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This Girl is On Fire: Meet CAIR-FL’s Rasha Mubarak

By Zoha Qamar, For Muslim Girl, On 04 August 2016, Read Original

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In this edition of #MuslimGirlFire, we introduce you to our friend and powerhouse dynamo, Rasha Mubarak.

Rasha Mubarak is a Palestinian-American Muslim community activist and leader, who was recently selected as part of the MPower 100 list.

Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in the heart of Central Florida, she serves as the Orlando Regional Coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations of Florida (CAIR-FL).  There, she leads communications, fundraising, and gives “Know Your Rights” presentations. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also the Director of Public Relations for the Muslim Women’s Organization of Orlando, and she’s the president for the Orlando chapter of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.  There, she’s ledannual fundraising efforts for the Palestine’s Children Relief Fund in commemoration of the Al-Nakba tragedy.

[Click here to donate to their current fundraiser benefitting the children of Palestine, to provide nebulizers for children with asthma, and air mattresses for disabled children from Gaza and Nablus.]

Before transitioning to work with CAIR-FL, Rasha worked at the Arab American Community Center (AACC) for seven years, serving as a manager, public relations and youth director, and most recently serving as the Program and Development Director.

While working at AACC, Rasha helped launch impactful programs such as the Welcoming Immigrants Now Group (WING) and its Domestic Violence Program, providing support for women who are victims of domestic violence. She also co-founded AACC’s Arab Fest, an annual local celebration of Arab culture.

A sought-after speaker about topics including Palestinian rights, Islamophobia in the United States and women’s representation in Islam, Rasha has been a main speaker for statewide demonstrations and peace rallies for Palestine, vigils in remembrance of the Chapel Hill murders and educational panel discussions dispelling stereotypes about Muslim women.

In 2015, she co-founded Floridians Responding to Refugees, spearheading efforts to welcome and transition refugees to Central Florida.

Rasha was also previously a mental health counseling volunteer for the Palestine Medical Relief Society in Ramallah, Palestine, aiding women and children suffering from PTSD.

“AS A COMMUNITY, WE OFTEN CONFUSE THE STATE OF BEING ‘NEUTRAL’ AS BEING ISLAMIC. IN ACTUALITY, THAT MOTION GOES AGAINST WHAT ISLAM TRULY STANDS FOR. TO BE NEUTRAL IN TIMES OF INJUSTICE IS TO BE AN ESSENTIAL AND INDIRECT CONTRIBUTOR TO THE TRANSGRESSOR.”

Said Rasha, “I have strived to play an active role in social justice issues since high school, specifically the Palestinian struggle. One injustice exposed many others around me, and I cannot stand for one, and not for all. As a community, we often confuse the state of being ‘neutral’ as being Islamic. In actuality, that motion goes against what Islam truly stands for. To be neutral in times of injustice is to be an essential and indirect contributor to the transgressor. In fact, a hadith suggests ‘Whoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.’ So for me, while I wear many hats in the community, it doesn’t matter what platform I am using, because at the end of the day I have one mission:  To revive the creed of justice, equality, and empowerment.”

We had a chance to sit down with Rasha, and talk to her about all the amazing work she’s been doing.

Muslim Girl:  From my understanding, your nonprofit, Floridians Responding to Refugees Committee, is not even a year old, yet already imprinting a profound legacy in the state’s response to the Syrian crisis. What encouraged you to formally found the organization, and how exactly would you describe its growth and reach since last August? Have there been specific incidents or challenges in coordinating directly with the Florida state-level government in terms of its stance on refugees? 

Rasha:  As a Palestinian American, I understand what “refugee” has meant to many of my Palestinian peers and what it meant for their future. I co-founded the Floridians Responding to Refugees with passionate community leaders. Although the Syrian crisis has been ongoing for well over five years, and while there was conscious effort amongst many activists, the united efforts of the community was induced by the picture of three-year old Alan Kurdi. They say people can usually only grieve with people to whom they can relate to. Most people have come across a baby in their life, whether it is their own, a niece or nephew, a relative, or friend.  Alan Kurdi, with his soaked tiny blue shorts and red shirt, penetrated the hearts of all.

In September 2015, I made a promise to baby Alan (Allah 7r7amo) that those shores will never be the same: His tears will never be diluted in those waters, more so nor in our hearts; his last breaths will never be forgotten, his cries will never be muted.

“IN SEPTEMBER 2015, I MADE A PROMISE TO BABY ALAN (ALLAH 7R7AMO) THAT THOSE SHORES WILL NEVER BE THE SAME: HIS TEARS WILL NEVER BE DILUTED IN THOSE WATERS, MORE SO NOR IN OUR HEARTS; HIS LAST BREATHS WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN, HIS CRIES WILL NEVER BE MUTED.”

Instantly, the outpour of mobilized efforts were in every pocket of each city across Florida. I noticed many individual mobilizations and detected the need to unity the community’s efforts. FRRC is a statewide commitment to serve the influx of refugees coming into Florida. Efforts include immediate relief by providing alleviation for refugees; not exclusive to only Syrians.

It serves as an umbrella network, exhausting all refugee resources of organizations, institutions, mosques, churches, and even individuals.

Rasha celebrating Tahani's first birthday. Tahani is just one of the many Syrian refugees that Rasha's organization has helped. Not pictured: Tahani parading around her sparkly red shoes. Dorothy said it best: There really is no place like home, and thanks to the FRCC, Tahani and her family have a new place to call home.

 

Rasha celebrating Tahani’s first birthday. Tahani is just one of the many Syrian refugees that Rasha’s organization has helped. Not pictured: Tahani parading around her sparkly red shoes. Dorothy said it best — there really is no place like home.  Thanks to the FRRC, Tahani and her family have a new place to call home.

