‘Reconnecting with the human’: Minnesota podcast tackles humanity, womanhood and Islam

The Digital Sisterhood launched back in 2021 and has since drawn a huge international audience


Wednesday evening into Thursday is the beginning of Ramadan.

It is a holy month when observers fast from sunrise to sunset and turn inward to pray, reflect and spend time with loved ones.

The creators of the podcast The Digital Sisterhood hope to help people do just that.

The show focuses on the stories of Muslim women in a space where religion, faith and community mix with topics like like sexual assault and suicide. But the episodes are also full of happier and lighter moments like love and Twitter comments.

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Since the show first launched back in 2021 it’s drawn a huge international audience. At the end of last year, the podcast had more than 10 million downloads. Season three is due to be released.

Woodbury, Minn.-based Muna Scekomar is producer, editor and one of the founders of the show.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talked with her ahead of Ramadan on Wednesday.

This is such a holy time in the Muslim world. What’s on your mind heading into this time?

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to reset and to take a pause from the drone of everyday. Everybody’s hustling, trying to get something done for themselves.


Muslim women in sport: ‘Slow progress’ on removing barriers

There has been “slow progress” in breaking down the “barriers and challenges” for Muslim women taking part in sport, says a new report.

The report published by England’s largest Muslim women’s sports charity, Muslimah Sports Association (MSA), found 97% of British Muslim women surveyed wanted to increase their current participation in sports – yet 37% are not involved in any sports or activities.

The research was carried out to identify the demand across the country for Muslim female participation in sport, and to explore the under-representation of Muslim women in sports and to what barriers they are facing.

The report says sport participation can help to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslim women.

Yashmin Harun, chair and founder of MSA, said: “The impact of the pandemic and successive lockdowns was clear. It was evident physical activity levels and the general wellbeing of women from diverse backgrounds had suffered.

“The research demonstrates that progress has been slow. The barriers and challenges Muslim females face are still very much the same from reports conducted 15 years ago.

“Quite often Muslim women are left on the fringes of conversations when we talk about sports for all. The research identifies there is a huge demand for Muslim women wanting to be more active but accessibility and opportunities are rare and safe spaces are not provided.”

The Muslim Women in Sport report found:

  • While 80% participate in sports activities ‘casually’, that falls to 9% at a ‘competitive’ level.
  • 43% of Muslim women do not think current sports facilities are appropriate to them.
  • 33% say previous experiences have negatively impacted their participation in sport.


‘I’m not a model. I’m an athlete and people should focus more on my athleticism rather than my clothes’

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – JUNE 20: Ons Jabeur of Tunisia celebrates victory over Daria Kasatkina of Russia during the final of the Viking Classic Birmingham at Edgbaston Priory Club on June 20, 2021 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Cameron Smith/Getty Images)

Don’t be surprised if we hear more about Muslim women in sports this year.

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur is the No. 2 seed at the first grand slam of the 2023 tennis season – the Australian Open, which got underway on Monday.

Jabeur turned heads in 2022 with thrilling performances at Wimbledon and the US Open, and she’s not the only Muslim woman athlete in the spotlight.

Doaa Elghobashy has been training to help Egypt qualify for the 2024 Paris Games in beach volleyball. She and her teammate were the first Egyptian women to compete in Beach volleyball at the Olympics in 2016.

Meanwhile, three-time NCAA All American and Olympic bronze medalist in fencing, Ibtihaj Muhammad aims to empower women and girls through sports, her clothing line and books. And three-time Egyptian Olympian, Aya Medany is working to increase gender equality in sport.

These Muslim women have made history in their respective competitions and opened doors for a new generation of athletes.

Despite their accomplishments and years of progress making sport more inclusive of Muslim women and girls, there are still hurdles to clear.

This is a look at the roads to success for Jabeur, Elghobashy, Medany and Muhammad and how changing rules have impacted their faith and participation in sport.

What a difference a rule makes

According to the Pew Research Center, there were nearly two billion Muslims around the globe in 2019.

In recent years, Muslim women and girls have competed in a range of sports on the world stage – from fencing to figure skating.

But even with the rise of media and social media coverage, an exact number of Muslim women athletes is difficult to pinpoint in part because some don’t vocalize their beliefs or wear clothing indicative of their faith.


How Leaders Can Better Support Muslim Women at Work

Summary.   Religion is often an uncomfortable topic to broach, but faith is an integral part of identity — avoiding or denying it prevents people from bringing their authentic selves to work. Many Muslims struggle to belong, often hiding facets of their identity related to their appearance, affiliation, association, and advocacy. Muslim women are more likely to be economically disadvantaged than other social groups in the UK, are three times as likely to be unemployed and looking for a job as non-Muslim women, and often experience twice the career impediments. It’s time for companies to include faith in their DEI efforts. The author presents five strategies for leaders to support Muslim women at work.

Although diversity, equity, and inclusion has become a priority for companies over the last several years, faith affiliation is often left out of the wider conversation. Muslims, in particular, face a plethora of challenges at work given their unique faith-related needs that make it difficult to adapt to the values and orientation of the dominant work culture.

