Muslim’s Digest exclusive
As adults, we often tend to overlook the challenges our children face, as they grow up in the present times. As Muslim parents, we often fail to understand that these challenges and hostilities are much tougher for our children, as they grow up in conflicting environs, in the midst of countless pressures and temptations, all the while being pressurized into living their ‘Muslim’ lives.
There have been several sincere efforts among Muslims in the West – small and big – to address the problems of Muslim youth and to prepare them for success in both worlds. Some of these initiatives have stood the test of time, touching and transforming the perspectives and attitudes of Muslim youth in a positive way. At the same time, there are many which failed miserably, either because they failed to understand the actual needs of young Muslims, or because they used the wrong methods and techniques to engage with Muslim youth.
It was a sincere desire to do something for the Muslim youth, especially the young sisters, which laid the foundation of ‘Daughters of Eve’ (DoE), a first-of-its-kind movement focusing on young Muslim women, which started in 2012 in Portland, the largest city in the American state of Oregon. Today, DoE continues to educate and engage young Muslim girls in a very effective way, infusing in them a strong Islamic foundation, at the same time, empowering them to face day-to-day challenges as students, professionals and family members. The organization has not only been helpful in giving them the right knowledge, but it also establishes among them a strong sense of sisterhood traversing the barriers of nationality, culture and background. Some key factors which have made DoE a success is that they are led by a young team, they make sure to ‘listen’ to the youth and communicate with them in a language they understand.
Muslim’s Digest spoke to DoE’s Founder and Director, Ms. Nura Elmagbari in an e-mail interview, to learn more about the organization, its origin, ideals, activities and impact.
The origins of ‘Daughters of Eve’
“Daughters of Eve was formed after noticing a disturbing trend in my community that I have seen in so many other communities in America. This was the lack of attention placed on Muslim girls with regards to community efforts,” says Nura Elmagbari. Growing up in America, she says she always saw the boys get to go to the Masjid, hang out with friends and participate in so many community activities, but the girls were always left behind to figure things out on their own. “Although this created many resilient girls, like myself, it did not come at a low cost. The lack of support for many Muslim girls has led them to stray from their religion and some go as far as to leave Islam all together,” she explains.
Nura felt she had to do something about this exclusion experienced by Muslim girls. She initiated Daughters of Eve as a platform to get more girls in the community involved in different activities, as well as to create different opportunities for girls and show them that they are important and wanted.
One of the best things about DoE which helped it resonate with young girls was that it gives the girls a safe space to learn, have fun and bond at the same time. DoE not only instills in them Islam’s concept of sisterhood, but also educates them about the world we live in and the ways to succeed in this world as a Muslimah and Daughter of Eve.
Dealing with Teenage Girls
From her many years of experience mentoring Muslim teens, Nura feels they are no different than other teens in that they face drama and challenges that come with age, hormonal changes, school etc. “But Muslim teens have the added pressures and stress of trying to maintain their Islamic identity. DoE tries to address these challenges through open and honest dialogue and creating safe spaces for girls to talk about and share their experiences,” she elaborates on the underlying philosophy of the group.
Nura admits that dealing with teenage girls can be challenging at times, yet she says it’s one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. “Teenage girls are filled with energy and hope, they are hungry for change and have ideas that would rival some of the greatest thinkers in the world but, because in most communities, there are no proper facilities or organizations to nurture these girls, they feel unimportant and that they do not matter, therefore they cannot flourish. Eventually they lose hope and struggle for years to find out who they are and what they want. Because of this, some girls reach levels of despair so low that it makes it very hard to reach them,” she explains.
DoE helps these girls address many issues they face; personal or general. They also discuss, deliberate and seek solutions to current issues within the community. The most common issues they focus on are Islamic identity, taboo topics, civic engagement, education, community involvement, and psycho-social health.
Their efforts are not without significant impacts. Nura recounts the example of a particular incident during a story night in which they talked about how to treat one another as humans and about bullying. A girl in the group revealed that she was being bullied and abused by a classmate. She had never shared that information before, but on that night, in the company of her sisters in DoE, for the first time she felt safe enough to share. “Because of this night, this young lady was able to seek help and learn how to deal with the pain that was caused by this classmate. In addition, the classmate was able to receive help for his issues that were causing him to treat this young lady and so many other classmates with disrespect and cruelty,” Nura notes.
