20 Muslim Women to Watch in 2020

Linda Sarsour

— As told to Anum Ahmed

“We Are Not Here to be Bystanders” is the powerful title of Linda Sarsour’s first book, and a testament to how she’s lived her life: always on the front lines of the Muslim-American struggle, advocating for the needs of others even when it might be difficult, uncomfortable, or may threaten her or her family’s safety. Though in most Muslim circles she needs no introduction, we’re here to sing her praises.

Linda is a proud Palestinian Muslim American woman, activist, author, mother of three (we love a work-life balance), and champion of social justice issues that impact different marginalized groups. Sarsour’s introduction to the public started when she became the director of the Arab American Association of New York, where she fought for the passage of policies that expanded the definition of prejudicial profiling in her home state.

Her support for communities of color against injustices done by the police was further shown in her organizing of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, and continued efforts to work and learn alongside BLM activists to better aid the Black community. She went on to become one of the national co-chairs for the Women’s March in 2017, dubbed the “largest single-day protest in US history,” and was later named the lead plaintiff in Sarsour v. Trump, a court case led by the Council of American Islamic Relations protesting Trump’s travel ban.

Her accolades, however, don’t end there. After being named to both Fortune Magazine’s 50 Greatest Leaders and Time’s 100 Most Influential People (y’know, casual), she’s now added “author” to her lengthy resume. Her memoir, mentioned above, hit book stands and online marketplaces earlier this month, ironically – or incredibly well timed – on Super Tuesday. The book details her personal journey of being the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and how it has shaped her dedication to resistance. It has been called candid, moving, and beautifully written, and while that’s undoubtedly true, for young Muslim women, it is hopeful. Encouraging. A source of empowerment in otherwise uncertain times so that we too won’t be bystanders in the face of oppression. For more Linda content, you can catch her rallying for our guy Bernie Sanders as one of his national surrogates on the presidential campaign trail.

In the meantime, you can check out Muslim Girl’s candid conversation with Linda, where we discuss what inspires her and why the sacrifices she has made might just be worth it all.

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

Linda Sarsour: My biggest inspiration are my children. I am motivated by the idea that they deserve to live in a country and a world that loves and embraces them, and treats them with the dignity and respect we all deserve, and I will die fighting to make that a reality. Every day when I wake up, they are my mission, purpose and inspiration.

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

I have learned many lessons in my journey as a woman and activist. I will share a few with the Muslim Girl readers.

First, to learn to love myself, be kind to myself and remember that I cannot pour from an empty glass. Taking breaks and nurturing ourselves and bodies is essential to longevity, sustainability, productivity and overall well being.

Two, to be UNAPOLOGETICALLY myself — unapologetically Muslim American, unapologetically Palestinian American — no matter what. To never let anyone define me, silence me or intimidate me.

It wasn’t fair that I had to work harder than others, but it was worth it, and I hope whatever little sacrifices I have made make it a little easier for other young sisters who want to be leaders and organizers. 

Three, to create deep relationships and sisterhood among women in my life — to never compete, and to see others success as my own and vice versa. Strong sisterhoods build strong resilient communities. Wanting for others what I want for myself is central to my work and life, and I hope it will be for you, too. 

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

As a Muslim American woman activist, I wasn’t always taken seriously and treated with the type of respect I deserved for my work and expertise, but I never gave up. I worked hard through the skepticism, ageism, and misogyny because I knew other young women were counting on me to break cycles in my community and beyond.

It wasn’t fair that I had to work harder than others, but it was worth it, and I hope whatever little sacrifices I have made make it a little easier for other young sisters who want to be leaders and organizers. 

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

It is okay to be ambitious and unapologetic, unbought and unbossed, and yet be a humble servant to your community and faith.

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

I wish I could have told myself 10 years ago to prepare my heart for a cruel world that doesn’t always welcome the leadership of visible, strong, unapologetic truth-telling Muslim women. I am now learning how to stay on task and on-mission, and hope that my journey of trials and tribulations, mistakes and missteps, will help future generations of young women activists.