310. Munira Khalif (Founder, Lighting The Way)



Munira Khalif is an 18-year-old high school senior at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota who recently was accepted into all 8 Ivy League Universities in the US.



MH Exclusive: Native Deen

Native Deen

Native Deen is an Islamic musical group from the Washington, D.C. area.

MH: How and when did Native Deen start?

The 3 of us started performing together in 2000. Although we did not actually come up with a name until about 2002. However, the seeds were planted through the project called MYNA Raps which started in 1992. I was on the first MYNA raps with other artists. Naeem and Abdul-Malik were on MYNA raps 2-4 with other artists. And all three of us were the only artists on MYNA raps 5. We performed songs from MYNA raps 5 for 5 years until we came out with our own album in 2005 titled Deen You Know.

 MH: What topics or themes influence your music, lyrics and content?

We all have different backgrounds. And our upbringing finds its way into out music. We have home school backgrounds, Islamic School backgrounds, public school backgrounds, military backgrounds, university backgrounds, marriage, children, etc. We all have different music that we prefer and those different styles of music finds its way into our style as well.

MH: What role does music have in educating and inspiring individuals to change themselves and their communities?

Its huge. Music is a language that speaks to people on top of their regular language. A song can do a lot more than a speech for the emotional well being of a person sometimes. Music is another tool used to communicate thoughts and messages to people.

MH: Some argue that music can be dawah and can educate people of other faiths about Islam and Muslims. Should Muslim artists create music geared only towards Muslims or make music that is relatable to people of other faith too?

Both. Every artist does not have to do both. However, I think the Muslim community needs artists that do both.

 MH: Native Deen is one of the pioneers when it comes to Muslim hip hop music. Have you seen an evolution and an increase in appearance of Muslim rappers and musicians?

Oh yes. Its good to see many more artists coming on the scene. Alhamdu-lilah we were able to push the envelope a little and open some doors for the artists coming now.

MH: Many of your songs focus on Muslim American identity. How important is it to create messages for Muslim youth to be proud of their Muslim identity?

It’s very important. Muslim identity is a growing concern for many American Muslim communities.

MH: Native Deen’s traveled internationally and nationally and your music has been universally accepted and been a crucial part of the development of some Muslim youth’s identity. Have you seen common challenges for Muslim youth in the US and internationally?

Gender relations is a common problem. Youth do not feel empowered to have proper relationships with the opposite gender. Identity is another common challenge. Muslim Youth are not aware of their history and sometimes they do not think of themselves highly. And may consider the West as the advanced society because of today’s reality.

 MH: Many people complain about the negative connotations associated with hip hop and rap and the messages promoted in the genre of rap and hip hop. How would you respond to individuals who say hip hop and rap shouldn’t be listened to (no matter who the artist is) due to the negative influence it has on the youth?

That is a very general statement. A person can make it even broader and put ALL music into that category. The fact is that music is a tool and hip hop is a style. The lyrics are a different thing. And there are many hip hop songs that are extremely positive. It would be better to teach youth to stay away from bad lyrics no matter what the style of music instead of keeping them away from hip hop alone.

 MH: Many Muslim artists like Lupe Fiasco have been critical of current trends in hip hop and amongst rappers and tries to promote positive messages in his music. How important is it for messages in music to be meaningful and positive?

Its very important. But I think its more important for it NOT to be negative. Meaning, a person can write a song about watching water on the beach. Or some experience they had. Another person may not find the song meaningful or positive. But they can recognize that its not negative.

MH: Is it possible for Muslim musicians and artists to go “mainstream” and still maintain the positive messages in their music?

Of course. I think the next generation will produce many more of these types of artists.

 MH: Have you seen an expansion of Muslim artists into different genres of music apart from rap?

I’m seeing Muslims artists coming up into every style of music there is. Reggae, Country, Rock, etc.

MH: Who are some of your favorite Muslim musicians or artists?

Since I can’t name them all, I wont name any. Because I know these artists. And I would not want to offend anyone by forgetting.

