- Posted April 10, 2008 by
Raleigh, North Carolina
This iReport is part of an assignment:
MAS Freedom-North Carolina Director, Khalilah Sabra - A Voice for Muslim Civil Rights
Sabra, Who Converted to Islam 26 Years Ago, is One of the Loudest Defenders of Her Faith
By Yonat Shimron
N.C. (Wichita Eagle) March 29,
2008 – Standing 5-foot-2 and wearing a Muslim head scarf, Khalilah Sabra
doesn't look like a firebrand.
But the diminutive woman has become the voice for Muslims in
the Triangle, and over the past few years has shown she will not be cowed.
She recently took on a spokesman for the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security who tried to smooth relations with Muslims. When the official
described to Muslims the new steps his office was taking to ease their security
hassles at airports and to respond to complaints about detentions, Sabra was
the first to get up and speak.
"It sounds like Habitat for Humanity," Sabra
scowled, conveying that she did not accept the rosy picture he had painted.
"Don't you think the laws are directed at Middle Easterners and Middle
Sabra, who converted to Islam 26 years ago, has emerged as
one of the loudest defenders of her faith, locking arms with those who have
been harassed, intimidated, or discriminated against. As the director of the
local Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, she sees her role as
ushering in a new era of Muslim civil rights activism.
If Sept. 11, 2001, woke up Americans to the reality of
Islamic terrorism on their own soil, it woke up Sabra to what she saw as
prejudice against Muslim American immigrants. Sabra felt uniquely qualified to
serve as an advocate. She is American-born, a convert from Roman Catholicism.
And she has lived abroad -- in Pakistan
in 1989, and in Lebanon
from 1995 to 1997 with her husband and family.
If anyone understood the complexities of Muslim Americans,
So Sabra, 41, threw herself into community action.
"The day of isolationism is over," she said.
"It's time to get involved."
But Sabra is not only critical of U.S. policies that deprive Muslims
of their liberties, she is also critical of her own faith community.
In the days and months after Sept. 11, Sabra saw her
religion vilified in public and few within the local community rising to defend
it. There were no Muslims on the local school board, no Muslims on the city
council, and only one Muslim in the state legislature.
"It was our fault," said Sabra, adding, "We
were not involved in the realm of politics or community services, and others
But Muslim Americans had more than an image problem. Sabra
began to hear stories of civil liberties denied. They included women turned
down for jobs because of their headscarves, and permanent residents whose
citizenship applications were permanently on hold.
As the wife of a Cisco engineer with a comfortable salary,
Sabra began challenging fellow Muslims by example. She spoke in churches. She
encouraged fellow Muslims to register to vote. She began interfaith
conversations with local Jews. She marched in the NAACP's rally in downtown Raleigh against racism, poverty,
At one event, state Sen. Larry Shaw of Fayetteville heard her speak and later walked
up to her. "Sister, who are you?" asked Shaw, the state's only Muslim
legislator. Sabra has since adopted Shaw as a mentor.
"We're trying to educate the Islamic community to come
of age in mainstream America,"
said Shaw, a Democrat representing Cumberland
County. "If people
understand there's not a dime's worth of difference between us, they will