Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition

U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, Ilhan Omar praise conditions at Fort McCoy, call out ‘fearmongering”

U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and Ilhan Omar praised conditions for the nearly 13,000 Afghan refugees housed at Fort McCoy, commending the state of medical care and vetting at the military base in western Wisconsin during a visit Saturday.

Moore, of Milwaukee, and Omar, of Minnesota, detailed their tour of the base alongside members of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, who brought a truckload of new clothes to donate to the Afghans currently housed at the base. The congresswomen had previously called for an investigation into conditions at the base after reports of neglect and mistreatment.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported earlier this month that many refugees had not received new sets of clothes, with women facing harassment by Afghan men at the base. An official with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the refugees at the base, has said those problems have since been addressed.

There had also been reports of refugees waiting for several hours for meager allocations of food.
 

“It was for us an interest in doing our oversight work as members of Congress, to try to see what was actually happening here in the military base of Fort McCoy,” said Omar.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported earlier this month that many refugees had not received new sets of clothes, with women facing harassment by Afghan men at the base. An official with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the refugees at the base, has said those problems have since been addressed.

There had also been reports of refugees waiting for several hours for meager allocations of food.
“It was for us an interest in doing our oversight work as members of Congress, to try to see what was actually happening here in the military base of Fort McCoy,” said Omar.

The congresswomen, both Democrats, also rebuked criticism of refugee vetting made by Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, of Oshkosh, who said the base was a national security concern after two Afghan men were charged in federal court for separate incidents of alleged assault and sexual abuse of children.

“I know there are a lot of people who are fearmongering for political reasons, but these are probably the safest neighbors we can have in our communities,” Omar said.

Moore seconded the thoroughness of vetting at the base, saying the group met children and Afghans with advanced degrees during the tour.

“We really did not run into criminals,” Moore said.

 
Clothing truck

Brig. Gen. Chris Norrie with Task Force Fort McCoy speaks with Shawn Payne of the Milwaukee Islamic Dawah Center beside a shipment of donated clothes for the nearly 13,000 Afghan refugees housed at Fort McCoy on Saturday.

The clothing donated on Saturday included winter coats, gloves and hats, sorely needed by the refugees as cold weather fast approaches in Wisconsin.

One member of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, Inshirah Farhoud, said many refugees they met at the base had yet to receive unused clothing.

While at the base, which is about 40 miles east of La Crosse, the congresswomen were briefed by State Department and Homeland Security officials and later toured refugee facilities. Moore said that 24/7 medical care was available at the base, noting that cases of measles at the base had been treated and that other refugees with medical conditions had been taken to area hospitals.

“The number of people who are falling ill is diminishing every single day, which tells us this community is becoming more and more healthy,” Moore remarked.

The House of Representatives authorized more than $6 billion for Afghan resettlement earlier this week, which includes a new timeline for the refugees to claim asylum. At the base Saturday, Moore said that Afghans are expected to begin resettling in the United States around Thanksgiving.

Representative Moore & Omar tour Fort McCoy, speak with refugees about needs & next steps

 

Representative Moore & Omar tour Fort McCoy, speak with refugees about needs & next steps

 
Published: Sep. 25, 2021 at 7:31 PM CDT
 

FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WMTV) – Two Democratic lawmakers said their minds are at ease after a private tour of living facilities at Fort McCoy, a week after they called for an investigation into possible mistreatment and claims of inadequate living conditions for the nearly 13,000 Afghan refugees currently housed there.

Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar toured the military base and spoke with refugees on Saturday, following a call by the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition to investigate these allegations.

“It was for us an interest in doing our oversight work as members of Congress, to try to see what actually was happening here in the military base of Fort McCoy,” said Representative Omar.

Both Representative Omar and Congresswoman Moore said they were impressed with the work military officials have put into making life comfortable for the refugees.

Representative Omar said many families they spoke with are eager to start their new lives in America and contribute to society.

“I know that there are a lot of people who are fear-mongering for political reasons, but these are probably the safest Americans we can, safest neighbors we can have in our communities and the agencies that are doing this work are trusted,” said Representative Omar.

