Civic Engagement, Balancing Deen and Dunya

RISE hosted a panel discussion at Daybreak Global Press Bookstore featuring Dr. Hala Asamarai, Ilhan Omar, and Asma Mohammed Nizami. Asma is Indian, American and a millennial who studied Political Science and Legal Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul. During her time there, she was the president of the Muslim Student Association for all 4 years of her undergrad. After graduating, Asma worked on Senator Al Franken’s successful reelection campaign in Minneapolis. She has also been deeply involved in the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and other local movements. Her powerful story was inspirational to our younger girls, who look for role models working on justice and equity work.


Dr. Hala Asamarai is an Iraqi wife, mother of four, licensed teacher, and a dedicated educator. She works for Minneapolis Public Schools as an instructional specialist, has served on the school board of Global Academy and started Al-Huda Academy. She holds a Masters in teaching and a Doctorate in education and is working on her Principal license. She saw the racial tensions that were mounting towards Muslim students in Columbia Heights from staff, administration and students. And instead of being a bystander, Dr. Hala decided to step up and be the change she wanted to see. At the time of our event, Dr. Hala was running for a school board position in the Columbia Heights school district. She shared with us that during the campaign season, life felt like a juggling circus act but that her family understood and was supportive of her candidacy. They knew the impact she would have on the community.  Dr. Hala won and was elected to the Columbia Heights School Board!

Ilhan Omar is the Director of Policy & Initiatives at the Women Organizing Women (WOW) Network. She’s also running for MN House District 60B.  Ilhan is a Somali American, mother, wife, sister and activist. She is the first Muslim woman running for office in Minnesota. She is a beacon of light for all women of color, especially little Muslim girls. She is fighting for second chances, women equity, and creating a change that is transformational for our communities. Ilhan introduced the caucus to the group, explaining what it is and why Muslim women needed to show up on Super Tuesday.

After the panel discussion, the women broke out into small discussion groups answering questions like: How will you educate and engage yourself as a voter in this election year and bring others along? What issues concern you and how do you think you can impact them? In 2016, what can you do to increase the Muslim voice, perspective and presence in your community?

As the session neared its end, Sheikha Tamara Gray, a renowned female scholar, closed the discussion out by connecting faith, civic engagement, and responsibility. She expressed the concept of Zakat not being limited to our wealth, but paying Zakat on our time, resources, knowledge, and power. She addressed a room full of women on the importance of being active and engaged in our communities, citing examples of Muslim women leaders of the past – a message often hidden and forgotten in our contextual knowledge of Islamic history.

RISE’s goal is to increase the level of political and community engagement of Muslim.A few weeks later, RISE hosted a bipartisan caucus training.