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Muslim Hill Day Highlights the Growing Role of Arab American Women Superstars

posted on: Apr 3, 2019

Muslim Hill Day Highlights the Growing Role of Arab American Women Superstars
By: Hamza Khan/Arab America Contributing Writer
Iman Awad quietly contemplates her next move as she stands with a cadre of rising youth leaders from across Maryland in the cavernous hallway of a Federal Senate Building. An aide for a senior Democratic senator has just flaked on a meeting. The Egyptian American is slightly bewildered but undaunted–this has never happened before, but the meeting was supposedly put together by a junior colleague from another organization. Without batting an eye, she flips out her smartphone and emails a senior staffer for the Senator. Within minutes, a national party functionary and Senate aide emerge from the office with a sole question: “Where is she? We don’t do this to Iman.”
 
Welcome to the second annual Muslim Hill Day on Capitol Hill. Ahlan Wa Sahlan to the rising clout of Arab America.
 
Awad belongs to a rising class of Arab and Muslim activists dominating the federal political scene. An eight-year veteran of the smoky backroom deals of Maryland politics, she comes with a honey-sweet, outward demeanor that betrays what more than one political veteran calls her “iron lady” reputation. She works for an up and coming political organization, Emgage, which has worked to highlight Muslim American issues in electoral politics. Emgage has a full roster of power-house women from across the country working on their staff, as do several other prominent Muslim organizations.
 
Take for instance CAIR’s Danette Zaghari-Mask, also of Maryland. Known affectionately by some as “the big D”, Zaghari-Mask is an attorney for CAIR with a background in grassroots organizing and non-profit compliance. In meeting after meeting, Awad and Zaghari-Mask tag-teamed with their fellow Marylander, Hannah Dasoo, to highlight bills of important value to Maryland’s otherwise electorally-voiceless Muslim community.

Muslim Hill Day

The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO held its fifth annual National Muslim Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 1-2, 2019. The event drew hundreds of Muslim delegates from across the nation like in previous years, this two-day event is open to representatives of all national, state and local Muslim organizations and communities. The event is designed to connect national, regional and state Muslim organizations, community members with their elected representatives in Congress.

A big push this year has been to put forward the voices of Arab American millennial women, highlighting the ongoing fallout of Donald Trump’s increasingly hostile attitude towards the two Muslim freshmen congresswomen elected in last year’s groundswell midterms. Other rising women stars hitting the pavement on the Hill today included Nada Al-Hanooti, the executive director of Emgage’s Michigan office, as well as Aisha Ahmed, another Emgage staffer.

The Gathering Storm

After years of facing tacit Islamophobia in the political system, Trump’s Muslim Ban has inspired a growing movement of Muslims to seek out both careers in advocacy as well as in politics. Last year in Maryland, yours truly helped coordinate efforts for over two dozen Muslim candidates to run in Maryland, and as we speak countless candidates are seeking a chance to represent their fellow citizens across the Potomac in Northern Virginia. Efforts to curtail Muslim candidates appeal by both political parties have begun to backfire in the wake of tragedies like the Christchurch massacre.

To be sure, Arab and Muslim American organizations have been quietly building capacity for over a decade. Efforts by the Arab American Institute, Emgage, CAIR, MPAC, and others have taken time to come together as Arabs and Muslims slowly woke up to the realization that without a voice in politics, their communities were exposed to increasing structural Islamophobia and anti-Arab bigotry.

That’s where women like Awad have come into play. Having worked for former presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley for the better part of a decade as a liaison with Middle Eastern communities, Awad’s rise to become the national legislative director for Emgage isn’t a fluke. Awad, like many of her colleagues, has years of policy and political experience that make them perfect ambassadors to Capitol Hill.  

Leading the growing band of Muslims seeking to prove their worth and earn their salt as the voices of New America are women like Zaghari-Mask, Dasoo, Awad, Ahmed, and Al-Hanooti. Young, diverse and committed to realizing the American dream for their co-religionists and fellow Americans of immigrant heritage, these are the women to watch for an exciting new future for Arab & Muslim America. Insha’Allah.

 

Hamza Khan is a Democratic Strategist and former candidate for office from Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @HamzaSKhan.