1. It was founded 22 years ago by a group of Muslim professional women. Frustrated by stereotypes about Muslims, they formed an advocacy organization bent on improving the local understanding of Muslim women and Islam in general. Over the years, the mission has expanded to include interfaith dialogue and advocating for women’s rights.
2. It runs a library. The coalition describes its Islamic Resource Center at 5235 S. 27th St., Greenfield, as Wisconsin’s only lending library dedicated to providing information about Islam and Muslims. Opened in 2011, the library offers thousands of books and media for lending, ranging from the religious (Reza Aslan’s No god but God) to the culinary (The Iraqi Cookbook).
3. Most of its programs are open to anyone, not just Muslims. Hundreds of men and non-Muslim women attend the group’s interfaith networking brunches, Arabic language classes, book clubs, movie nights, author talks and art exhibits.
4. Many of its members live in zip code 53221. The Milwaukee area’s largest concentration of Muslims is a community on the city’s South Side and Greenfield that grew up around the Islamic Society of Milwaukee’s largest mosque. The neighborhood is also home to a number of ethnic restaurants and shops.
5. The number of mosques they attend is growing. Several new places of prayer have opened around the metro area in recent years, bringing the total to 11. Although Muslims may belong to a particular mosque, any Muslim can worship at any mosque.
Janan Najeeb of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition describes some of the most common misconceptions she encounters:
Myth: “Islam is an inherently violent religion.”
Terrorist acts carried out by individual criminals and political groups don’t represent all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, Najeeb says. When extremists cite the Bible to justify violence, “we don’t take that to represent all of Christianity or all of Judaism,” she says.
Myth: “Muslim women are treated as second-class citizens.”
Although Saudi Arabia bans women from driving cars, eight other countries have elected a total of nine Muslim women to top leadership positions. “The Quran is one of the most egalitarian [religious] texts,” she says. “Men and women are looked upon equally.”
Myth: Sharia law is “in contradiction with the U.S. Constitution.”
Najeeb tells her audiences that Sharia law’s main tenets are protecting life and families and preserving free thought, religion and enterprise. “They’re astounded,” she says. “This is very in line with what we believe the Constitution says.” ◆