Akil Vohra, General Counsel of Muslim Advocates, recently visited Sakhi and spoke to staff and interns about the advocacy work on behalf of the Muslim community that is the center of the organization’s mission. The Muslim Advocates’ work can be encompassed by the catch-all term, “policy level change,” focusing on broad-level change at the local and federal levels in the post 9-11 world. Muslim charities face a special stigma and are under higher scrutiny than other charities in the United States. The problems of racial and religious profiling themselves have taken on the appearance of official U.S. policy in light of those tragic events in 2001 and it is crucial for our success as a community to address these problems. There is a strong link in the works that all non-profits serving our communities are engaged in, including Sakhi for South Asian Women and the Muslim Advocates.
The general public may hesitate to donate money to charities that serve the Muslim community given the American government’s broad-handed attempt to curtail what it labels “terrorist financing.” Non-profits such as Sakhi have long-confronted the damaging labels placed on Muslim communities as we address domestic violence, a problem that is all-pervasive and knows no religious or ethnic boundaries. We have seen sensational links being made in the media between Islamic terrorism and domestic violence. This confuses the core fact of the pervasive violence that exists against all women and it results in the demonization of one religion. As an anti-domestic violence agency in existence for more than twenty years Sakhi has been clarifying people’s perceptions on the topic: violence is not a manifestation of any one religion – it is prevalent everywhere where there is an imbalance of and abuse of power.
Muslim Americans in general also face great pressure to conform and sometimes modify certain religious practices such as dress in order to protect themselves from discrimination. The Muslim community is facing a negative impact on the practice of one of its pillars, “zaqat” or the giving of charity. International giving is down because of fears of giving to any country that has a noticeable Muslim population. This fear is naturally extended to domestic giving as well. Many Moslems hesitate in fulfilling their own religious obligation when trying to give to Muslim charities, for fear of government action. To tackle this problem, Muslim Advocates have partnered with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to establish an accreditation process for Muslim charities. This helps to alleviate the fears Americans have about giving to Muslim charities. This type of innovative thinking is what our communities need. Undoubtedly, Muslim charities will see a rise in giving as we see organizations take advantage of this accreditation.
Muslim Advocates also aims to strengthen Muslim non-profits by providing technical assistance and various trainings on governance and best finance practices. Both as individual Muslims and as community-based organizations serving the Muslim population, organizations such as Sakhi, face increased scrutiny based on public and government fears and pre-conceived notions. Promoting charities to adapt sound governance emphasizes the importance in our communities of gaining public trust through transparency.
Many of the women Sakhi serves are Muslim. Muslim women face barriers that are unique to them. It is necessary for an agency that provides culturally and linguistically appropriate services to raise awareness about these services in our communities so that they become accessible. Simply stated, we, as community-based organizations must let all communities, including the Muslim non-profit sector, know of our presence. Muslim Advocates discussed the importance of connecting with other organizations that are like-minded so that we can help each other achieve our missions. They invited Sakhi to attend a conference on March 6, 2010 entitled “Legal & Financial Educational Seminar for Muslim 501 (c)(3) Nonprofits and Mosques” in order to learn to better manage our organization, and to connect with other nonprofits serving the Muslim community. Sakhi was proud to be one of the attendees there for support in the community.
Islam teaches the one-ness of all Muslims regardless of individual races and nationalities. Without this togetherness, the entire community suffers. As non-profits serving the Muslim community, participating in events like the Muslim Advocates’ conference promotes the intersectionality of our work. We must build bridges among many partners to provide unified fronts against common goals. When one woman suffers domestic violence, it is not only the family that suffers, but the whole community. Therefore, we must take a community approach – one that is inclusive and cross-cutting in order to not just promote an end to violence against women in the Muslim community or the South Asian community, but to promote social change in general that advances all our hopes and dreams.
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