This profile was last updated in 2005
The North American Council for Muslim Women (NACMW) is a non-profit organization devoted to enriching the knowledge of Muslims about women in Islam and society. Founded in February 1992 by 150 multi-ethnic Muslim women of all ages, NACMW carries out its work in the categories of education, legislation, advocacy and policy.
NACMW’s priority is to educate Muslim women about their faith. Women are encouraged to gather weekly for study of the Qur’an and discussion of issues that affect their lives. This education serves as the foundation for women’s empowerment in decision making, both within the Muslim community and in mainstream society. NACMW strongly encourages Muslim women to be involved in public school education and in politics, providing training and mentoring on public speaking, self-confidence, organizational skills, interfaith work, conflict resolution and stress reduction.
NACMW also seeks to educate the public on Islam and cultural awareness through outreach to academia, religious organizations, government, medical, and other public and social service agencies. NACMW employs its vast network and speakers’ bureau in order to connect people and organizations. For example, NACMW assisted National Public Radio in its series about Muslim women and often assists various Islamic Studies and Women’s Studies departments around the country with curriculum development.
Post September 11, 2001
After September 11, 2001 NACMW became particularly vocal in educating the public, dispelling stereotypes of Islam while defending the civil liberties of Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities. NACMW Founder and former President Sharifa Alkhateeb, was also a member of the Muslim roundtable at the State Department, was among those present for President Bush’s visit to the Islamic Center in Washington DC on September 17, 2001. On behalf of the organization, she was outspoken about the discrimination experienced by Muslim women, particularly those who wear hijab (headscarf) – in the workplace and in society at large, and was candid about the fear in which many Muslims live, especially after the FBI raids of Muslim households and businesses in Virginia in late 2001.
With regard to legislative work, NACMW runs diversity trainings and provides liaisons to the White House, the State Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services. NACMW actively participates in a variety of coalitions, such as the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, and others around issues of religious freedom in the workplace, child soldiers, and trafficking of women and girls. The organization also helps to craft legislation, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), and seeks to create a space of dialogue on issues relevant to Islamic law and women’s rights.
Advocacy and Policy Work
NACMW does advocacy and policy work on behalf of women. Within the Muslim community, one advocacy issue is women’s leadership. In the greater society, workplace discrimination against women, particularly those who wear hijab, is another. (In the past, NACMW has collaborated with Christian and Jewish women’s groups on this issue.) In 1993 NACMW was the first Muslim organization to publicly address the issue of violence against women and children. NACMW is also represented on the program advisory committee of the FaithTrust Institute, a multi-faith, multicultural organization that works “together to end sexual and domestic violence.” In addition to sponsoring seminars for educators and legislators on these advocacy issues, NACMW has made legal referrals and provided culture-specific counseling and crisis intervention for the women it serves.
NACMW encourages interfaith work at all levels. Members are urged to participate in local efforts. NACMW sets the example by participating in interfaith networks, such as the FaithTrust Institute and the Pluralism Project’s Women’s Networks in Multi-Religious America at Harvard University. It also sponsors various interfaith events and conferences, including Two Sacred Paths: Christianity and Islam, held at the National Cathedral in 1999.
Since the passing of Sharifa Alkhateeb in October of 2004, NACMW is undergoing reorganization and is currently housed in the building of Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights in Washington, DC.
Peaceful Families Project
From 1998 to 2000, NACMW former President Sharifa Alkhateeb conducted a national survey on domestic violence within Muslim families, confirming that domestic violence occurs in 10% of Muslim homes. Though similar to the rate found in the general public, she concluded that certain cultural impediments prevent Muslim women from seeking help as often as their counterparts. “Even though abused women from all types of ethnic or religious backgrounds might experience shame in admitting they are being abused and seeking help, Muslim women often feel they are betraying their communities when they seek help,” Alkhateeb said. With a grant from the FaithTrust Institute, and funding from the Department of Justice Violence Against Women Office, she was able to begin the Peaceful Families Project (PFP) in 2000.
The purpose of PFP is to systemically change attitudes about domestic violence, dispelling the cultural impediments that prevent women from seeking help, and creating an environment of prevention. PFP seeks first to create a context where domestic violence can be openly discussed, and where awareness of violence can be raised. This is accomplished by providing training in peaceful family dynamics, based on the Qur’an and practice of the Prophet Muhammad. PFP also provides training in understanding Islamic marriage contracts, which are equivalent to pre-nuptial agreements, and the importance of including expectations of a peaceful home within them.
Participants in these trainings include Muslim professionals, activists, public domestic violence agencies, Imams (religious leaders), community leaders, law enforcement officials, and the general public. Imams and law enforcement officials are offered specific cultural sensitivity training related to Muslim women’s experience of domestic violence. Trainings have occurred in San Francisco, Atlanta, New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Chicago; the project is supported by partnerships with Muslim organizations in each city. Additionally, PFP has developed protocols for the Muslim community and its leaders; for public women’s shelters; and for courts and law enforcement.