MWA Inspiring Women Awardees

Each year MWA asks its members and the Chicagoland community at-large to nominate women in their communities for the ‘Inspiring Muslim Woman’ Award. Every year Muslim Women’s Alliance recognizes three Illinois Muslim women for their outstanding contributions to the community with MWA’s “Inspiring Woman Award”.These inspiring women are the force behind local and international efforts to help people in need. These women are activists, educators, scholars, writers and more. By honoring these women at our annual lunch, MWA hopes to inspire our members to become leaders in their own communities and use the three cornerstones to implement meaningful and positive change in their own lives as well as in the lives of others.


Zakiyyah El-Amin

Zakiyyah El-Amin, a playwright, is the Society of United Neighbors Cultural Arts Director. She has taught theater arts over the past forty plus years in Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park Districts, Suburban Schools and community centers as well as the Beverly Arts Center Outreach programs. Having written over hundreds of poems, speeches, monologues, skits and plays for her students’ performances, her productions provide unique “edutainment”. She studied theater in Great Falls, Montana, Chicago State and ETA. She is also the Co-founder of the SUN Puppet Theater. She is a Board Member of Masjid Al-Taqwa and collaborated to form the Masjid Al-Taqwa Youth Theater Ensemble. She is the secretary for the Chicagoland Shura Council, Correspondence Secretary for the International League of Muslim Women, Chicago Chapter, and treasurer for her Block Club, Secretary for the Mamie Till Mobley PAC as well as an active member of CAPS. She firmly believes that the best testament of one’s faith is through service, charity, and activism geared toward leaving those spaces we occupy better than we found them.

Maaria Mozaffar

Maaria Mozaffar is a thought leader for a new generation. She is an attorney, a mediator, a policy drafter, a social entrepreneur, a health advocate, a triathlete, a mother of three, a wife and yes she is passionate about all areas of her life. She served as legal advisor for CAIR Chicago, Senior Policy Advisor for IMAN, Policy Advisor for Women’s March Chicago, Immigration co chair for Chicago Women Take Action. Maaria has developed policy on different issues in the State of Illinois and spearheaded negotiation agreements and policy task forces. Her legislations range from women’s issues, criminal justice reform, Immigration, civil liberties and education. Maaria founded and chaired the Illinois Civil Liberties Coalition of Illinois, a 22 member coalition comprised of professional legal organizations and advocacy groups. She has been a frequent guest speaker, lecturer and panelist on conferences around the country on issues regarding civil rights and civil liberties. She is also the founder of The Skinless Project, founded on the notion that all women should embrace and cultivate their personal power so they may succeed in their personal and professional lives. The Skinless Project believes that through collaborative and creative initiatives we can build a powerful community of support for every woman we know Maaria also is the author of “More than Pretty: How to Live a Life of Substance in an Artificial World”.


Itedal Shalabi

After seeing the significant need for a social services agency to advocate for and address the issues and concerns of the Arab and Arab-American community in South and Southwest Chicago, Itedal Shalabi established the Arab American Family Services in 2001. Along with co-founder, Nareman Taha, the staff, and other organizations, AAFS went from 1 program to over 13 programs uniquely designed to help the Arab community. As part of a strategic effort to build bridges of communication and resources between Arab/Muslim and mainstream organizations, institutions, and governmental agencies, Itedal sits on the boards of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Domestic Violence, the Mayor of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Domestic Violence, the Advisory Committee of the Cook County Department of Public Health, the Illinois Muslim Advisory Board and the National Network for Arab American Communities. Through different strategies, she has ensured that Arabs and Arab-Americans are becoming visible in the State of Illinois by spearheading and passing legislation that would ensure the safety and protection of the Muslim community. Itedal is proud mother of three wonderful young men, loves embroidery and coffee.


Dorothy Habibah Collins

part2Dorothy Collins, also known as Habibah Abdul Aziz, has spent most of the past decade providing support services for women, children and men. Habibah founded a non-profit organization, ‘Sisters Nurturing Sisters’ that works to offer women transitional and permanent housing in the south side of Chicago. Over 20 years ago, Habibah’s spiritual reclamation along with a commitment and devotion to God inspired her vocation in life to giving back to those who are in need. Habibah envisioned a program that would provide supportive comprehensive services to women who are recovering from chemical dependency, battery, homelessness, poverty, physical and mental disabilities, including former incarceration. She has dedicated her life to help empower socially disadvantaged women to become productive citizens by addressing the challenges that they face in this rapidly changing world. Habibah works with SNS to provide effective professional and charitable services through a process of screening, comprehensive assessments and service planning to assist the women in achieving self-sufficiency.

