Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 19th 2015 Contents | COMMUNITY |
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Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt July 19, 2015
By Tishanna Williams
WHAT STARTED AS an online conversation between
three friends about the injustices faced by Muslims, espe-
cially those of Afro-Trinidadian descent, eventually became
a 14-member group which, through their collective works
and professional lives, is bringing another light to what is
generally one of the most stereotyped and misunderstood
major world religions. These young adults are bridging the
communication gaps between youth and adults, which
many of our elders struggle to jump across; their age and
pop culture demographic makes them fully equipped to do
The group Independent Muslim Professionals ACting To-
gether (IMPACT) has been in existence for the past three
years. Founded by of Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri, Quaiser Ab-
dullah and Hashim Al Mujaahid, IMPACT is a dynamic, ac-
tion based organisation that brings together the
knowledge, skills and resources unique to the Muslim
community to improve the lives of all in society via educa-
tional and community-based projects. Even though they
are a fairly new group of young persons, they are working
hard to push a single agenda: demystify Islam and break
the stereotypes, while working to make positive changes
within the community.
We caught up with two members of IMPACT --- Wolessi
Otten and Ayanna Gellineau --- two teachers who not only
spoke about IMPACT but gave an inside scoop: the other
side of being a Muslim woman.
WOW: Hi! Tell us a bit about yourselves.
W.O.: I am a married mother of a baby boy. I teach Spanish
full time at a secondary school and part time at the Centre
for Language Learning (CLL), UWI. I also work as a trans-
A.G.: I teach psychology courses at COSTAAT; I have my
own business as a consultant working with many NGOs. I
have my own NGO called (Save A Life, Save A Youth)
SAYSAL which does workshops on social issues in
schools. I am also heading to Temple University in Sep-
tember to study for my Masters
WOW: This sounds like a lot! How do you all manage
W.O.: My mom and husband are great supports for me.
My husband helps out a lot.
A.G.: For me it's my husband, friends and family. They re-
ally keep my best interests at heart.
WOW: Tell us about IMPACT's work thus far.
W.O.: We have done dinners, movie screenings and peace
walks. This year a few of our female members had babies,
so there have been challenges with holding events, but
there are definitely plans to do some things before the
A.G.: For our last film night we screened Ten Days of
Muharram, which dealt with the Hosay celebrations, and
No Bois Man No Fraid, a stick-fight movie. At the end, we
had the members of Bois Academy do a small workshop
on the artform itself. People were talking about it for
WOW: Ok, what are Peacewalks?
A.G.: It's done to commemorate Peace Day on September
21st, and show that Islam is a religion of peace. This year
we walked through East Port of Spain, meeting and
speaking to members of the community.
WOW: You speak of demystifying the faith. What are
some of the misconceptions you think need to be
cleared up about Islam?
W.O.: One of the biggest is the treatment of women. They
think we are oppressed and abused. Then the global media
hype make us all seem violent, which is not true. You can't
paint an entire religion with a large brush.
A.G.: That we must walk behind our men. The hijab has a
lot of misconceptions too, including that we are bald under
it. It's been said that we are forced to wear hijab and we
force our daughters to as well, that we shower with it. All
untrue. There are Muslims that do not wear hijab and a
young girl does not have to until she reaches puberty.
Islam is a religion and a journey. Not everyone will be there
in their spiritual journey, and so they may not fully cover
initially. I think that's okay. That is between you and your
Lord. A lot of your behaviour depends on your world cul-
ture, where you grew up, and the school of Islamic thought
you were brought up in.
WOW: But aren't some of these 'misconceptions' even
a bit true?
A.G.: Well, we aren't allowed to have physical contact with
males, including shaking hands. You find all sort of polite
ways to get out of it.
W.O.: As a professional, though, I have had experiences
where I can't get out of it and then I do shake hands, then
explain after so the person understands. Clothing does
have parameters as well; you should only have face, hands
and feet exposed; your clothing is not to be transparent
and also not form-fitting.
WOW: What have you done thus far with regard to de-
mystifying the faith?
W.O.: What we are aiming to do is show that positive
image of educated professional Muslim women with a
voice through our works, more than just going around pro-
claiming it. We are very visible in our activities, and we
never hesitate to talk to the press. There is also a need to
show our Afro-Islamic males in a more positive light as
well, rather than the "bad boy" stereotype being pushed so
often through our local media. We have a good balance of
males and females in IMPACT who promote this in their
personal actions, as well as those of the group.
For more information on IMPACT,
feel free to visit their Facebook
page, call 702-4956 or email them
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