MH: If you could collaborate with any artists or groups, Muslim or non-Muslim artist who would you like to work with?

I would like to do a project with Lupe personally. I think Naeem would love to do a project with Yasin Bey (Mos Def).

MH: What advice would you give to aspiring Muslim artists and musicians?

Have a partner. Don’t do it alone. Even if its just a manager who is close to you. But have a partner.

MH: Where can we learn more about your work and follow you work?

Facebook and http://www.nativedeen.com

279. Malika Bilal (Co-Host of The Stream, Al Jazeera English)



Malika Bilal is the digital producer and co-host of The Stream. She joined the Al Jazeera DC team by way of Doha, where she worked as an editor and writer for the Al Jazeera English website.


MH Exclusive: Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibtihaj Muhammad is an American sabre fencer and member of the United States fencing team. She is the first Muslim woman to compete for the United States in international competition. She captured a bronze medal in the women’s sabre team event at the 2011 World Fencing Championships held in Catania, Italy, competed in the 2010 World Fencing Championships in Paris, France and attended the 2011 XVI Pan American Games where she won the gold medal in the women’s sabre team event.  She is also a 2-time United States National Champion.

MH: Not a lot of Americans are familiar with the sport of fencing. What got you into fencing?

Early on, my parents always encouraged us to participate in sports. They felt that engaging in sports provided us with opportunities to be physically fit and also be active and social in a productive and halal way. I was involved in different sports, including track, tennis, softball, and even volleyball. When it came to uniforms, it was a constant struggle. My mother always had to tweak my uniforms to make them more modest and appropriate for me to wear. My parents saw my desire to compete and wanted to find a sport for me where I could be fully covered.

I discovered fencing for the first time when I was about 12 years old. My mother and I were driving past a local high school and we happened to see the fencing team practicing through the windows. I was attracted to it because I noticed the attire of the players and how they were fully clothed. Fencing presented a unique opportunity for me where I could feel comfortable in my values and participate in sport. I was 13 years old when I joined my high school’s fencing team and from there followed this pursuit to where I am today.


MH: What advice would you give someone whose pursuits may not embrace his/her religion as well as fencing did for you? For instance, someone who may want to pursue a career as a news reporter and faith/wearing a headscarf alienates her?

Had I been discouraged by the lack of minorities involved in fencing when I first gained interest in the sport over a decade ago, (Allah knows best) I wouldn’t be where I am today. I always try to encourage people to set their bar high. Never allow bias to your religion, ethnicity, or your gender hinder you from following your dreams and doing what you love. Anything is possible with hard work, determination, and prayer. Hold tight to theses and you shall not fail with the will of Allah.


MH: Did you ever face any obstacles as a Muslim competitor? As a woman? Which one was a bigger challenge?

Of course, I cannot deny that I have faced discrimination and obstacles throughout my career. However, I feel that comes with being an ethnic and religious minority in the United States. People an be apprehensive when dealing with a Muslim American fencer, but I don’t let that deter me from my goals. I constantly remind myself that I am not only doing this for my self, but Inshallah this will also be beneficial for the Muslims and minorities who come after me. Inshallah I am paving the way for others.


MH: Tell us a bit about your experience with the Peter Westbrook Foundation. What drew you to them?

When I first begin high school fencing in New Jersey, I was one of few African Americans. I remember a parent suggested that I check out the fencing club in Harlem where “black kids” fenced. Initially, I was offended by her remarks. Was I so different from the other NJ fencers that I had to go to NY to find fencers who looked like me? Though I am not sure whether or not her suggestion was meant to be offensive, it did awaken the desire to find African American fencers. As much as I wanted to feel a sense of normalcy in the fencing world, there was the constant reminder that I was a minority.

When I was 17, a senior in high school, my mom took me to the Peter Westbrook Foundation in New York City. It was the premiere club in NYC, where all the elite level minority level fencers trained. Though I was amazed at the level of talent exhibited by so many of the clubs athlete, it was the comradery and strong sense of family that drew me in.