Umm Serage Rahima

part3Aisha Rahima, known as Um Serage, has been a pillar of the Bridgeview community since the inception of Mosque Foundation. She has been the principal for Al-Siddiq Weekend School for over 20 years. Today, Al-Siddiq Weekend School serves over 700 students. Um Serage lives her life to serve, educate and is committed to life-long learning through books of fiqh, seerah and tafsir in order to prepare for lectures. In 2013, she received her Ijaza for tajweed. She served 2 terms with the Mosque Foundation Board, was the head of the Women’s Committee for 4 years and currently sits on the Interfaith Committee with Mosque Foundation. She offers weekly lectures in English and Arabic in mosques and homes residing in Bridgeview, Orland Park, Burr Ridge and Villa Park. Um Serage also teaches converts and mentors young female youth. She is always there to lend a helping hand to anyone and is among the first to act when anyone is in need of support. Um Serage has become a resource for many women in the community with fiqh questions or who are in need of counseling.

Joohi Tahir

part5Having spent over 20 years excelling in the corporate world, Joohi Tahir turned her talents to become a national advocate for Muslims with disabilities. This led to her appointment as Executive Director of Muslims Understanding & Helping Special Education Needs (MUHSEN). MUHSEN is a revolutionary newly launched non-profit organization founded by Shaykh Omar Suleiman. With her own family being affected by disability, Joohi has been outspoken over the past 13 years specifically about the need for inclusion for her daughter who is on the Autism Spectrum. She started with small community initiatives, talk, support groups, consulting with masjid administrators and mainstream scholars about the need for our communities to be more aware and be made more accessible for people in our community with disabilities. As a leader of this organization, Joohi advocates and markets the needs for which MUHSEN will build programs and services across America by inclusion of all members of the community impacted by special needs through awareness, accommodation and acceptance.


Gihad Ali

gihad aliGihad Ali began her relationship with Arab American Action Network (AAAN) as an AmeriCorps intern before joining its senior staff, as the Youth Organizing Program Coordinator. In 2006, she founded the Alliance of Young Women Activists (AYWA), which joined Arab, Muslim, and other young women in a safe social and political space to challenge sexism, double standards, and patriarchy in U.S. society. As a well-known spoken word artist, her poem, Eye to Eye discusses the struggles of Palestinians under occupation. The poem was sought after by Outlandish, a multi-award winning hip hop trio based in Denmark, who used her words to write their chart-topping song, Look Into My Eyes, released on the Sony BMG/RCA label. Gihad Ali brought spoken word poetry and hip hop instruction to Silent Echoes, the AAAN’s youth activist formation. The youth group juxtaposes creative arts with political education, organizing training, and analyses of political, social, and economic conditions that Arab, Black, and Latino youth contend with in Chicagoland. In 2006, Gihad received the Southwest Youth Collaborative’s Can’t Keep Quiet! Won’t Stand Still! recognition for leadership at the junction of social justice, art and community. Chicago Foundation for Women awarded Gihad Ali with the prestigious 2013 Impact Award for her dedication to increasing resources and opportunities for women and girls in the Chicago area.

Laila El-Amin

laila elaminLaila Muhammed El-Amin was born and raised in the east African nation of Sudan, where she earned two Bachelors of Science in Botany and Chemistry from the University of Khartoum. She and her husband moved to the United States in the late seventies. After earning her Master of Science in Biology from Chicago State University in 1985, Laila began her career at Aqsa School, the nation’s first all-girls Islamic school. Since starting at Aqsa in 1987 as an Arabic and Religion teacher, her role has expanded to include leadership duties, including being the assistant principal and an interim administration leader. Laila is a three-time recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award given by Who’s Who Among American High School Teachers and is currently the head of the Arabic and Religion departments at Aqsa School. For nearly 40 years, Laila has worked in propagating Islamic dawah among women since she herself was a young college student in Sudan. She lectures at mosques in both Arabic and English, teaches tajweed and hifz, and mentors young Muslim women. Laila is a member of the Orland Park-based group Zad Aduaa, which is comprised of women who give Islamic lectures for local communities and the main focus of her dawah work is empowering and supporting Muslim women. She currently lives in Orland Park and is the mother of two daughters, Thowaiba and Hind Makki. Many of Laila’s students credit her with being their role model, strengthening their faith and inspiring them to become leaders in the Muslim community.