The base is currently nearing capacity, housing approximately 12,600 refugees right now. Congresswoman Moore said from what she learned during the tour, many of the refugees at Fort McCoy could start resettling in their new homes in the states as soon as mid-November.

 

“Just on Thursday we passed legislation not only to create actual resources with 6 billion dollars, but also to create a pathway for that status to be adjusted so that when the folks here who don’t have a permanent status but have humanitarian parolee can actually get a status of a refugee resettlement and receive the resources that is necessary for them to adjust to life in America,” said Representative Omar.

Members of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition joined them for the tour and brought along a truckload of new items including winter coats, baby items, hijabs, and other culturally appropriate clothing.

They also wanted to speak face to face with the Afghan women and let them know they will be welcomed in their new communities.

“We assured them that it’s not just the Muslim community, but across the United States we as a country have opened our arms and we are just simply waiting to learn how we can help them settle and realize their dreams,” said Janan Najeeb, the President of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition.

Najeeb said these conversations were heart wrenching, but also inspiring.

“These are proud people. These are individuals that have always worked hard. They are high achievers. We met Fulbright’s amongst them, we met every level that you can imagine and one of the things that stayed with me is that they said we’re eager to get out and not be a burden on society, but rather to contribute to society,” told Najeeb.

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and Hanan Refugee Relief Group bring a 3rd shipment of...
Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and Hanan Refugee Relief Group bring a 3rd shipment of donations for Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy(Erin Sullivan WMTV)

Copyright 2021 WMTV. All rights reserved.

Summer Reading Program 2021

SUMMER READING PROGRAM 2021

This year we served over 250 kids with activities and reading fun. We had activities from July-August to promote reading throughout the summer. 

July 2021

August 2021

Building Bridges Program Grantees

We are excited to share the news that PBS Wisconsin and our project partners, the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and the We Are Many-United Against Hate Network, have received a #BuildingBridgesProgram grant today from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation! Learn more about our exciting project to use storytelling and community conversation as catalysts for learning, empathy and building bridges of understanding across diverse populations, and 21 other arts and media efforts working with Muslims in the United States to strengthen cross-community understanding. Click here for the full press release.

Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission’s April Lunch N Learn discussion about Islam

Watch the Equal Rights Commission for their April Lunch N Learn on Thursday, April 15th at noon – April 12th starts Ramadan, Understanding the Muslim Religion. Presenters Janan Najeeb, President and CEO of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and Othman Atta, past President and Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. Event moderator will be Pardeep Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.

CONGRATULATORY MESSAGES FROM ELECTED OFFICIALS IN WISCONSIN FOR MMWC 10TH ANNIVERSARY

On its 10th Anniversary, the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition received praise for its accomplishments from public leaders and community members, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Some spoke at Saturday’s gala; others sent congratulations that are included below. And some did both.

Governor Tony Evers

“Our diversity makes us stronger. The Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition has been doing great work promoting understanding, empowering women, and advocating for justice and equity throughout Milwaukee and our state. MMWC is helping build a state that is stronger and a more inclusive place for all Wisconsinites to thrive. I congratulate them on their anniversary, thank them for all their good work, and wish them many more successful years ahead.”

Governor Tony Evers

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes

“I have known about the good work of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition since long before I was in elected office, and I have seen firsthand their efforts to fight for social justice and civil rights for all people through advocacy, dialogue, education, and outreach. They are truly an essential organization, not just for the Milwaukee community, but for the entire state, and I’m so proud to be a part of their 10th anniversary celebration.”

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes

U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore

“The Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition is an organization that’s committed to uplifting communities through education, honest and open conversations, and advocacy that aims to actualize justice and fairness. I am so thankful for their passionate engagement in Milwaukee.”

U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

“Congratulations to the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition on its 10th anniversary. MMWC is a true community partner that has built an impressive offering of original projects and programming to serve, educate and transform our community. Our city benefits from the diversity, vision and leadership of the Coalition’s outstanding members.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Dr. Russell Brooker, Professor of Political Science, Alverno College

“The MMWC, especially Janan Najeeb, has been very kind to me over the years.  Each year Janan speaks to one class. The class is on Race and Ethnicity in America. I include a unit in the course on Muslim American Women on Campus each spring. I take the class to the Islamic Resource Center where Janan introduces them to Islam. I ask only that she tell them what she thinks they should know.