Religion is often an uncomfortable topic to broach, but faith is an integral part of identity — avoiding or denying it prevents people from bringing their authentic selves to work. Many Muslims struggle to belong, often hiding facets of their identity related to their appearance, affiliation, association, and advocacy. Muslim women are more likely to be economically disadvantaged than other social groups in the UK, are three times as likely to be unemployed and looking for a job as non-Muslim women in the west, and often experience greater career impediments.

In my career, I often encounter people who find it surprising to see me own my space and often refer to my faith when talking about my achievements, as if my merits are an exception to my religious identity. It’s time for companies to include faith in their DEI efforts. Here are five strategies for leaders to support Muslim women at work.

Avoid faith stereotyping.

The media plays a massive role in shaping societal expectations and promoting images of Muslim women that perpetuate unrealistic, stereotypical, and limiting perceptions. These naïve and clichéd narratives are frustrating for professional Muslim women who continuously feel the need to defend their faith.


There is no one Islamic interpretation on ethics of abortion, but the belief in God’s mercy and compassion is a crucial part of any consideration

As a scholar of Islamic ethics, I’m often asked, “What does Islam say about abortion?” – a question that has become even more salient since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 50 years of constitutional protection for the right to get an abortion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling on June 24, 2022.

This question really needs to be reframed, because it implies a singular view. Islam isn’t monolithic, and there is no single Islamic attitude about abortion. The answer to the question depends on what kinds of Islamic sources, scriptural, legal or ethical, are applied to this contemporary issue by people of varying levels of authority, expertise or religious observance.

Muslims have had a long-standing, rich relationship with science, and specifically, the practice of medicine. This has yielded multiple interpretations of right and wrong when it comes to the body, including ideas about and practices surrounding pregnancy.

Islamic frameworks for thinking about abortion

The typical framing of the question of whether abortion ought to be legal hinges upon American Christian debates about when life begins. Muslims who get abortions don’t always ask “when does life begin?” to ascertain Islamic positions on the matter. Rather, as my research in the Abortion and Religion project and forthcoming book “Women as Humans” has found, Muslims who get abortions generally consider under what circumstances abortion would be permitted in the Islamic tradition.


How different British Muslim women are celebrating Eid-ul-Adha this year

“The beautiful thing about Eid is that no matter where you are in the world, on Eid day fellow Muslims will always welcome you like family.”

Eid-ul-Adha is a festival celebrated by Muslims around the world, and one of the most notable dates in the Islamic calendar. It falls on the tenth day in the final month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, following the completion of the annual Pilgrimage of Hajj.

The celebration of Eid-ul-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) is to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s devotion to God. The day usually begins with an Eid prayer at the mosque, followed by celebrations with loved ones, delicious meals and exchanging of gifts and Eidi money. It is also marked by the sharing of meat and other food amongst loved ones and the less fortunate, ensuring everyone is able to eat on the blessed day.

This year, I asked women in the UK how they would be spending the day and what their celebrations looked like, as well as the food they were most excited for and their must-have Eid beauty products!

Sidra Imtiaz, 26, Bradford/London, British Pakistani

PR Senior Executive, Freelance Journalist

EidulAdha How Muslim Women Are Celebrating

“My Eid actually looks very different this year! I usually celebrate with my family in Yorkshire, where my mother and sister-in-law host us for the day. For as long as I can remember, my Eid day begins with the smells of their delicious cooking wafting through the house – my favourite of the traditional Pakistani foods is definitely a lamb and rice dish. I feel I’ll never be able to cook as well as they do! However, this year I am visiting California with my American husband so will be spending the day with his close friends in the Bay Area. I will definitely have major FOMO over what our family in the UK are doing, but I’m excited to experience a stateside Eid. We will be visiting the local mosque for the morning Eid prayer and then have lunch at one of the halal restaurants in the area. Even though we don’t have huge plans, I will definitely still be dressing in my Pakistani shalwar-kameez, and as for glam … I want that California glow I am seeing on everyone here! I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to achieve it naturally, so I’ll be relying on Charlotte Tilbury Flawless Filter to give my complexion a boost! The beautiful thing about Eid is that no matter where you are in the world, on Eid day fellow Muslims will always welcome you like family and that sense of community and belonging is what makes it so special.”


Islam, democracy, and women empowerment

THIS year’s commemoration of Eid’l Fitr or Feast of Ramadan coincided with World Press Freedom Day on May 3. Muslims worldwide observe this religious holiday to mark the end of Ramadan’s month-long, dawn-to-sunset fasting. It became a national holiday in the Philippines starting 2002.

