CAIRO - Stimulating a sense of pride in female Muslim role models, a US advocacy group has held workshops to teach leadership skills and promote community engagement among Minnesota high school and college women.
"We're hoping to give them ways to improve and how to take the initiative," said Rana Mikati, an instructor at Rochester Community and Technical College and adviser of the Muslim Student Association, told Post Bulletin.
"As people follow in your footsteps, whatever you do, you're a leader," she added.
Mikati was one of the speakers at the event themed Defining Ourselves: Reflections on Leadership and Activism".
The workshop, designed to teach leadership skills and promote community engagement, was co-sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Najma Sharif, 17, a senior at Century High School, is one of about 40 people who attended the first Young Muslim Women's Leadership Summit in Rochester on Saturday.
At the sessions, Sharif heard for the first time about Fatima al-Fihri, who founded Al-Karaouine mosque that developed into a place for religious instruction and political discussion.
The mosque was expanded later by Al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy Moroccan man, to teach the natural sciences and become the first university in the world in 859.
Becoming a state university in 1963, Al-Karaouine exists today and continues to be one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world.
"I'd studied Islamic women before," Sharif said, "but I didn't know about" al-Fihri.
An articulate, confident young woman, Sharif realizes her leadership potential, Sharif said, "but this sets it in stone."
Attending the event, she's accepted the challenge to improve herself.
She's already taught Arabic and Qur'anic studies at the local mosque, "but I could do a little more volunteering, using every opportunity I have to be a leader."
Growing up in the US, many young Muslim women wanted to hear of the examples of female Muslim leaders.
"Here in the US, there aren't many prominent leaders that are women, particularly Muslim women," Cheraghearzu Khalid, the spokeswoman for the Rochester Muslim Community Circle, said.
Acquiring the skills of a leader is important; the best thing I could work on is my public speaking.
I want to change the way Muslims are viewed, and (convey) it in a rational manner.
Her daughter, Hajra Zaid, is a 15-year-old sophomore at Century who realizes people don't always hear of the examples of female Muslim leadership.
The end result "is to encourage young Muslim women to enter careers in which they will be able to become civically engaged and make positive contributions to society, in keeping with the Islamic traditions of responsibility and citizenship," Khalid said.
Sharif, the Century senior, hopes Saturday's event was a pilot for annual workshops.
"A leader is someone people follow from their hearts," she said with a smile.
"Maybe we can get together and talk about this, if (Khalid) and her crew can pull another one together."
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of nearly eight million.