A youth-led effort to tackle youth issues
The DoE board is made up of girls aged 16-25. All of DoE’s events are planned and executed by the young board, which is one of the reasons young Muslim girls relate to the group and are attracted to its activities. Once a board member reaches 25 she moves on to an advisory position if she chooses to stay on.
Entrusting young girls with DoE’s responsibility is Nura’s way of mentoring them to become tomorrow’s leaders in the Muslim community. “Girls were never given leadership roles to boost their confidence and teach them the skills needed to succeed in this world. This was my way of changing that and giving young girls a voice, authority and the courage to be the change they wanted to see in our community,” Nura explains.
Moreover, DoE differentiates the key age groups of its girls and young women on pragmatic lines: girls that are starting to develop their identities (8-10), are making more independent choices regarding friends, activities, etc. (11-15) and the most at risk group that is most likely to stray from Islam (16-25). “We hope that by the time a girl reaches 25, she will have a strong foundation of Islam as well as a strong sense of self,” says Nura.
What differentiates DoE
DoE as an idea clicked especially with teenage Muslim girls, because of its holistic approach to everything they do. “For example, our events always have a purpose, especially Islamically but that specific purpose is not always highlighted as much as the lessons that we hope to teach through the event,” Nura says.
Before each event, every aspect of it is examined to see how the event will benefit the girls’ mind, body and soul. In addition, DoE focuses a lot on the psycho-social health of its girls who face many challenges that require a healthy mind and body to deal with. An important aspect of DoE’s engagement with the girls is that they listen to them without judgment and support them when they need help; gaining tremendously positive outcomes, as a result.
Diversity is a hallmark of DoE events. The group organizes girls’ only events, mother/daughter events and family events. The formats for larger events include balls, talent shows, conferences, etc., which typically bring in 250 to 300 people. As a young organization with girls in the age range 16-25 making its board, DoE maintains a youthful identity in its programs, perspectives and outlook. All events are decided on, planned, and executed by these girls. “This not only teaches them responsibility but also skills such as time management, leadership, communication, negotiation, etc. that they can take with them to help with whatever future endeavor they pursue,” says Nura. No wonder, the group’s members represent as many as 35 countries, speaking 15+ languages.
DoE meets the majority of its expenses by charging the girls a small fee to participate in the different events. Sometimes, they are fortunate to find sponsors to cover all or part of the events. Any gap in cost is covered by the leadership or with the help of supporters.
Considering the variety of programs organized by DoE, sessions vary in mix and format, but typically, every single DoE event will have an Islamic input. Nura gives the example of a DoE story night, which typically sees one-third to half of the program set aside for discussing an Islamic topic and the remainder of the time spent on fun activities and food with Islamic reminders such as the importance of saying Bismillah, or a discussion such as “Did you know that the Prophet Mohamed’s favorite food was a cucumber and dates?” etc.
Strengthening family ties
DoE’s efforts aren’t limited to empowering girls alone. The leadership makes conscious efforts to design their programs and activities in such a way that they also strengthen the family as a whole. Furthermore, although the majority of DoE events are ‘girls only’, they also have Mother/Daughter events and family-oriented events. This, Nura says, is important as it brings families together and helps encourage communication between parents and their daughters.
DoE’s growing popularity
There are no other well-known Muslim organizations that work solely with Muslim girls or focuses on a holistic approach when dealing with girls, which explains why Nura is constantly approached by like-minded Muslim women from other states and countries, seeking her guidance and help in setting up girl-groups on similar lines. “I try to guide them to focus on a specific need within their communities and move forward from there,” says Nura. She is aware of the DoE model being emulated in other states, though. “We have been asked for help to set up DoE satellites in other cities but currently we do not have the capacity to manage such an effort,” she adds. However, plans are afoot to expand the presence of DoE, and according to Nura, the group is ready to share their curriculum with those who are interested.
Alhamdulillaah, ‘Daughters of Eve’ has been doing a wonderful job, exceeding what it had initially sought to achieve. Today, they are looked upon as an inspiration by many individuals and organizations in the Muslim world. They have created a unique model to strengthen not only our young sisters, but also their families. Definitely, theirs is a model worth emulating. May Allaah reward them for all the good work they do, in this world and in the Hereafter.
© Muslim’s Digest