American/Muslim Women Collaboration holds winter break taaruf

A group of people gathers around a table

By Rachel Berry

People filed into a room in the corner of Lane Library, hugging and greeting friends as they entered. Some held pans of food, which they placed on a counter before taking a seat at a table in the center of the room. Eventually, they had to pull out more chairs to make room for all the people.

The American/Muslim Women’s Collaboration met for its winter break taaruf at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The group holds taarufs—which means “gathering” in Arabic—as a way for Muslim women to build community in Oxford. The organization welcomes undergraduate and graduate Miami students and community members, many of which bring their children to the gatherings.

The Collaboration began five years ago after Shatha (Sasha) Al Azawi approached Global Initiatives wanting to start a group for Muslims in Oxford. There was already a Muslim Students’ Association, but at that time, it was mainly made up of male students.

Global Initiatives directed Al Azawi to Rhonda Jackson, administrative assistant for women’s initiatives, who had also expressed an interest in beginning a program for Muslim women at Miami. Jackson isn’t Muslim herself but identifies as Bahá’í, a faith that believes all religions are connected and affirms all spiritualities.

Together, Al Azawi and Jackson formed the collaboration.

“We thought we need to do something,” Jackson said. “There was no way to build community, and our Muslim families and students in the community had to leave Oxford to have any kind of community.”

The group quickly grew, but numbers have dropped off in recent years, which Jackson attributes largely to the current political climate. Many members go back to their home countries and don’t return to Miami.

The main goal of the organization is to provide a community for Muslim women and to create dialogue around Islam, particularly what it means to be a Muslim woman.

“I didn’t feel like I am safe if I cover my head or if I wear my traditional dress or my religious dress, so I wanted to introduce it to the people living at Miami that Muslim women are like other women,” said Madiha Syeda, an attendee at the taaruf. “I have seen that the world is recreating boundaries, … so I want to introduce to people that just being ‘the other’ does not mean being scary.”

About ten women attended Tuesday’s taaruf with their families. Syeda hopes to expand in the future, and many of the women said they have other Muslim friends who live in Oxford and would be excited about joining the organization. One woman even said she was planning on moving but wants to stay in Oxford to be able to continue with the group.

The next monthly taaruf will be held from 4-5:30 p.m. on Feb. 20. The American/Muslim Women’s Collaboration is also involved with World Hijab Day, which will be held from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4 in Armstrong Student Center. Visitors to the table will be able to try on a hijab and to learn more about the Muslim faith.