on a volunteer basis, with small donations handed to us in letters from community members that believed in us, and what we like to call Baraka (divine blessing). Despite limited resources and funding, we didn’t give up. We met every single week for months to organize and host an organizing retreat that brought together Black and brown Muslim women across the state and created a pipeline of 60 Muslim women organizers.
2020 was an instrumental year for us at Muslim Women For with big challenges, new beginnings, and immense growth. With the support of MVP, we took a giant leap forward by hiring and training community organizers and launching a robust voter registration and GOTV campaign. We made history by leading the largest operation centering 33,000 Muslim voters in North Carolina, resulting in one of the highest Muslim voter turnouts in the country. We hosted four phone banking events, recruited and trained over 60 volunteers, and partnered with 19 masjids across the state. Our investment in building community relationships paid off, as we gained both community and political power across state and national levels including co-leading a national coalition with organizations like Muslims for Just Futures, HEART, Queer Crescent, CAIR Georgia, and SAALT to develop an issue-rooted voter guide to mobilize Muslims across the south and the midwest in the 2022 midterms.
Since 2019, MVP has trusted and invested in our vision to build power in Muslim communities, moving $344,000 toward Muslim Women For’s organizing work, and connecting us with key capacity building opportunities. MVP provided data tools that enabled us to track our growth and success, and training that was essential in building our infrastructure and a healing justice cohort to support our mental and emotional health. Thanks to MVP’s support and commitment to this work within our community, we’ve achieved unprecedented success in empowering Muslim communities across North Carolina.
As we approach our 7th anniversary in September, we reflect on our growth and accomplishments. Muslim Women For has expanded to 9 passionate people, with regional organizers expanding our work across the state. Today, we serve as a core group and voice in key coalitions working tirelessly to protect voting rights, immigrant justice, and reproductive freedom. But our vision doesn’t stop there. We are dreaming ourselves into a world where our communities have an abundance of resources and power to make sustainable, liberatory decisions.
We are grateful for the support that has allowed us to make such a meaningful impact. By donating to Movement Voter Project, you can help us continue this work that supports, connects, and amplifies groups like us that are locally rooted and driving change not just during election cycles, but all year round. Join us in dreaming big and creating a better future for Muslim women and their communities to feel safe, loved, and economically, emotionally, and spiritually liberated.
*BAMEMSA is a common acronym to connect and describe Black, African, Arab, Asian, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities that have been acutely impacted by post 9/11 discrimination, surveillance, and hate-based violence.
Lela (she/her) is the co-founder of Muslim Women For and currently serves as the Policy and Program Director, leading the advocacy and organizing efforts that support the organization’s vision and strategic goals. In all of her work, Lela aspires to create organizing and policy spaces that recognize and honor our communities.
Lela is an organizer who brings rich experiences in organizing and advocacy, with expertise in voting rights, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. Her approach to organizing is deeply rooted in her experience as an Egyptian-American, Muslim woman living in NC, and her commitment to building power in Muslim communities.