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Muslim Women Gather At First-Ever Kennedy School Summit

By Kristine E. Guillaume, Crimson Staff Writer

Fifty Muslim women leaders gathered at the Kennedy School Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to discuss Islamophobia and the role of Muslim women in society at the first-ever National Muslim Women’s Summit.

Co-sponsored by the Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment and the Kennedy School, the summit kick-started a fellowship program for the women, and delegates brainstormed ideas to implement and continue the event’s mission elsewhere. According to Rana Abdelhamid, a Kennedy School student who organized the event, the idea for a Muslim women’s summit came before President Donald Trump was elected, but following the election, the need for it increased.

Abdelhamid added that a main goal of the fellowship was to empower young Muslim women to be “agents of change” across the world and “create a more sustained network and sisterhood of Muslim women.”

Noor E. Sulaiman said she found the event empowering.

“I have been feeling very vulnerable lately as a Muslim woman and I wanted to get more tools to fight for people like me—to fight for Muslims, Arabs, and people of color in America today,” she said.

The summit offered workshops and speeches from activists geared toward building skills for successful activism, including workshops on fundraising and attracting an audience. Delegates brainstormed projects such as documenting the history of the hijab and the Muslim tradition of covering skin.

Speakers from across Harvard, including History and Literature lecturer Timothy P. McCarthy '93 and Ignacio Ibarzabal, a Kennedy School teaching fellow, delivered presentations on creating effective narratives to gain attention and enact change.

Haifa F. Al Kaylani, a fellow at the Business School and the founder and chairman of the Arab Women’s International Forum, a nonprofit that looks to empower female-led Arab businesses, spoke at the event about how to build and gain support from an audience.

In her speech, Al Kaylani encouraged delegates not to “take no for an answer” and commended the conference for fostering an environment for Muslim women to connect with each other.

Bushra Hamid ’20, who also helped organize the event, explained that the summit’s organizers aimed to congregate a group of diverse women from around the world to collaborate on making change. Hamid said organizers intend to follow the fifty delegates’ progress throughout the next year.

“They already have so many inspiring ideas,” she said. “The next step is staying in touch with these women.”

Hamid also said she hopes to expand the summit outside of Harvard in the future.

“We want to take the summit to other cities, not just Boston. We saw how successful it was at Harvard University. It can be successful elsewhere,” she said. “For now, I want to stay involved and grow this summit and potentially partner up with other organizations who do these conferences.”

Abdelhamid, who is from Queens, N.Y., intends to bring the summit to her hometown over the summer.

“This is part of a longer term vision I have of what it means to empower the young Muslim woman,” she said.

—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at kristine.guillaume@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.

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