As a radiant sun beat down on Long Island Sunday morning, helping melt the frozen mounds of snow that have outstayed their welcome, dozens of Muslim leaders and local officials gathered at the Garden City Hotel to crack away at what many in attendance consider one of Islam’s most negative stereotypes: the perceived oppression of women.
More than 300 people, including Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders, local politicians and police officials, gathered inside the hotel’s lavish ballroom for an event titled “Honoring Muslim Women in Our Community.”
Hosted by the Islamic Center of Long Island, which is currently undergoing a $4.5 million expansion in Westbury, the event served as the official installation of Dr. Isma Chaudhry as the first female president of the ICLI and as a celebration of Muslim women and their contributions to society.
In a heartfelt speech, an emotional Chaudhry thanked the community, her parents and Allah, and laid out her goals for the future of the ICLI: addressing women’s issues, the youth, and Islamophobia.
“My journey won’t be alone,” she told the doting crowd.
Religious and community leaders also used the event to condemn the brutal atrocities committed by religious extremists—atrocities that have dominated the headlines and have put Muslim communities around the world on edge.
The turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere, although unavoidable, did not dominate the conversation. Instead, it was the achievements of the 25 honorees—all women—that took center stage.
Dr. Faroque Khan, one of the founders of the ICLI, said Chaudhry’s election as the first female president of the Islamic Center helps “answer the frequently asked question regarding the ‘oppressed’ Muslim woman,” he said.
The event began with a Muslim prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. After feasting on eggs, potatoes, cheesy omelets and other savory breakfast items amid the glitz and glamor of the sprawling hotel, the 300-plus guests in attendance watched one-by-one as each honoree received a certificate for their accomplishments.
The honorees spanned vastly different professions: from doctors and artists to community activists and spiritual leaders.
Among those honored Sunday was Daisy Khan, a LIU Post graduate who many young Muslim women see as a role model. Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, also works to empower Muslim youth and women across the globe.
— Daisy Khan, ASMA (@DaisyKhan) February 22, 2015
Anisa Mehdi, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, was recognized for her published work, including the groundbreaking documentary Inside Mecca.
Sanaa Nadim, the first female chaplain of the Stony Brook University Muslim Student Association and one of the preeminent Muslim leaders on the Island, received plaudits for her interfaith efforts.
It was Chaudhry that delivered a deeply emotional speech in which she thanked her predecessors and expressed gratitude to those who helped her along this path.
“I’m actually overwhelmed,” Chaudhry admitted after making her way to the podium.
“I feel honored to stand with these remarkable ladies,” she added.
Chaudhry went on to thank her parents, whom she considers her role models.
Quoting her mother, Chaudhry said: “A woman can do anything in the world.”
Like others who took the stage before her, Chaudhry lamented how Islam has been “hijacked” by extremists and “polluted” by ignorance.
Chaudhry, who took over as president on Jan. 1, vowed to address the issues that have caused people to look at Islam with a tinge of suspicion.
She appeared emboldened by her mission.
“ICLI has a huge responsibility to study the teachings of the Koran…and to uphold justice,” she said.