These five articles are about the U.S. Muslim Leaders' Workshop, held in Parksville, New York, USA, in September 2014

The First RC Muslim Workshop

We made history this past weekend! It was a longtime dream of mine, since beginning RC seven years ago, to have a workshop for Muslims and kick off1 our Muslim liberation project. Thank you, Azi Khalili,2 for leading us in this important work. It was a pleasure to organize the workshop and be part of making it happen.

Finding the Muslim RCers was a project in itself. It is not easy for us to be open about who we are. Even within the relative safety of RC, we sometimes don’t bring up our real identity. That’s one of the ways that oppression affects us. Thank you to everyone for supporting all the Muslims in our RC Communities to get to the workshop. Being together was such a significant step!

A bit about me: I am a Muslim Pakistani woman with Afghani and Persian heritage. I was raised by a Sunni mother and a Sufi Sunni father. I consider myself a practicing Muslim. I came to the United States eight years ago for school.

There were twenty-one of us at the workshop, from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Although we shared a common religious background, our heritages and cultures were as diverse as they come.3 And some of us were practicing Muslims, and some were not. This was a good reminder of what our world is like, despite the usual one-size-fits-all images we see in the media.

We started Friday evening with four minutes each in front of the group to share our greatest hopes for the workshop and whatever feelings we had about being together as Muslims. That allowed us to feel connected right off the bat.4 A few of us prayed daily prayers in the main meeting room. That was a huge contradiction5 for everyone because in recent years praying publically has either not been safe or not felt safe.

The Saturday morning class was about remembering our own humanness and goodness and the goodness of our people. As with RC, a foundation of Islam is that humans are born good. And Islam also specifically says that whatever happens to people after their birth is because of the society around them, and that they continue to be good and can heal and change for the better throughout their lives.

We shared what we liked about Islam or being Muslims. Some of us talked about Islam’s anti-classism and anti-capitalism stance. Others mentioned its anti-slavery and women’s rights movements. A big piece of our culture and religion is the focus on community and our connection with each other, which is intelligently built into our practices through prayer, fasting, and celebrations. We also talked about Islam’s stance against addictions and for caring for our bodies and health.

In a powerful demonstration a client discharged about the disrespect and mistreatment directed at them because of being a Muslim. That helped me and others discharge heavily about the oppression in our lives. I screamed and yelled for my whole session.

I led a support group of practicing Muslim women. It was sweet to connect with each other and discharge our feelings of not being practicing enough or not the right kind of Muslim. We laughed a lot, and some of us had big sessions on sexism and male domination within our community. It is not easy for us to work on the effects of sexism and male domination without feeling bad and worrying that we are participating in reinforcing the prevailing stereotypes of Muslim men.

Later Azi talked about the history of colonization and imperialism in the Muslim countries of South, Southeast, Central, and West Asia, and Africa. The ongoing wars of the last hundred years in these regions have divided Muslims from each other and vilified us in the world. The objective of colonizers and imperialists is to take resources away from conquered regions. To do this they have made us feel bad about our cultures, languages, traditions, and religions so that we stay divided and powerless in the face of the oppression.

Azi encouraged us to remember our humanness and the humanness of all people and not let any oppression confuse us about any group, especially our Jewish sisters and brothers. For me it was important to remember that Jews and Muslims have had a long history of living together in peace and mutual respect; that helped me discharge my hopelessness about the current situation in West Asia. A big Jewish workshop was happening at the same site, and it was sweet to be together for meals and cheer each other on.

On Saturday evening I was on a panel of people who talked about the effects of 9/116 on their lives. People talked about the discrimination and racism that came at them as a result of everyone’s fear. I was outside the United States on 9/11, yet I was impacted in huge ways. Pakistan was bullied into supporting the war against Afghanistan, and it was (and is) traumatizing to witness and indirectly take part in the destruction of a people I respect and love.

