American Muslims, and particularly the women among them, are doing “pretty well” despite the challenges they’ve faced in recent decades, a prominent Muslim lawyer and appointee of President Obama said at the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York’s ninth annual banquet Saturday night.
But there is more work to be done, she added.
Azizah al-Hibri taught law for 20 years at the University of Richmond and founded KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. A native of Lebanon, she has written and lectured on legal and women’s issues from an Islamic viewpoint, was a Fulbright Scholar in 2001 and appointed by the president in 2011 to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
On Saturday, she was in the Adam’s Mark hotel in Buffalo as the keynote speaker for the local chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s premier annual event.
The theme of the event was women’s empowerment, and al-Hibri said the United States can lead the way in defeating the misconception that Islam restricts the rights of women.
“Actually, Islam is a religion that empowers women,” al-Hibri said before her keynote address. “The problem has been that it has been taught to them by people who do not want to empower them.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council is a national organization that serves as a conduit between the Muslim-American community and society at large. The local chapter, founded in 2004, is the “eastern flagship” of the national body and was the first chapter in New York State, according to Khalid J. Qazi, president of the local chapter.
Qazi said the organization fosters relationships between local Muslims and political leaders, serving as a line of communication.
“We still are not where we need to be,” Qazi said. “We are not at the table making decisions. I think we have made some improvement … but we want to be on the table rather than the menu of the table.”
He also said he wants American Muslims to be considered as part of mainstream America as much as any other citizen would be. Al-Hibri agreed.
“This is a very important time in which we move from being immigrants,” al-Hibri said. “We’re leaving that behind. We’re moving into being just Americans. And we can do a lot with that.”
She also praised Buffalo’s “vibrant” Muslim community, saying there are a lot of Muslim women leaders who are empowered by their peers and doing very well.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council also gave its annual community service award to Stanford Lipsey, publisher emeritus of The Buffalo News. Qazi cited Lipsey’s philanthropy and contributions to the Western New York area as reasons Lipsey deserved the award.
“I guess it was also precipitated because he recently retired,” Qazi said.