MH: Do you feel a certain amount of responsibility to Muslims around the world to be a role model and to spread your story in order to counteract the misconceptions many people have of Muslims?

My journey through my fencing career has undoubtedly brought a significant amount of attention to Muslim women in sports. It was never my intention to be a role model, but I have been presented with an unique opportunity to provide other Muslim women courage and the foundation participate in sport. Muslim woman are not common in the sports arena. I hope to break misconceptions and make hijab and sports a common thread of discussion in both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

My hijab brought me to a sport I never would have discovered otherwise. I was exposed to a sport that gave me a foundation to become who I am today. I pray my story reminds Muslim women and youth that nothing should hinder them in their pursuit of reaching their dreams.

MH: In an interview, you mentioned that some people in the fencing community don’t know how to react to you because you are different from them. How did you deal with that?

Alhumdulillah I have been able to accomplish a lot athletically while wearing my hijab. I found a sport that embraces my religious beliefs and my desire to wear the hijab, breaking several stereotypes by excelling in a sport not typical to minorities or Muslim women. I have earned my spot on the United States team and my “seat at the table.”

Earlier in my career off comments about my race and religion might have upset me, but now I know that purpose is much bigger than me. I wear my hijab because of my love for Allah and my commitment to Islam.  In such a racially and economically static sport, I am constantly mindful that what I do is for the Muslims and minorities who come after me.


MH: You talk often about your defining principles of hard work, determination, patience, amongst others. Do you think your faith instilled these values in you?

I do believe that Islam instilled values if hard work and patience. Allah (swt) loves that if one does a job he perfects it. I challenge myself everyday to be a better Muslim, daughter, sister, and athlete.


MH: Do you think the biggest problems facing Muslims come from non-Muslims perceptions and treatment of Muslims or are the most imperative issues created within the Muslim community?

I believe the issues Muslim face comes from both non-Muslims and within the Muslim community. It is important that we work together as an ummah to combat the negative stereotypes we all face everyday.


MH: What advice do you have for girls who wear hijab who want to pursue sports but receive backlash from both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities?

For me, my hijab has become an integral part of who I am as a person. It is extremely important to be confident in yourself and in your faith. Never allow someone else’s misconceptions about you hinder you from reaching your dreams.


MH: Do you feel the focus on the hijab by the media on individuals who do wear it and are successful takes away from their achievements?

Not at all. My hijab has brought much attention to the sport of fencing and awareness in the United States. As the first Muslim woman to represent the United States in international competition, I pray that my story reaches as many people as possible and encourages them dream big. I am thankful every moment of every day for each experience I have had.


MH: When people hear your story, what do you hope they take away from it?

I want other minorities and Muslim women and youth to believe that anything is possible through perseverance. I hope my story inspires them to dream big and never allow their religion, gender, or race to hinder them from accomplishing their goals.

211. Ummuka (Online Resource for Muslim Mothers)

Ummuka primary objective is to empower Muslim moms using Islamic principles and practical solutions to become the mom they want to be!
UMMUKA aims to provide practical solutions, by making parenting fun.  Reaching out to moms through an on-line community creating a forum where moms share their experiences and be a source of inspiration for each other.



169. Saadya El Wafy (Ashoka Fellow, Saudi Arabia)


Saadya El Wafy is promoting development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in squatter areas that are often ignored. Braving beatings and social ostracism, she convenes stakeholders in a framework of civil district councils and empowers communities to alleviate poverty.


167. Elan the Mag (Online Muslim Culture Magazine)

elanthemag.com is a daily, online publication on global Muslim youth culture. Formerly known in print form as elan Magazine, elan offers witty, engaging, thought-provoking and sometimes sarcastic takes on the issues that matter to our fellow young, hip Muslims. In addition to daily commentary from our bloggers on topics ranging from entertainment to politics, elan includes feature articles from prominent voices within our community, roundtable discussions by young Muslim leaders on hot topics, photo-essays, videos, profiles, special sections like “WTFatwa” and “Policy Shift,” and much more.