The next day we did the most needed and important work. Azi had the African-heritage Muslims be on a panel and share their experiences with racism in the Muslim community. They couldn’t have done this groundbreaking truth telling if we hadn’t first built up our trust as fellow Muslims. Hearing their stories allowed me to discharge on my oppressor material7 and where I get confused about race and class. This was the first workshop at which I’d had huge sessions about my oppressor role, and it was because of the safety and non-judgmental environment. As a person of the global majority, I have a personal RC goal of ending racism among different oppressed races, but it can be hard to work on when I feel alone and terrified as a Muslim.

Also awesome were the early-morning (Fajr) group prayer, the best culture sharing ever, the language interpretation during the classes, and a big group nap in the middle of the day.

I look forward to another Muslim workshop in a year or so. Insha Allah!8

Salaam9 and love,

Nazish Riaz
Bedford, Massachusetts, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders
of South, Central, and West Asian-heritage people

1 “Kick off” means begin.
2 Azi Khalili is the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People and was the leader of the workshop.
3 “As they come” means as they could be.
4 “Right off the bat” means immediately.
5 Contradiction to distress.
6 “9/11” refers to the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., USA, on September 11, 2001.
7 “Material” means distress.
8 God willing, in Arabic.

A Deep and Precious Gift

Salaam (peace) to all.

I thoroughly enjoyed, like a dream come true (I could not believe it; my tears came down) a whole workshop just for Muslims. Especially when I saw two African-heritage sisters, as well as Muslim women from various countries, wearing their hijab.1 It was a deep and precious gift. I cry with joy and have hope for Muslim liberation.

Azi2 made the concepts, theory, and tools of RC clear while maintaining well the goal of our human connection and providing a safe space in which to discharge our hurts. She kept reminding us gently that we were not there to practice religion or discuss politics, even though lots of hurts had been caused by political issues. We focused on and discharged our hurt feelings. This was (and is) challenging.

My highlight was the panel of African-heritage Muslims. They shared their experiences of racism within the Muslim community. I have witnessed that racism and have felt helpless whenever it has happened. I am so relieved to see us working on the oppressor distresses that have damaged and confused us. There is lots of hope. We can heal from them by discharging.

I enjoyed being connected to younger RCers. I enjoyed my ride from Nazish3; we talked in our language, Urdu, which I do not usually have a chance to speak. I appreciate her hard work and intelligence.

Kadija Shaw
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders
of South, Central, and West Asian-heritage people

1 A hijab is a traditional scarf covering the head and neck that is often worn by Muslim women.
2 Azi Khalili, the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People and the leader of the workshop
3 Nazish Riaz, an RC leader in Bedford, Massachusetts, USA

 A Great Space to Feel Safe

The Muslim workshop was a great space for us all to feel safe and look at our hurts and hopes. I was impressed by the range of people and proud that we were a group from so many different backgrounds and races. That’s one thing I love about Islam: its diversity and appeal to people from all kinds of worlds.

I was struck1 by how many of us in that small group of about twenty had been directly affected by war. So many beautiful people’s lives (including mine) had been changed and messed up because of war, much of it due to colonialism and its aftermath, which continues to the present time.

Azi2 explained how imperialism’s focus has shifted in the last thirty years from East Asia to West Asia. Today Islam is under attack in the West. In the United States it seems okay to publicly demonize Muslims and say untrue things about our people in the media. Azi guided us to discharge on this huge hurt and work to make allies in our greater RC Communities. We can be visible and fight these dangerous forms of bigotry.

It was also great to have the racism panel, to become aware of our own racism and reflect on it so that we can embrace everyone without any barriers.

Persheng Vaiziri
New York, New York, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion lest for leaders
of South, Central, and West Asian-heritage people

1 “Struck” means impressed.
2 Azi Khalili, the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People, and the leader of the workshop.

My First All-Muslim RC Event

Thank you, Azi,1 for leading our first-ever Muslim workshop, and thank you, Nazish,2 for your wonderful organizing!

My father was raised Muslim in Iran. My brother’s wife is a practicing Muslim. I loved going to mosque in Iran with my aunt and sister-in-law, and I love the call to prayer.

