By Asma Mahdi 3-31-2016 | Series:

A village of strong women has shaped me into the person that stands on this planet today — an ever-evolving, continuously growing, deeply spiritual woman whose priority to slow down a changing climate becomes more evident with each passing day.

Generations of lived women run through my veins. Their stories, struggles, turmoil, and triumphs pump through my heart at a rate of 75 beats per minute, trying to break barriers until they start seeing a crack in the glass. Their narratives live in me through both their presence and absence.

There’s the story of Ayesha. Not that Ayesha, but my mom Ayesha — the strongest woman I know. Mom, you truly live up to your name. Your quest for justice and equality is unparalleled. You taught me how to be fair. You taught me to stand up for what is right, even if it means being the minority voice. You taught me to never give up and to continuously aspire. I can only dream to be half the woman you are, and pray I receive your God-given strength. Most of all, you taught me what it means to be Muslim — to go beyond one’s perspective and continuously seek and unlock the truth found in my heart.

My mother, and the many more before her, run through me and surface every day to see the world change in sometimes strange yet always beautiful ways. It’s an unstated trust I choose to take on, given to me at birth — a trust that I will continue their legacies. And like many decisions in life, some are given and some are chosen.

There are also women in my life I choose to breathe with. With these women, I turn our breath into sounds, sounds into words, and raise them together in solidarity across the currents of justice. Together, we fight for the environment, we fight for rights, for black lives, for women's rights — and constantly strive for peace.

When we’re asked to draw from influential inspirations, we often look to the past or project into the future. In my case, I’ll reflect on the present women in my life who are changing our world:

Rana Sharif, you are incomparable in my eyes. A Muslim feminist scholar in your own right, you have never let faith wane. I aspire to be you. You’ve shown me how to give to this world and how to believe in faith — to have faith in faith. You’ve taught me that since ninth grade, and still continue to do so.

Fiona Teng, my social justice warrior. The art of unlearning and having difficult conversations across lines of difference is something you teach me time and time again. We challenge each other to think outside the paradigms and structures that we are placed in and, at times, confined to. I’m truly blessed to have you in my life.

Naz Khan, you’re my soul sister. What everyone should know about Naz is that she builds. She has shown me what it means to build a meaningful community through the power of interfaith dialogue and action. You serve as a constant reminder of the importance of faith and peacebuilding. And you remind me that no matter where you work to create community, it is important because human bonds and kindness stretch beyond the walls of scripture.

Grace Patterson, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more articulate and soulful person who has dedicated her life work toward constantly and unapologetically fighting for what is just in this world. Your interreligious commitment to understanding the narratives of the oppressed and to eradicate narratives of hate through social impact in countries such as Pakistan have taught me the meaning of perseverance and how to find strength when hope runs thin.

To be among these women, and so many more in my life, is a blessing. Their faith strengthens mine and continues to drive my passion for environmental justice and peacebuilding efforts across lines of difference. The power of women in this work can easily be overlooked. And so I end this tribute with a note to my future daughter:

I hope the faith and narratives I pass onto you will fill your heart with hope and push you to break down walls I cannot see. I also hope that the wind you choose to surround yourself with gives you the strength to breathe and speak the truths that are needed in this world. Insh’Allah.

Asma Mahdi (@SeaAsmaRun) is an environmental activist and former board director for Green Muslims, a faith-based environmental nonprofit. She currently works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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"My Women, My Village: Working Together to Redeem the World"
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