What does it take to rise together? Nausheena Hussain, the co-founder and executive director of a new platform addressing leadership development in her Muslim community, works every day to answer that question. Following Nausheena around during a typical day, Kate Downing Khaled and Fatuma Mohamud capture exactly what it takes.
It’s nothing fancy. But it didn’t exist before Nausheena rolled up her sleeves with her community to build it a few years ago. She now serves on their Board of Directors. Because of Nausheena, the Brooklyn Park Islamic Center (BPIC) is one of the few mosques in Minnesota that requires balanced gender governance.
When I arrive, the room is dark, abandoned and silent. Prayers are scheduled to start in fifteen minutes. I call her to see if I’m in the wrong place. I ask, “Is this normal?”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
Within minutes, Nausheena arrives flanked by her husband, Imtiaz, her teenage daughter, Arshia, and her son, Ayaz. There’s no time to talk. All four go to work unrolling carpets and welcoming guests. Within moments of her arrival an entire community of more than seventy congregants have arrived for jum’ah prayers. As she floats around the room, I follow her with questions while our photographer snaps candid shots.
I ask her obvious questions like, “How do you juggle? When do you rest?” She answers as she works…
“Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough!”
Finally, after a few minutes, Nausheena turns to me with playful impatience: “Can I pray now?” As she sits in worship, on the carpet remnant she unrolled herself, it is the only time in the entire day I see her sit still.
As prayer ends on this record-high sunny July day, we move to the courtyard for portraits and questions.
Nausheena wears a purple hijab and a tailored black dress. On her feet she wears adidas-style athletic sandals. She doesn’t have time to be uncomfortable. Nausheena—BPIC mosque board member, Bush Fellow, Democratic National Convention delegate, nonprofit founder, former deputy director of CAIR-MN, and mother of two impressive young people—is on a mission.
Her mission, and the mission of her new nonprofit, Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood of Empowerment (RISE), is to amplify the voice and power of Muslim women.
As we snap photos, I hold her phone. Nausheena is waiting for a call from the mayor of Brooklyn Park in light of a recent anti-Muslim incident that occurred at a nearby intersection.
“I’m scared to think about what it would be like if we weren’t engaging. We need to make sure people see Muslims as part of our community and not as the other.”
Her work doesn’t end in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Later, we sit in the green room at Twin Cities PBS where she waits to share the story of RISE with all of Minnesota on camera with Twin Cities Almanac.
“I’m nervous,” she admits. Nervous sometimes—but always determined. She gets over her nerves quickly and soon we’re immersed in energetic conversation.
“The thing about democracy,” she shares with excitement, “is the ones that show up actually make all the decisions.”
Nausheena says it’s time for Muslim women (and all women, really) to show up.
“Someone once told me that you want to be at the table, or else you’ll be on the menu. Well, Muslim women need to be both at the table and on the menu. Because the menu is policy and policy had better include me.” Building power for Muslim women has taken her all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. And like the women she mentions, her home life and work life are completely intertwined.
Family life is a team effort.
“At home, somebody is loading the dishwasher, somebody is making the salad. Everyone pitches in. Yesterday Arshia and Ayaz made pancakes with marshmallows for dinner. Meals are important in terms of sitting down together, not necessarily in terms of what we eat.”
That demonstration of simplicity guides Nausheena. She doesn’t let traditional roles or unachievable expectations get in the way of action.
“It’s 2:27, I have to be somewhere in three minutes,” she says with a smile. It’s time to keep moving.
2016 is the year of civic engagement for Nausheena and RISE.
“Twenty-four percent of Muslims aren’t registered to vote. That’s the highest compared to any other faith. We are trying to bridge that gap and show how community engagement works for real women. We need Muslim women to see themselves in all the different types of community leaders that are out there.”
Nausheena is the living, reflective, and relatable example communities crave. Anyone who meets her—even once—can see that she’s the humble engine powering her organization’s catapulting impact. To demonstrate democracy by and for Muslim women, RISE recently held a caucus training.
“Women not only showed up, but they were bringing their daughters, they were bringing their husbands, they were bringing their parents. [Women] have this great ripple effect. They weren’t just showing up, they began participating. When it came time to caucus, we found they were casting ballots; they were writing resolutions and becoming delegates.”
And like the women Nausheena references, she isn’t here to lead alone. Her Bush Fellowship is helping her recognize that a traditional hierarchical leadership model isn’t what works for women or for her community. She’s bringing her daughter along while lifting up her peers.
“Women are not competitive in the sense that we need to get things done alone. In fact, we want to get things done and take others along with us. There’s power in that. We need to let that loose.”