The United States has been targeting Muslims in this country and also bombing countries with large Muslim populations. This has been scary and infuriating. The workshop was my first experience at an all-Muslim RC event. It was exciting but also difficult, since I am mixed heritage. Old feelings of not belonging were up3 and somehow hard to discharge.

Azi worked with those of us who are not practicing Muslims, and we looked at the feelings that come up around that. Panels about post-9/114 life for Muslims in this country and of African-heritage Muslims were meaningful for me, as was our work on racism within Islam. A highlight was spending time with such a diverse group, which included someone from Palestine and someone from Iran. I also enjoyed seeing an old student of mine (an observant Muslim) finally have a workshop that made prayer time a central activity. Congratulations to us!

Leyla Modirzadeh
Oxford, Mississippi, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders
of South, Central, and West Asian-heritage people

1 Azi Khalili, the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People
2 Nazish Riaz, an RC leader in Bedford, Massachusetts, USA
3 “Were up” means were being felt.
4 “9/11” refers to the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., USA, on September 11, 2001.

From a Muslim Man

To say the least, the first-ever Muslim liberation workshop was life changing for me. I have been in RC for three years and have had the luxury to attend about ten workshops. This one was different. This one was nascent and unchartered. And though there was so much to learn from and tell one another, the mere fact that it happened was a contradiction1 in and of itself.

Muslims have been targeted—they have been driven into hiding and separated from one another. It was eye opening to hear what it took2 to find the Muslims in RC and how many Muslims simply don’t declare themselves as such, even in RC.

The first thing that struck me3 at the workshop was the diversity of the group. A fellow participant said that it reminded her of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage in which Muslims from all corners of the world convene in Mecca (Saudi Arabia). Yes, it felt like that. Practicing, not practicing, and somewhere in between. Immigrant, Indigenous, and international. Straight and LGBTQF.4 We were all there to reclaim our connections with one another, and to share and learn from one another.

Where are the men? For much of the workshop I was the only guy there. It’s harder for men to stay in RC, even harder for men of the global majority, and harder still for Muslim men.

We Muslim men have lost our voices. We are all too aware of the fact that Gitmo5 is full of men. We have been driven to not stick our necks out,6 out of concern for ourselves, and our families who depend on us. It was striking how much more vocal the women on the 9/117 workshop panel were than the men. And in the wide world, it is Muslim women who are fighting for our liberation.

But our women are also targeted—for example, for the way they dress or the things they believe—and are subject to sexism and male domination. Stereotypes say that Muslim women are more subject to sexism than non-Muslim women, but the truth is that all women are targeted—the form of it just differs from place to place and culture to culture. It is racism when one type of sexism is branded as worse than another. All sexism is bad.

The Muslim community is not immune to racism against African American Muslims. It was apparent that our Community needs to work on this, and so we did. Azadeh8 led a panel on Sunday morning of African American Muslims. It was one of the most enlightening parts of the workshop! The immigrant and African American Muslim communities are largely separate and separated. But there are so many reasons to love one another, and doing so is part of our tradition. The Ansar welcomed the Muhajirs as they arrived in Medinah a little over fourteen hundred years ago.9 We get to reclaim that and take it back to our wide-world Muslim communities.


1 Contradiction to distress
2 “Took” means required.
3 “That struck me” means that I noticed.
4 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and formerly one of these
5 Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba—a U.S. naval base that since 2002 has contained a military prison for alleged “enemy combatants” captured in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places as part of the “war on terror”
6 “Stick our necks out” means take risks and be visible.
7 “9/11” refers to the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., USA, on September 11, 2001.
8 Azadeh (Azi) Khalili, the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People, and the leader of the workshop
9 When the Muslims immigrated to Al-Madinah, the prophet Mohammad established a caring connection between the Muhajireen (the immigrants from Makkah) and the Ansar (those Muslims already living in Al-Madinah). The Muhajireen were in need of assistance in order to start their lives over again, and establishing the connection between them and the Ansar was one of the first things Mohammad did in Al-Madinah. It was one of the cornerstones of building a healthy, strong, successful Muslim nation.

Last modified: 2017-04-06 23:03:41+00