“She has always been very gracious to me and her talk has always helped the students and me. Except for some Muslim students, the students know very little about Islam and have been subjected to a steady stream of lies for the last four years.

“I realize that Islam is not a race or ethnicity, but I think Muslims are treated as such by most of American society. That is why I include them in the course.”

Dr. Russell Brooker, Professor of Political Science, Alverno College

Sheikh Ziad Hamdan, Islamic Society of Milwaukee Imam

“The MMWC is a role model Muslim organization we are all proud of. For almost three decades, they have grown and demonstrated their importance with all of the great projects, programs and services to the Milwaukee community. There is much to learn from them and I hope their success continues.” 

Sheikh Ziad Hamdan, Islamic Society of Milwaukee Imam

Will Perry, President of the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance

“For over 25 years, the MMWC has championed Islamic values by educating, enlightening and encouraging the minds of women. It is with this sound mission, women globally have benefited. It is through their efforts women, families and communities have become stronger.”

Will Perry, President of the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance

Kristin Hansen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance

“I had the honor of working with the board of the MMWC this year to help create their strategic plan for the next five years, and one of the things I did was interview people about the organization. Without exception, they praised the MMWC as an essential community leader, providing a wide array of services that can be found nowhere else. The library, children’s activities, networking brunches, WMJ, Film Festival, and now Our Peaceful Home…where would the community be without these programs? The Speakers Bureau alone provides an essential service to spread the truth about women in Islam. The MMWC has earned its place among the top organizations serving the Muslim community and beyond.” 

Kristin Hansen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance

Tom Heinen, Executive Director Emeritus, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee

In my roles as the religion reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and later as executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, I have seen and experienced first-hand how Janan Najeeb and the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition have built extraordinary bridges of interfaith understanding in Southeastern Wisconsin. Through their own programs and at other times in collaboration with the Interfaith Conference, they have been and continue to be a local, regional, and national model in countering stereotypes, educating and engaging the public, and nurturing attitude-changing relationships.

Tom Heinen, Executive Director Emeritus, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee 

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition: Showing the world who Muslim women really are for more than 25 years.

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition held its 10th Anniversary Gala Saturday but is celebrating more than a quarter century of service. From its beginning in 1994 as a women’s circle, MMWC has been educating the Greater Milwaukee community and beyond about who Muslims, especially Muslim women, really are.

The MMWC started with a group of young women getting together for a Sunday circle. Some were newly married; others had young children; most had professional degrees, including a doctor, a nurse, an accountant and a microbiologist. They gathered at each other’s homes and discussed important issues of the day.

“In every discussion, we came back to the same idea – that the image of Muslim women is very problematic, very negative and uninformed. Muslim women were seen as oppressed,” said MMWC founder and president Janan Najeeb. “We thought we really need to do something about this.”

The active group of early MMWC members included Najeeb, Comilita Salah, Naheed Bleecker, Inshirah Farhoud, Dr. Sahar Kayata Katib, Naheed Arshad and others. Their commitment to showing the true face of Islam and finding ways to serve not only Muslims but the larger community helped Milwaukee’s Muslims become an integral part of  Greater Milwaukee, Najeeb said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations started around the same time as the MMWC. CAIR’s founder, Nihad Awad, used to travel around the country, sharing the success of the MMWC in convincing The Milwaukee Journal to change the name of its church directory to “Directory of Worship” and include mosques. He said it was an example of what dedicated grassroots organizations can do, Najeeb recalled.

Launching the MMWC Speakers Bureau

“I’m most proud of the impact we have had in portraying who we really are and not what people have made us out to be,” Najeeb said “From the beginning, the core of our work has always been our Speakers Bureau. Everything thing we have done has helped people know who the Muslim community really is.

“The greatest pride and joy of the organization – if I had to pick one – is the impact we have had of the image of Muslims and Islam, not only in Greater Milwaukee, but across Wisconsin but to some extent across the world.”

