This year I attended ICNA-MAS convention in Baltimore, Maryland expecting to see the same topics of discussion; marriage, children, strengthening faith, building community ties, etc. Yet, to my surprise the family series included a session for single parents! I became so overwhelmed with emotions because finally our community was acknowledging these invisible women (and men) and their struggles. Three years after my divorce, I was beginning to see some light and support in the large scale Muslim community for women I had never before realized were struggling. Although my support system was pretty solid since my parents lived close by, my friends lent their help and ears, and my masjid and Muslim therapist welcomed my random bursts of emotional breakdowns, I still felt there was no space for women who were raising children alone. I became more aware of these women and their struggles within our Muslim community. Let’s face it, divorce isn’t the most accepted situation even though it is perfectly legal in our religious framework. Single mothers come from domestic abuse, abandonment, becoming widowed unexpectedly, or may have even chose to remove themselves from a toxic marriage. Either way, their struggles are real and there is a need to create a safe space at our mosques for these women to relate, seek help and feel that they are not alone.
The discussion was lead by Imam Mohamed Magid (Imam of Dulles Area Society), Joshua Salaam (Native Deen singer and Youth Director at ADAMS Center), and Mariam Azimi (Director of Ikram Foundation). The topics were amazing and tear-jerking for someone who has experienced, to some degree, all the struggles discussed. I am super emotional, but they must have really thought I had it tough with all the tears flowing from my eyes. I was so touched that these individuals were truly invested in the well-being of a demographic of women that has been overlooked in our mosques. They spoke about the importance of co-parenting as it ties into society and our religious ethics. Further, being mindful of our CHILDREN’s rights during separation, remarriage, and how family and community can support single parents and their children. Joshua also brought his insight as a once single father to the table making the discussion relatable and relevant to the men in the audience.
They ended the discussion with an introduction and overview of the Ikram Foundation. Mariam Azimi shared her story of becoming a single mother of 4 children and feeling she had no real support system at the masjid. Being the incredible super woman that she is, she approached Imam Mohamed Magid of her mosque and asked to create a support group in the masjid that would be a safe place for these women, most of whom were victims of domestic violence and unable to support themselves financially. I connected with the group after and asked some questions to help introduce this amazing foundation to the rest of the world. I hope, with Mother’s Day today, you feel supportive and are able to donate to this amazing foundation so that these woman can have the tools to empower themselves and their children to better futures.
I had the honor of sitting down with Mariam and learning more about how Ikram was created…
What does Ikram mean?
Ikram comes from verse 70 of Al-Isra in the Quran (Al-Isra:70) “wa laqad karamna bani Adam”–“We have honored the children of Adam.” Ikram means to honor and respect.
What is the Ikram foundation and how did it get started?
It started with my own struggle. As a single mom of 4 children I was put in very difficult positions that left me frustrated, confused and isolated. I felt there was no space for women like myself in the Islamic community so I decided to change that by creating the CircleofsiSTARhood, a divorced Muslim women’s support group. Through this group I discovered that the common theme among the women who joined was the challenge of not being economically independent. I took my own experience and the circles experience to community activists and leaders Dr.Ilham Al-Talib and the late Iman El shengeiti (may God be pleased with her) and a collaborative process was born and Ikram was founded in 2014.
What services does Ikram offer to our community?
The primary flagship program that Ikram offers is the educational assistance program. Any Muslim woman living in the United States who has been divorced or widowed can apply for a grant in the following areas:
College/University Degree Seeking:
- Vocational Institutions (for example, culinary, IT, cosmetology, caregiver)
- Interest-free Educational Loans
- Student Loan Repayment Assistance
- Professional Accreditation and Certification Assistance
- Research Grants
Ikram focuses on bringing the community educational workshops to promoting healthy marriage and prevention of divorce, alleviating stigmas associated with divorce or widowhood, as well as wellness and confidence building workshops. We are working on being the leader in workshops on conflict resolution within marriages and mediation workshop provided as tools for the whole family as well as a training tool for members of community.
What is the biggest obstacle in creating and maintaining this group?
The biggest obstacle is working with clients to continue their education as life naturally moves forward quickly with many challenges, like work and raising a family.
What do you wish people knew about single Muslim American mothers? About domestically abused mothers? About widowed mothers? (whichever is relevant )
All mothers, irrespective of their trauma, need a support system in place. It could be a formal group like CircleofsiSTARhood or an informal one of family and friends. While single moms are some of the strongest women they often times don’t have a safe place to share without being judged.
What is the best way to help a single mother?
The best way to help a single mother would be to let her know that you are there for her. Often times holding space for someone can mean to simply listen and empathize with the challenges that are coming their way. Also, connecting them to resources and professionals as needed could be beneficial.
What kind of struggles do these women face on a daily basis?
The most common struggle for single moms is financial security. Often times the women are working jobs which require long hours and hard labor. In return, they are not paid enough and/or don’t have any benefits. Ikram Foundation is investing in these women so that they can move out of that cycle and become empowered women who will then raise strong and healthy empowered children.
How can we help this organization and the women who seek help from it?
Raise awareness of what we do, refer clients to us, and donate to our organization so we can help more women!