I have been a part of many movements since a teenager, and I have never seen anything more unified:  Muslims, Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Jews, and really all walks of life coming together for a cause bigger than all of us.

FRRC runs mainly as a platform to connect others with organizations that may provide a service their program might not have available, ultimately amplifying results for our refugee families. We also facilitate furnishing campaigns and sponsor up to three families for 6 months once they have completed their time with resettlement agencies. We are beginning to work more and more with the resettlement agencies to help provide our resources and utilize theirs. We worked with South Florida’s Muslim community to relocate two refugee families to Sanford, Florida for better living conditions.

Muslim Girl:  Of course, your work on such a large regional basis is not just limited to your involvement with Syrian refugees.  In fact, you have a pretty influential position as the Orlando regional coordinator for CAIR Florida. How would you describe your mission as director since beginning last fall, and has it changed since the Orlando shooting? 

Rasha:  Joining the CAIR Florida team has been empowering, intense, and rewarding.  I wanted to get into civil rights for a while.  I work as a spokesperson on the ground and in the media, and more importantly, as a liaison for our constituents, connecting them with all of our departments: Legal, communications, and government affairs.

I actively work with student groups, like the Muslim Student Association.  I facilitate “Know Your Rights” workshops for mosques and (non- Muslim) institutions.  I also conduct “Islam 101” and Islamophobia trainings for universities and law enforcement agencies. Much of my work is advocacy, really being there for the underrepresented and marginalized communities. While our mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding, our work goes beyond that; we work with all movements facing discrimination, like Black Lives Matter, climate change, etc.  Our vision is to be a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding.

As for the Orlando shooting; that changed everyone across the city; everyone.

 

Muslim Girl:  Has the shooting led you to have any memorable encounters — maybe with community members, survivors, even strangers? Perhaps you could share a bit about balancing healing with protecting members inside and outside the Muslim community. 

Rasha:  I want to use this platform to share a different narrative that I haven’t been given the chance to express in the media.

That day dismantled our city.  Orlando, our “City Beautiful,” as it’s called, was distraught and devastated.  If you’ve never been to Orlando, it’s a city that people from all over the world come to, to escape the chaos of daily life; they come for Disney, for the beaches.  It’s supposed to be a happy place, and suddenly, the whole city was in despair.

It was like having an out of body experience. On site, the lobby, the halls, the rooms; they were all flooded with families and friends of victims waiting for news.  The names of those who were stabilized or in critical condition were read off a list. A list. A list, no chronological order, no way of telling how long or short the list was.  It was agonizing.

It was then — this point in time — that would irreversibly change the course of life for 49 families. It was as if I could hear their hearts drop. The screams louder, the wailing grew heavier. Everyone collapsing into each other’s arms. The agony and pain instantly suffocated the building.

“IT WAS AS IF I COULD HEAR THEIR HEARTS DROP. THE SCREAMS LOUDER, THE WAILING GREW HEAVIER. EVERYONE COLLAPSING INTO EACH OTHER’S ARMS. THE AGONY AND PAIN INSTANTLY SUFFOCATED THE BUILDING.”

The pain; it was so raw, you could feel it in every bone in your body. It hurt to the core.

I stood there in the debris of their fallen world, hopeless. Hesitant to distribute the bottled waters in my hands; water that would not hydrate their tears, a hug that would not shell their suffering, no words that would inspire.  I chose to briefly recollect, but refused to retire.

For the first time, my worlds combined. My movement family — many from the LGBTQ and Latino community, and of course, my Muslim family stood as ONE.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a friend, a colleague, and a leader, called me and said “Rasha, we will not let this divide us. Let’s send a message to the world.”

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And we did. We stood should to shoulder together, and exemplified camaraderie, friendship, love, and compassion. It wasn’t a tokenization of a Muslim and a LGBT representative. The grievance was real. We mourned as friends, as Floridians, and most importantly, as humans.

There it was…the other list. The list of grief, loss, and sorrow. I joined my brother and sister to read off the names of the victims. It wasn’t just a list. They weren’t just names.

Behind these names existed dreams and aspirations that we will not lay to rest. We will not let their lives be lost in vain.

“THERE IS POWER TO PAIN. THERE IS MERCY IN TRAGEDY. THERE IS HOPE IN GRIEVANCE.”

There is power to pain. There is mercy in tragedy. There is hope in grievance.

As a Muslim, Palestinian, Floridan, and American, I am proud of the Orlando community for the outpour of unified benevolence.

Muslim Girl:  You’ve already shared so much with us, but we haven’t even touched on your role with the Verona Collection!  Tell us a little about your role in the organization, and how you may view fashion — perhaps as a tool of empowering women, dismantling stereotypes, or just expressing yourself.  Are there any launch dates or online opportunities for all of us (anxious) fans to look out for? 

Rasha:  I was the PR rep for their grand opening at the Orlando Fashion Square Mall.

On the Verona team, it goes beyond unique prints and the intricate materials.  Verona’s success is ultimately advocating inclusivity, tolerance, and being part of this nation’s fabric, no pun intended.

With the heightened rhetoric of Islamophobia, Verona Collection hopes to be an agent of change, working to dispell stereotypes, microaggressions, and misconceptions.

Unfortunately, many hijab-wearing women have been at the forefront of this bigotry. In fact, there have been 84 hate incidents reported across the nation since November of 2015.  The fashion industry is a potential tool to vanquish such a climate, so I’m really proud of Lisa Vogl and Nadine Abu-Jubara for what they’ve done with Verona.

To keep up with Rasha and all the amazing work shes’s doing, follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @RashaMK.  Be sure to check out the Orlando chapter’s current fundraiser for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, as they raise funds for nebulizers for children with asthma, and air mattresses for disabled children from Gaza and Nablus.