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Celebrating the Power of (Muslim) Women

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Quick Question: What do you get when you assemble 250 women in one room? Answer: Sheer energy! Yes, that would aptly describe the very sold out, much buzzed about, inaugural Muslim Women's Alliance (MWA) brunch at the Westin in suburban Lombard recently.

The fledgling MWA is the brainchild of Anisha Patel, who in 2007 saw the need to build a strong alliance between women so that they may implement the values of Islam by promoting community service, fostering philanthropy, and realizing personal development.

"Growing up In Malawi and South Africa I had seen Muslim women's groups do a tremendous amount of charity and community service work," says Patel. " I founded the Muslim Ladies Club in Malawi and when I moved to the States I looked extensively for a similar group and was surprised not to find one. I saw a need and knew that when Muslim women pooled their energy and creativity so much good will come out of this endeavor."

Giving her dream wings was an able and dedicated board that saw the MWA as a platform for women to do good while harnessing their nurturing quality to better themselves and their communities. The organization would encourage members to tap into "collective wisdom and expertise, find unity in our diversity as Muslims, empower women and develop leadership skills." Membership, however, is open to women of all faiths.

"Yes, we can! Yes, we will," sang the very air as Muslim women took to the stage to share their talent. There was artist and architect Ms. Uzma Mirza , photojournalist Sadaf Syed, and comic Jameeleh Shelo, creator of the one-woman sketch comedy show, My American Cousin.

Besides this amazing line up, what had churned up so much interest in the brunch in the days preceding the event was the call for nominations for inspiring women, ladies who lived the MWA ideals. Among the many nominations received, yours truly was one of them!

"The idea of having a women's gathering to launch MWA has been marinating for a couple of years, and this year we were able to finally get it going as the MWA organizational structure has been developed further. We wanted to award women who showed high qualities of philanthropy, community service, and personal development to recognize these amazing Muslim Women for their tremendous work, to make the community aware of these amazing role models so that we can all learn from them and be inspired to do good work as well," says Patel. Via the post-event survey, attendees gave a 98% satisfaction rating to the over all event!

I was honored to accept my award as one of three recipients of the MWA Inspiring Woman Award, along with Sammer Ghouleh, founder and president of Spirit magazine, a publication for diverse women, Ms. Nia Odeoti- Hasan, who is with the Illinois State Senate Democratic Caucus as a Policy Analyst for the Senate Public Health Committee and the Senate Environment Committee. It had to be one of the proudest, and yet humbling, days of my life.

It was a privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ms. Nia Odeoti - Hasan from Springfield and Oak Lawn resident Ms. Ghouleh, an artist, poet and author, who uses words to battle prejudice and negative stereotypes.

The winner of national and international awards, Ms. Ghouleh has worked as a motivational speaker since 1987. Her book, the award winning Treasured Misfortunes, has left countless readers spell bound and deeply touched. Sold on Amazon, a majority of the proceeds are donated to the Spina Bifida Association.

The next recipient of the MWA Inspiring woman award was Ms. Nia Odeoti- Hasan. During her almost 28 years of service, she has received numerous awards for her work performance and community service. In 2001, she was presented the Abu Saud Excellence Award by the American Muslim Council in Alexandria, Virginia in recognition of her political advocacy for Muslim causes. In 2006, the Illinois State Senate paid tribute to her services by awarding her a proclamation. In 2007 and 2008, Odeoti- Hasan was recognized by the Illinois Women Legislative Network for her service to the Illinois State Senate.

Odeoti- Hasan has a front row seat in viewing important legislation that affects our communities and has been instrumental in encouraging Muslim involvement in the legislative process. She also finds time in her hectic schedule to serve as a board member for IMAN Inner City Muslim Action Network and is an active member of many other organizations. She also established the first Muslim Girl Scout troop in Springfield, IL which gave Muslim girls the opportunity to serve their community while strengthening their identities as Muslims. Her accomplishments fill up pages. For this and more she was considered a role model, inspiring us to do more about the causes we believe in.

I was the final recipient of the MWA Inspiring Woman Award. "One of the initiatives that is near to her heart is the refugee assistance program which provides support to Muslim and non-Muslim families who have been forced to flee their countries and to seek asylum in the United States," said Sabina Qadir, the MC that afternoon. I was both humbled and honored by this award. Honored that people had found me worthy of this nomination. Humbled because I know that the best of my intentions would mean nothing if it hadn't been backed by my community's consistent donations and moral support.

As elated as I was to be receiving the award, being my brother's keepers is a reward in itself. It has given meaning and purpose to my life. My volunteering is also about knowing that, as a Muslim and a human being, Allah expects no less of me.

In Sura Rahman of the Quran, Allah mentions his signs - the food we eat, our days and nights, the oceans and the seas and then asks, "Which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" The question is repeated 31 times. Yes. Which are his favors can we deny?

He will ask us to account for how we used the peace and prosperity he has blessed us with, He will ask us what we did with our good health, He will ask us how we put our ability to read and write towards making His earth a better place to live in. Or how we thanked him for the hot water that runs through our taps. All these are luxuries for most people in the world.

He will ask us how we thanked him for the fact that our children don't cower in fright when they hear a plane go by or that they go to bed each night, without crying themselves to sleep because they're hungry and there's no food to eat.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will be asked to account for how we showed our thanks for His blessings. Volunteering is my way of trying to be answerable to God. I pray that He accepts it.

As I mentioned to the audience that day, nobody can do everything but everyone can do something. As they say, action springs not from thought, but from readiness for responsibility. If each of us made a commitment to one or two instances of volunteering a month, how much lighter the worlds burdens would be. And to make that a reality, volunteering cannot be viewed as a choice. Rather it is a responsibility and bearing it well, that is what will make all the difference.