Dr. Shakeela Hassan

shakeela z hassanShakeela Z. Hassan, M.D. has been an interfaith peace-builder and policymaker for more than four decades, known and admired for her dedication and service to humanity. She was the principal community organizer and fundraiser for the Unity Productions landmark PBS documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet.  After devoting her efforts to another documentary film, Ties that Bind, on the relationship between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women, Dr. Shakeela founded Harran Productions Foundation (HPF) dedicated to innovation in intercultural and interreligious education. Since then, the focal project of HPF has been Sounds of Faith, a paradigm for experiential interreligious learning and encounter rooted in the power of the sonic dimension of existence, and the recognition of the ways in which sound connects human beings to the natural world, to one another, and to the divine. After pioneering the Sounds of Faith paradigm in Chicago, New York, and other parts of the U.S., Dr. Shakeela is planning Sounds of Faith events in Strasbourg, Indonesia, Turkey and Jerusalem–God willing. The focus of her work spans unity, human rights, healing, compassion, respect and peaceful coexistence. Dr. Shakeela has served amongst the community members of the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park alongside her husband and enjoyed the growth and development of its educational groundwork and community building efforts.


Nour Akhras 

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 12.04.57 AMAs the crisis in Syria continues to unfold, the plight of the Syrian people is tragic but their courage is awe-inspiring as they continue in their fight for freedom. Precipitated by “The Arab Spring”, the turmoil in Syria has caused thousands of people to flee and seek sanctum from other countries with nothing more than the clothes on their back. Dr. Nour Akhras is currently working to bring awareness of the Syrian people with the organization called Syrian American Medical Society. Last year, Nour, a pediatrician, went on a humanitarian mission to provide urgent healthcare and relief for some of the 8 thousand displaced Syrians at several refugee camps. With the camps being situated in Turkey along the volatile Syrian border, Nour went at great personal risk in the first group of doctors on an exploratory mission in order to provide much needed healthcare not only for children but adults as well. Nour has been an active member of the Chicago Muslim community over the years having served as a board member for Inner-city Muslim Action Network as well as a co-director of the Pillars of IMAN youth program. Nour also obtained Ijaza for Quranic tajweed from Damascus.

Iffath Hasan 

Hafidha Iffath Hasan has spent the past 20 years inspiring a love of Islamic knowledge in women across Chicagoland. She currently teaches Arabic and Qur’anic Memorization at Islamic Institute of Education in Elgin. She also volunteers her time teaching women of all ages at Muslim Society Inc. (Bloomingdale) every Saturday, and Islamic Foundation (Villa Park) every Sunday. Having memorized the entire Qur’an at the age of 37 herself, Hafidha Iffath has been instrumental in transforming entire generations of Muslim women by reviving a culture of learning and scholarship about all aspects of Islam. She teaches from the tafsir or meaning of the Qur’an to encourage women to study Arabic to gain a deeper understanding of the Qur’an. She has also authored “Qur’anic Language Made Easy,” a defining book that has become a staple in Islamic School curriculums. In addition to teaching seven days a week, Hafidha Iffath makes time to also blog and tweet Lessons of the Day, which are inspirational quotes from the Quran, Hadith, scholars and poets. To check out her Pearls of Wisdom go to:

Ameena Matthews 

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 12.04.48 AMNamed Chicago Tribune’s 2011 “Chicagoan of the Year,” Ameena Matthews is known for her dedication to community activism for peace building and social change. In 2006, she joined Ceasefire, a Chicago- based non-profit organization, an award-winning scientific public health model that has been proven to reduce shootings and killings. Ameena is a specialized intervention expert who mediates conflict before they explode into violence. Her groundbreaking work as a Violence Interrupter was featured in the critically acclaimed documentary, “The Interrupters.” Ameena has made several appearances on PBS Frontline, CNN, BBC, NPR, and the Colbert Report to raise awareness of her dedication to stop violence and help save lives. Like many of the troubled youth in the documentary, being exposed to tough neighborhoods had a great impact on Ameena growing up and it was her faith in Islam and having children that pulled her off the streets. She uses her past experience with gang violence to work toward strengthening the communities and impacting the lives of countless number of people. Ameena has been awarded with the TedX Midwest Heroes Award presented by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in 2011.


