HOUSTON, Texas – The time for women, it seems, is now.
“Women are kind of ‘in’ right now,” Nadeen Mustafa told AboutIslam.net.
As executive director of Taiba, a fledgling non-profit organization based in Houston, Texas, and aimed at empowering and serving the practical and emotional needs of vulnerable Muslim women, Mustafa should know.
“I believe women are the most underutilized resource in our society, as mothers, as working capital, as friends,” she said.
“(In masjids and in the Muslim community) we’ve invested in the youth, in programs for men, but we haven’t put enough into women’s programming.”
Leadership structures in mosques are also lacking in women’s involvement, she said.
“There have been few efforts to create sisters committees, and there is overwhelming male leadership at masjids,” Mustafa said. “They haven’t yet mastered diversity.”
Mustafa, who has teamed with Suzanne Itani, the founder, and president of Taiba, plans to change that, and for good reason.
“Once women are involved in society, things get done,” she declared.
Itani, a Mississippi native and convert to Islam, is a long-time philanthropist, but with the creation of Taiba – which refers to the city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia – she envisions an opportunity to connect with and positively impact at-risk Muslim women, particularly immigrants and refugees.
“Taiba can be a large part of the renewal of the spirit of sisterhood,” she said.
“Integration into our community can be difficult because even though we share so much we are still different in many ways. We have different cultures, different languages, and different experiences.”
Itani said these differences can create hurdles that are difficult to overcome, which is especially damaging to vulnerable communities such as the ones identified by Taiba.
“All these differences can lead us to feel disconnected from others, even those who share our beautiful faith, and this affects us as neighbors, as family members, and as sisters,” she said.
Mustafa, a Houston native who holds a masters degree in International Affairs in Economic and Political Development from the prestigious Columbia University in New York City, said, to ensure effective programming, the Taiba team visited several Houston-area mosques and spoke directly to women they met.
“We did a community-needs assessment, set up meetings with the women there and asked them what they need and what strengths (their community of women) have,” Mustafa said, adding many they spoke to expressed frustration at what they perceive as a lack of services for Muslim sisters and a gratefulness that someone was finally paying attention and investing in that community’s needs.
From there, the team developed its programming, which includes training and social events.
“We hold training on self-love, training on stress-management techniques, conflict resolution, and effective communication, and we have a mentorship program and we do an ESL (English as a Second Language) program in the homes of women who can’t travel or need childcare,” she said.
But the group also strives to serve emotional needs, as well.
“There’s the need in the community to fight isolation or to help them to figure out where they need to send their children to school,” Mustafa said. “(For these women) we want to be like a friend who’s been around for a long time.”
Both those served and those who want to pitch in have responded well. Mustafa said the group has attracted approximately 40 volunteers who, so far, have contributed more than 500 hours to helping organize and execute events.
“We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response and feedback,” Mustafa said.
“We have about 350 women in our database who have attended our events and our launch event attracted 150 women. We also have emails for over 1,000, and that’s been collected only in a matter of months, and we anticipate those numbers to grow significantly in the next year.”
To meet the growing need, Itani said Taiba is hoping to raise $180,000 in 2018 with $50,000 of that collected in the year’s first quarter. However, if recent donations are any indication – $300,000 raised in initial funding since May 2017 – the group should meet that goal easily.
To make sure, Itani recruited well-known and respected Muslim community leaders to the Taiba leadership, including Taiba board vice president Joe Bradford, an Islamic scholar and ethical investments adviser. She’s also invested in continuing education for her colleagues.
“(Mustafa) is being sponsored in a course through the Rice Center of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership Program, and we are working with a nonprofit consultancy group to ensure Taiba establishes a foundation for best practice fundraising techniques,” she said.
With the new year nearly here and a host of challenges ahead, Mustafa and Itani are excited about the potential for growth and development for underserved Houston Muslim women.
“Our programming is based on the theory that if women have the skills and a shared sense of empowerment with men then they can make changes not just in their lives but also in their communities,” Mustafa said. “(Our training and programming) is aimed at transformative, systematic change.”
For more information about the organization, visit www.taiba-usa.org.