I joined Sisterhood Initiative like many of my sisters did — through a post on Instagram.
I’d moved across countries, schools and streams, in an ill-fitting attempt to find some kind of community. I had followed Nabeela Iqbal on my Instagram for a while and the moment she shared a story asking for resources in Kandy — I knew this was it. I was convinced this meeting would promise some kind of greatness even before I knew what we were meeting for.
Later, in an anecdote I’d bring up again and again, I would try to bail out of the meeting, only to be roped in to take the event photographs. My mom would come with me to show her support. It was the first time I held a DSLR in my hands. I remember walking up to a member of SI just to understand how to uncap the lens.
Four years later, my work at SI has shifted from taking photos, to writing, to becoming the Head of Communications. It’s a role I hold with pride. I’d joke with our members about SI being our baby but it’s exactly what it is. And as I reflect back on the last four years, I remember again just how much I’ve learned and just how important these spaces remain as a Muslim woman.
The SI meeting at Kandy in 2020 was the first time I had ever learned about the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. I remember going home feeling like my world had tilted, learning about an Act that governed the entirety of my life — and every woman I loved — but had spent so long not knowing.
It wasn’t the first time I was aware of what it meant to be a Muslim or even vigilant about what it meant to be a woman. But it was the first time I didn’t feel alone in what I felt.
Over the four years at SI, our work has taken a multitude of shapes and forms. From our Campaigns Team — where we worked with women all over the island and learned about gender equality, interfaith and intrafaith conversations — to our current Write for Justice program where we work with writers all over the island and teach them the power of words and it’s due diligence — SI’s work at its core centers care and a love for community and growth.
Our Interfaith Ifthar spoke of the need for conversations between communities and remember our sustenance comes from being together. We documented stories from Slave Island to Batticaloa, shared about what it meant to exist as we did at People’s University, and taught young women in Puttalam about digital literacy.
In light of the temporary bans of face coverings in 2021, our Muslim women came together to share their own words, their own feelings, and their own right to choose. In light of the economic crisis, we shared stories of women affected by the heightened living costs and their calamities. Post Easter Sunday, post forced cremations, post COVID, we spoke of our own demonization, our own grief, our own experiences as Muslims and our own experiences as women.
I speak of SI’s community and growth because I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Over the last four years, we’ve grown to more than 200 members with a core team of fourteen women who all champion themselves to care. To have difficult conversations even with the people we love. To speak for a community, even in the face of exclusion. To speak, even when it is difficult.
I make no attempt to romanticize the work that goes behind the scenes. The SI core team has been at the end of many campaigns with accusations and fingers thrown left and right. We have unconsciously created a reputation that precedes even ourselves. While our space has grown, it has also become extremely difficult for us to speak of our own work and our own women without being labeled as the enemy. It is difficult work but it is work that must be done.
Over the last four years at SI, our work has taken different forms but at its core, we will always center community. In the light of such exclusion, of such misery, what else can we do but be there for one another? What else can we do but speak?
When I look at SI’s future, I wonder what is in store for us. There is not much we can always be sure of but this I can tell — there will always be space at Sisterhood Initiative for anyone who ever needs it. There will always be a space called home. There is much work that needs to be done and much we can do together.
Written by Fawzul Himaya Hareed