Rula Thabata: Confronting Criticism From Outside and Within

Rula Thabata was born in Palestine and raised in New Orleans. Studying Political Science and Sociology at Loyola University, she is passionate about social justice and the power of community to create substantial change. Interested in the relationship between religion and gender, she does research focused on faith and civic engagement. She is passionate about education reform, and young people becoming engaged in their communities and creating platforms for mentor-ship for women in particular. When she is not running around, Rula is writing, running, working, drinking coffee, or inviting people to a community event.

This story is part of “Muslims of America”, a photo series created by Carlos Khalil Guzman, a photographer and activist currently based in NYC. The project is dedicated to capturing the diversity of the Muslim community in the United States.


Who has been the most important person in your life?
The most important person in my life has been my mother. Raised in Palestine, she embodies strength and encourages my sisters and I do defy expectations. Often times as women of color, and then coming from conservative communities, the odds are stacked against us. Women face the most scrutiny and yet she reminds us to excel. Without the prayers and support of my mother, the lessons she teaches me all the time about faith, and persistence, I would not have been able to make it where I am today or continue to move forward.

When have you felt the most alone?
Sometimes being so involved leaves one feeling like they are not doing enough. Many times I have had to take a step back from a to-do list, phone calls, and last minute logistics to take a deep breath. When people put you in a position of leadership, the pressure can be suffocating and it’s difficult to say no. As a Muslim woman in a hijab, criticism comes from our own community and I have often found myself, like many, many of my sisters, faced with bigotry from the outside and sexism from within. It is by no means representative of Muslim men, rather patriarchy which exists in all cultures. As young Muslims faced with the current political climate and the difficulty of defining an identity, mental health goes overlooked and unnoticed. A way to not feel so alone is by confronting the whys and recognizing the support all of us can give one another.

Do you have any favorite memories growing up?
A memory from my life I would keep forever, if I could, would be my experience at the first ever National Muslim Women’s Leadership Summit at Harvard University this past spring. An initiative by WISE, Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment, an internationally acclaimed non-profit organization with chapters across the country, it serves to empower women in self-defense, mentorship, and entrepreneurship. Combating anti-Muslim violence and gender-based violence, it is by Muslim women for Muslim women. My experience at the summit was one of power, grace, and faith. Surrounded by over 50 Muslim women, diverse in field and background, who are leaders in their communities fighting for social justice. There was a spoken and unspoken understanding among all of us about gender, Islam, and each other. As the targets of bigotry, we all chose justice, and felt the power of a space that did not previously exist. The memory of such an experience is my reminder of the importance of creating and recreating spaces that ultimately create change.

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