Amatullah Mildred Moore

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.22.11 PMAmatullah Moore has been serving the Southside Muslim Community for over 30 years. She is the author of Family Roots, A Islamic View of Family Life and a children’s series The Prophets of Allah. Ms. Moore also writes an Islamic Family Life column (A Muslim Dear Abby) for the Muslim Journal for over 19 years and is a contributing writer for IQRA, Sound Vision and other periodicals. She has served as a founding board member for Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and is a regular speaker for the Woman’s Advocacy Alliance, Muslim Women United, and other Islamic organizations. Ms. Moore is currently completing a three year Islamic Chaplaincy Program through Hartford Seminary, and serves as an Intern Chaplain at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Tasneem Osmani

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.22.24 PMTasneem Osmani is a member of the Executive Committee at the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) since 2003. At CIOGC, she has served as Vice Chairperson and Treasurer. She is a founding member of Educate India Fund, a non-profit organization that funds and supports education for underprivileged students in India. Ms.Osmani is a Vice President at a leading investment management firm in Chicago. In addition to her role at the Council, Ms. Osmani serves on the Board of Trustees of Benedictine University in Lisle and Kids-Matter, a non-profit youth development organization in Naperville. Ms. Osmani has been active in numerous organizations such as League of Women Voters, DuPage United, Islamic Center of Naperville, and ISNA. She has also served on the ISNA Convention steering committee for many years. Ms. Osmani regularly participates in many interfaith dialogue events.

Aisheh Said

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.22.30 PMAisheh Said has been serving the Mosque Foundation and Bridgeview communities for the past 27 years. She has obtained her Masters in Social Work from UIC and has been counseling families free of charge, providing hours of individual, family, and youth counseling on a wide range of issues. Ms. Said has served as the Vice President of Mosque Foundation and is currently serving as a director on the Mosque Foundation Board. Aside from her numerous monthly lectures, workshops and youth programs, Ms. Said also has served the community as a Sunday School instructor, camp counselor, and routinely oversees several community functions. She has a background in Shariah and holds halaqas on a regular basis. Ms. Said also serves as an interfaith liaison and was recently featured in the documentary The Ties that Bind.


Mary Ali

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.19.15 PMMary Ali has worked in partnership with her husband presenting Islam to thousands of Americans. She has also volunteered her time to the Muslim Community Center (MCC) and its youth. She serves as a member of the women’s committee and on the Board of Directors. Additionally, she has been the youth group coordinator for the annual MCC Youth Camp since the mid-1980s. Through her involvement in activities with women and the youth, she has proven to be a positive role model for girls and women for almost 30 years


Tasneema Ghazi

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.21.18 PMDr. Tasneema Ghazi is a pioneer in the forefront of Islamic Education for Muslim children and young adults. Her non-profit organization, IQRA International Educational Foundation has developed Islamic textbooks and worked with teachers and educators to provide valuable training and seminars. Dr. Ghazi is an integral part of every aspect of her organization. She also contributes to and facilitates many interfaith events.


Ahlam Mahmood

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.19.36 PMAhlam Mahmood arrived here two years ago as an Iraqi refugee with her two children. Inspite of her struggles, she co-founded the Chicago-based refugee assistance humanitarian organization IMAS. Its mission is two-fold: to aid the more than 3,000 Chicago-area Iraqi refugees and to introduce the region to the rich cultural contributions of its new Iraqi residents. Ms. Mahmood networks with mosques and churches to help refugees obtain jobs, donations of winter wear, and household items. IMAS now holds monthly discussions on Iraqi art, music and literature and participates in Edgewater’s Neighborhood Nights Street Fest.



Sammer Ghouleh

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.18.16 PMSammer Ghouleh of Oak Lawn, founder and president of Spirit: A Magazine Designed for the Diverse Woman, was selected for her efforts to educate, nurture and support women, their families and communities. Ghouleh is an artist, poet and author, giving inspiration and motivation speeches since 1987. She is author of “Treasured Misfortunes,” which was an international winner in 2001.



Naazish Yarkhan

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.17.38 PMNaazish Yarkhan is a NPR and Chicago Public Radio commentator, and syndicated writer for Common Ground News Service. A Huffington Post blogger, she has written for over 30 publications. Most recently, she was on “Speaking of Faith” and was a panelist on PBS’s “Chicago Tonight”. The founder of Refugee Assistance Programs which won the CIOGC Excellence in Community Service Award, Naazish is also the founder of Writers Studio workshops and a poet instructor/ advisory board member of the inter-faith program, Poetry Pals.


Nia Odeoti-Hasan

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 3.17.52 PMFor the last 28 years, Nia Odeoti-Hasan of Springfield has worked as a policy analyst for the Illinois State Senate Democratic Caucus, particularly on the public health and environment committees. In 2006, she was recognized by the state Senate with a proclamation. Odeoti-Hassan has worked hard to encourage Muslims to participate in politics and mentored a few.


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