On the other hand, World Press Freedom Day acts as a reminder to governments about the need to respect their commitment to one of democracy’s pillars — freedom of the press. It was the United Nations General Assembly that declared on May 3, 1993 and every year thereafter that the right to freedom of expression must be upheld in keeping with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The convergence of these religious and secular concepts may be found in the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), established in 2002 amid the global and domestic challenges confronting Filipino Muslims. At that time, the US and its allies were waging a “war on terror” — with the Philippines being tagged as the next front after Afghanistan. This new front was centered naturally in Mindanao mainly because of the Abu Sayyaf, a renegade band of fighters with alleged ties to al-Qaeda.

As a result, the “war on terror” fanned a growing global debate that Islam is incompatible with democracy, which threatened to undermine the democratic space in Muslim societies. This debate accompanied the rise in radical movements among Islamist organizations, culminating in the fatal attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Thus, the PCID was founded by three Filipino Muslim intellectuals who saw the need to articulate the voice of the Bangsamoro: Amina Rasul, who served in the Cabinet of President Fidel Ramos; Abrahan Iribani, previously the spokesperson of the Moro National Liberation Front; and Nasser Marohomsalic, a former Human Rights commissioner. Its members consist of prominent leaders and thinkers from government, business, academe, military, and other sectors, with representation from Mindanao’s major tribes.

Believing that democracy is enshrined in Islam, they recognized that the current elements of the continuing struggle for genuine self-determination are hallmarks of a functioning democracy for Filipino Muslims. These elements include just peace, human rights, credible elections, capable autonomous governance, and equitable development.

PCID treasurer and board of convenors member Yusuf Ledesma said the organization has been focusing recently on empowering women in war zones through a podcast series titled “She Talks Peace” hosted by Ms. Rasul. In partnership with Women and Gender Institute, PCID capacitates female participants on governance, economic empowerment, political participation, peace-building, and rights-based approaches to community development.


A new test looks at the way Muslim women are portrayed onscreen

There are not a lot of Muslim women in American television shows or movies. For many people in the U.S., the first Muslim woman character that comes to mind is probably Princess Jasmine from the animated Disney film, Aladdin. And that’s a bit of a problem.

“I see Jasmine as the Muslim version of the woman who needs saving, who’s constantly the victim or the runaway,” says actor and founder of Muslim Casting Serena Rasoul. “We see these particular stereotypes and tropes being used over and over and over when it comes to Muslim women…and then it still persists in media today.”

“It does present itself to be a negative view and negative messaging that we’re giving to young girls. Not just Muslim girls, but…brown girls in general.”

Rasoul wanted to do something about this, so she worked with Pillars Fund and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to develop the Muslim Women On-Screen Test, which assesses onscreen representation of Muslim women. She spoke with NPR’s Juana Summers about the test, how it works and how she hopes it will change the way Muslim women are represented in the United States.


Submission, Freedom and Resistance: How Muslims View Hijab

Much is being written by serious commentators about the ongoing Hijab controversy. Insightful articles have highlighted various important intersections related to the issue, such as that between constitutional ideals and the law, and between minority rights and equity. Useful observations have been made about the intensifying marginalization of India’s Muslims, and relentless drive to construct and consolidate a gullible, excitable majority, all set against a larger backdrop of growing widespread disempowerment.

Instead of elaborating further on these important issues, as a Muslim and an advanced student of Islam I will instead try to shed some light for the curious readers on three of the most important, yet neglected, ways in which Muslims themselves relate to Hijab.

At the outset, a clarification about the term “Hijab” is in order. It’s an Arabic word that means “covering” or “barrier”. It is not, as some have come to believe, the name of a specific item of clothing, even though this word may sometimes be used in this way. In Muslim culture, “Hijab” is often used to refer to the body of inter-related Islamic teachings that encourage all humans to cover their bodies in modesty, albeit in different ways that are tuned to the differences between genders and cultures. To practice Hijab is to follow these teachings.

With the establishment of the modern-traditional binary following the European Enlightenment, and in the context of modernity’s own prescriptions about women’s clothing and behaviour, Hijab teachings, for women, in particular, have occasionally become a topic of debate, and in some cases, controversy too. Viewed through the coloured lens of modernity, a woman’s practice of hijab is at best a benign sign of quaint traditionalism, and at worst, an existential threat to humanity. Consequently, this article too will focus primarily on the hijab for women.


Ohio Muslims Celebrate Passage of Bill Allowing Hijab in Sports

Around the world, Muslim women are defying cultural barriers and stereotypes to compete and excel at the highest levels of sports — in football, fencing, weightlifting, basketball, ice hockey and more.

Following years of campaigning, Muslim students in Ohio have celebrated the passage of a new bill requiring high schools to accommodate religious needs, specifically regarding clothing and head coverings during sports competitions.

Senate Bill 181, which was also backed by Christian and Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, had unanimous support in the state legislature, passing in the House 89-0 and the in Senate 33-0.

📚 Read Also: Disqualified for Donning Hijab, Muslim Teen Becomes Change Maker

“To see the acceptance and growth that we have in 2022. It’s amazing, because my school is so accepting,” Nasreen Shakur, a member of the rowing team at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, told Cleveland 19.

The new legislation aims at ending discrimination against religious expression for student-athletes and was passed in the state Senate earlier this month.