20 Muslim Women to Watch in 2020

Dalia Mogahed

— As told to Manal Moazzam

In the tumultuous years following Trump’s election, the American Muslim community sought to mobilize. Enter Dalia Mogahed, scholar and speaker, and Research Director at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).

What struck me as incredibly unique about Dalia’s approach is her insistence on truth-telling and digging right down to the root of the problem she needed to tackle. She identified that the foundation of any sort of hate tends to be misinformation, simplifying an impossibly complex and toxic problem, and she threw herself into providing accessible and undeniable solutions to that problem through thorough research at the ISPU.

And so, in the years since she joined the ISPU as Research Director, Dalia has continued to work tirelessly to combat Islamophobia and offer solutions through solid research. In supporting the the legacy of the ISPU, founded 20 years ago by a group of grassroots visionaries in Michigan, Dalia has has ensured that we have the opportunity to visualize and understand things as they are, rather than through a lens of bias or fear, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

In an enlightening and frank discussion with Muslim Girl, Dalia delves into why truth-telling is non-negotiable and what advice she has for millennial Muslim women.

Muslim Girl: What is your biggest inspiration behind the work that you do?

Dalia Mogahed: My inspiration for the work I do is my belief in truth-telling as the first component of making the world a better place.  If we don’t know the truth, we will make bad decisions that lead to harm. If we don’t recognize the truth, we will justify injustice and see it as natural. We will see threats that don’t exist while ignoring real dangers. I believe in being a truth-teller and in equipping others to do the same.  

What has been the best lesson you’ve learned along your journey?

So many lessons, but I think the best one I’d like to share with a younger version of myself, and to perhaps those reading this post, is this: Think bigger. 

I would say my biggest learning is how much time I wasted, and continue to waste when I’m not vigilant, on small things.  

This is where you stop worrying about small fears and small attachments. This is where you stop obsessing about your weight or your Instagram account. This is when you recognize your purpose as a servant to the Merciful alone, adorning your inside, beautifying your character, conscious of His gaze, focused on a big mission, not small plans. This is where you open the lens and see how small we all are, and yet how significant we are to the Lord of the worlds. How important we are that He has granted us an audience with Him five times a day. 

I would say my biggest learning is how much time I wasted, and continue to waste when I’m not vigilant, on small things.  

What is the most important challenge you’ve overcome as a Muslim woman in your field?

The most important challenge I’ve overcome is the delusion of being necessary to this work, of being important to the mission, of being anything other than a servant of God and the people, who needs the work for my salvation, not the other way around. 

When this was corrected, I no longer felt burned out, stressed, or overwhelmed. I felt, rightly, privileged to get to serve in this way, rather than burdened or responsible for outcomes. 

What is the one message you hope to deliver to the next generation of Muslim girls?

See my lesson about my journey.  I wish I could get our next generation to spend a lot less time and energy than I did worrying about our appearance, our image, our small squabbles and small attachments. 

I wish we could focus our attention on beautifying our character and being conscious of the gaze of God on our hearts not the gaze of those around us, be those men, other girls, our community or whatever. If I could get Muslim girls to see their purpose more clearly as khulafaa’ Allah fil ard (vicegerents of God on Earth), and not the support staff to someone else’s big mission, I’d feel as if I’d accomplished something. 

What do you wish you could say to yourself 10 years ago?

Don’t be so stressed, dear heart. It’s not up to you. Just do your best and leave the outcomes to The Merciful.