Posted on May 30, 2019
By Bayan Fares
Women’s committees at masajid across the country have existed for years but more as informal-like “sister’s groups.” However, one such committee in Irving, Texas has changed the game by taking that format and formalizing it into something that is legitimately recognized by their community as a force for change - the Women’s Committee of the Valley Ranch Islamic Center (VRIC). Growing from two women planning a weekly series to being a group of seven elected members who plan more than 30 crowd-pleasing events throughout the year, the VRIC Women’s Committee is the backbone for female-tailored events in their area.
The work of the VRIC Women’s Committee serves as an example for how you can build this in your community too. To learn more about these women built such a strong and professional infrastructure, I sat down with committee member Sadaf Ahmed to talk about their events, sustainable structure and what motivates them to do this work.
L-R: Fouzia al-Amoodi, Sanober Khalilullah, Sahar Ayad, Zena Darwazeh, Minha Ahmed, Sadaf Ahmed; not pictured: Haya Sheriff
How did you become a part of the VRIC Women’s Committee?
The committee was started in 2012 by two resourceful women: Vice President of the Mosque Board Sahar Ayad and Sister Haya Sheriff. I joined the VRIC Women’s Committee in 2016. I was at a point in my life where I was a single woman who had just moved to Dallas, Texas and wanted to get more involved. I was invited by one of the founding members to join the committee, which led me to go through the application, interview and acceptance process.
We then hit the ground running, filling the calendar with community events.
Of course, the committee did not start out this way. Sister Sahar and Sister Haya actually started out by planning the “Wonderful Women’s Wednesday program,” a weekly Islamic class taught in Arabic and English. This smaller activity is what gave way for the growth of the women’s committee into what it is today.
One main attribute that I love about our committee is that it highlights how women are not hidden upstairs or in the basement. Rather, they are at the forefront of VRIC making sure everyone feels welcomed and feels a deep sense of community and belonging. Having a hand in that has been really beneficial for me and is a main reason I am proud to serve my community.
What do you think is your most successful event to date? What has been your favorite part?
The most successful event to date, in my opinion, is the Mother-Daughter Tea Party, because it shows how far the women’s committee has progressed. This event went from being an idea to give mothers and daughters a chance to bond to being an annual event that the community looks forward to.
My favorite part is being able to advocate for women and give them the space to do things for themselves they may not otherwise do. For instance, another program we plan is the women’s retreat. It was created as a getaway for women from their everyday routine where they could reconnect with themselves. Some women, particularly mothers, are hesitant to leave their families for a few days. But once they come together to pause from reality, the experience is rejuvenating for them and rewarding for me.
What kind of resources does the committee need to gather in order to successfully execute the larger-scale events?
The VRIC Women’s Committee takes pride in saying that we sustain ourselves financially and do not rely heavily on external factors for funding. We do this mainly by having a donation box at each event, as we usually do not make a profit from ticket sales for our events. We try to make events and opportunities accessible to the community so that each person may participate. We also have a wide network of support and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations.
VRIC attendees on a retreat.
Being brutally honest, do you face any obstacles in your community/masjid when trying to organize women’s events? Any conflict resolution tips?
Every group has its obstacles. What helps us persevere through them is the support of our Imam, Sheikh Yaser Birjas. It makes a huge difference to have his support, as it means we will have the community’s and board’s support as well.
Having different perspectives on the team also helps troubleshoot problems before they even exist. For us, that means having a grandmother, a single woman, a married woman with no kids, two mothers, and one niqabi on board. We all give valuable perspectives in different ways that are representative of all women in our community. We serve as each other’s support system as well, which is very important to note for anyone doing community work. Because, burnout is a reality.
If you could create a model to replicate this committee in other communities, what would that model look like?
1. Have the right intention. Know why and who you want to serve. Know what the needs of your community are and how best to address them.
2. Start small. Do not take on too much at once, it will only burn you out!
3. Have a strong and supportive team. It is important to find with members who have the same vision behind what you are all trying to achieve, and who create a safe space to support each other during burnout phases.
4. Start filling the calendar. Start with smaller bi-monthly or monthly events and then add on by creating events that target different groups of women in your community.
5. Be persistent. Obstacles will come about. Keep [problem solving] by trying something new or taking a different approach. This is important, because mosques need to understand that women matter and need their space for spiritual fulfillment as well as the men.
6. Be a historian! Document registration, promotions, sponsorships and marketing efforts to ensure your programs can continue to grow and flourish even when you are not there. [Documenting processes can help future members carry on and build on the work.]
As a community organizer, what are some things you’ve learned that you’d like to share with our readers?
No matter what type of work a person does in their community, they will hear the negative. People are quicker to complain than to compliment. Don’t let that get you down. Keeping renewing your intention and keep going. Your fruits of your labor may come at a whole other time, when you don’t even notice.
So, just keep going with the right intention. There will be times when you just don’t want to, where you start to question yourself and your work, but that is just a phase of burnout. All you have to do is reconnect with yourself, relax with family and then get back into the game.
Do you have any committees like VRIC’s Women’s Committee at your masjid? Let us know some of the events and projects you are working on!