In the mid-1990s, MMWC began an outreach effort. They decided on a list of topics they felt comfortable discussing. Then they began sending letters to women’s clubs, high schools and other groups “to let them know we would be glad to come in and speak if they would like to know more about the Muslim community here, about Muslim beliefs and practices, and about women in Islam.

”We got a handful of requests from women’s groups and high school social studies teachers. Pretty soon, we were very busy. People who heard us were also part of other organizations. They started inviting us to speak to their adult education groups at their churches; some even invited us to visit neighborhood book clubs.”

The MMWC spoke at universities to civic groups to Interfaith organizations and, in 2016, Najeeb was invited to open the Wisconsin State Assembly with a prayer.

Najeeb alone has given more than 2,000 presentations since the MMWC Speakers Bureau began, according to MMWC records. “I think we were unusual to some people. They had never met Muslim women; it was something that interested them,” she said.

A decade of Catholic-Muslim Women’s Dialogues

The many presentations of the Speakers Bureau led to other projects. A year or two after the bureau launched, Judith Longdin, the director of the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns, sought out the MMWC as a partner in creating a Catholic and Muslim women’s dialogue.

“It was an amazing experience that went on for decades,” Najeeb said. “We probably visited every Catholic parish in Milwaukee. For many Catholics, we were probably the first Muslims they ever met.”

The Catholic-Muslim Healthcare Initiative

One thing leads to another. By the early 2000s, the MMWC and their Catholic collaborators decided to help uninsured or underinsured people in Milwaukee address their healthcare needs. Parish nurses and Muslim doctors worked together to open a free, mobile healthcare clinic, one of the first of its kind.

“We visited different parishes and set up shop,” Najeeb said. “The nurses would triage to decide if patients needed to see a specialist or a general practitioner. We had 20 Muslim physicians who participated and provided their services for free. The service was advertised through community newspapers.

“We made little insurance cards with our name on it – The Catholic-Muslim Healthcare Initiative. They would take it to the doctors and would be seen for free. It wasn’t embarrassing to them because they had an insurance card like everybody else.”

Training immigrant women to be medical assistants

Another successful service project was the MMWC’s Medical Assistant Training Program. Funded through a grant, the six-month program aimed to help women who were immigrants and had English as a second language. Some had medical degrees from their countries but had no opportunities here. We helped them find a place to start from which they could move forward, Najeeb said.

The MMWC hired instructors from Bryant & Stratton College and, over the course of several years, “we had 40-50 individuals who were able to get into full-time jobs and were able to get insurance for their families. Many of them went on from there to go to other levels, as physician assistants or X-ray technicians.”

Opening the Islamic Resource Center

By the time the MMWC incorporated in 2010, it was already a well-known organization in the community. That same year, it built an office that also serves as a resource and cultural center for the Greater Milwaukee Community.

The IRC, at 5235 S. 27th St., Greenfield, hosts university classes and community groups for educational programs, films, poetry slams and discussion groups. It also offers a lending library with books about Islam for all ages.

“We have more non-Muslims than Muslims coming to the center,” Najeeb said.

Since then, the MMWC has accomplished many other projects, many of them on-going. They include the Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival, Our Peaceful Home, a culturally specific domestic violence program, and the Wisconsin Muslim Journal, which is published twice weekly.

It also launched activities and programs that have been adopted by other organizations, such as the annual Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan. In 1995, the MMWC created the first Eid celebration for the Milwaukee community that was held outside the mosque. They aimed to make a fun, memorable event for families. The Islamic Society of Milwaukee has taken the reins and the Eid celebration has become an annual event.

Going forward

“We are constantly reinventing ourselves,” said Najeeb. “If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you are not improving as an organization and you lose effectiveness.”

Going forward, “we realize there is a tremendous need to focus on youth in the Muslim community. Many of them have done really well in certain areas – their classes and in their secular lives. But there is definitely a disconnect between the generations. There is also a disconnect between immigrant parents and children who are born and raised here, and consider themselves very American.”

Another future focus of MMWC will be finding new ways to help the many refugees in the Milwaukee area, she said. “The trauma many of them are carrying with them is untreated. This is affecting their family life, their children, their ability to succeed.  Of course, this is not across the board; there are many who are very successful. What we are trying to do is help people reach the highest potential they can.”