About WISE

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What is WISE?

The Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) is a global program, social network and grassroots social justice movement led by Muslim women. WISE is empowering Muslim women to fully participate in their communities and nations and amplifying their collective voices. Muslim women have enjoyed a rich legacy of excellence in their roles as leaders, professionals, caregivers and activists, and Islamic history is an impressive record of their remarkable contributions as teachers and scholars of sacred text and law. WISE represents an authoritative Muslim women’s movement to reclaim this legacy.

Who sponsors WISE?

WISE is a program of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening an authentic expression of Islam through interfaith collaboration, youth and women’s empowerment, and arts and cultural exchange.

Who supports WISE?

  • The Sister Fund
  • The Rockefeller Brothers Fund
  • Henry Luce Foundation

What is the need for WISE?

Gender-based inequality is a global human rights issue that transcends culture, religion and socio-economic status. Though such problems as domestic violence, inadequate access to technology, poor education, and lack of economic opportunity are widespread, Muslim women in particular confront the limitations of discrimination and inequality. In fact, 20 of the 25 lowest-ranking countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Gender Gap Index, which ranks women’s participation in society, are Muslim-majority countries. Although these women’s lives are influenced by a complex interaction of religious, cultural, social, economic, political and other factors, Islam wields enormous influence, and it is drawn upon to both empower and oppress women. Thus, reframing women’s rights within an Islamic framework and approaching the numerous factors that disempower women must be addressed directly and collectively.

What is our mission? Top

To build a cohesive, global movement of Muslim women that will reclaim women’s rights in Islam, enabling them to make dignified choices and fully participate in creating just and flourishing societies.

How did WISE start?Top

In November 2006, ASMA launched WISE at a historic conference in New York City. As these 150 leading Muslim women scholars, activists, artists and religious and civil society leaders – representing over 25 countries – joined together to develop a holistic and comprehensive vision for improving the position of Muslim women around the globe, WISE was born. Since this inaugural conference, WISE has energized a diverse and unified movement, soliciting participation from across religions and embracing a wide spectrum of ideologies, professions and nationalities.

Who is a WISE woman? Top

Women exhibiting leadership in their communities;

Women creating positive social change and uplifting their community through service, education and media, health and social services, philanthropy and spiritual growth;

Women committed to empowering Muslim women to realize their full potential as individuals and in relationship to family, community, nation and globe;

Women using their Islamic faith as a justification and inspiration for Muslim women’s empowerment;

Women dedicated to building a global change movement through the open exchange of diverse perspectives.

What is the WISE Compact?Top

The WISE Compact is a cornerstone of the WISE initiative, an encapsulation of its principles and mission. The Compact ties together the WISE network, serving as a common manifesto that guides each of the WISE women in their individual work.

The Compact is being translated into Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, Urdu, Dari and Bahasa and disseminated in multiple formats. It will be presented and discussed at the 2009 conference, and participants will be asked for their endorsements. The participants also will be queried about their suggestions for activating the WISE Compact and documenting its operationalization at the global, regional, country and local levels.

Read the WISE Compact here and learn about related resources.

Join the Movement. Sign the Compact.

Why is WISE unique?Top

As an initiative with both global scale and deep roots in Muslim communities throughout the world, WISE is generating critical momentum for change.

The problems and challenges facing Muslim women across the globe are vast and multi-various. Consequently, the more organizations dedicated to creating change, the more powerful this momentum can become. The WISE program has developed a collaborative strategy that compliments organizations working to advancing the position of Muslim women. It fosters collaboration and supports the diverse work of Muslim women leaders worldwide, building capacity for collective action.

Nevertheless, all WISE programs are without precedent in scope, scale and mission. Holistic and comprehensive, WISE is transforming the position of Muslim women in innumerable contexts from within the Islamic faith and traditions. The initiative is unique in the following key ways:

WISE is authentic to the Islamic tradition. Muslim women’s movements remain hampered by their inability or unwillingness to confront destructive religious interpretations. Activists have tended to ignore or avoid religion, thus failing to mobilize large portions of their grassroots constituencies who draw upon religion within their daily lives. WISE, in contrast, offers a Muslim voice. It directly addresses the need for a Muslim women’s movement with religious legitimacy and authenticity. It recognizes the importance of religion in the day-to-day lives of women, both promoting Islamic arguments to demand the human rights of women and facilitating the dissemination of these arguments to the larger WISE network.

WISE is comprehensive and holistic. Though numerous organizations have wrestled with Muslim women’s disempowerment, rarely have they taken into account the various factors in a holistic manner. Due to a lack of context-specific knowledge, these approaches typically have employed a distinctly Western framework for understanding the problem, relying exclusively on measurements of economic status, educational level, health care or political participation. WISE approaches change from a holistic perspective that addresses the many interrelated factors that contribute to gender-based inequality.

WISE is structured as a global and inclusive movement. While Muslim women’s advocacy efforts have often fragmented, WISE breaks ground as an inclusive initiative. Drawing in women from across a wide spectrum of ideologies, professions and nationalities, it has fostered cooperation amongst divergent and sometimes opposing groups. Facilitated by this national, ideological and professional diversity, WISE women have united behind Islamic ideals and the commitment to creating positive, sustainable and much-needed change. Furthermore, WISE utilizes a top-down and bottom-up approach that is simultaneously global and grassroots, insuring direct access to local contexts via its network and local chapters.

How is WISE creating change? Top

By creating the infrastructure and space for a diverse group of Muslim women to join together, WISE leads collective efforts to challenge distorted interpretations of Islam, increase women’s social and economic self-determination, and amplify women’s voices at all levels of political, religious and social discourse. The WISE program approaches change in a holistic manner through four key strategies: communications, interpretation, philanthropy and collaboration.

Change through Communications
Change must be created through effective communications, both within the global WISE network and without, to the media and larger public. In response, WISE has developed a state-of-the-art Muslim women’s portal. No longer will Muslim women be defined by others. This comprehensive portal will serve as a clearinghouse of all information relating to Muslim women (past and present) and Muslim women’s activism, as well as a tool for connecting members of the global WISE network.

Change through Action
Change must be created through community organizing and mobilizing a global movement of Muslim women for social justice. Guided by the principles of the WISE Compact and aided by the various tools and resources of the program, the WISE community of leading Muslim women scholars, activists, artists, civil society and spiritual leaders and their respective constituents across the world are at the forefront of creating change.

Change through Collaboration
Change must be created through strategic partnerships, including with men and women of other faiths. WISE has fostered a number of key collaborative relationships with individuals, institutions and organizations throughout the globe (including the Aspen Institute, Naropa University, and many more) and in diverse sectors including offering a range of trainings; capacity-building activities and consultative services work in targeted countries.

Change through Interpretation
Change must be created through the interpretation (and reinterpretation) of key Islamic texts. WISE has created a global Muslim women’s Shura Council of Muslim women scholars and activists. Authentic to Islam and as an agent of the 21st century, this Council promotes women’s rights within an Islamic framework through education and advocacy activities.

What services does WISE offer? Top

The WISE program builds on the collective strengths, talents, expertise and experiences of its members: leading women activists, scholars, politicians, civil society leaders, journalists, philanthropists, spiritual leaders and artists from around the globe. It fosters collaboration and supports the diverse work of these Muslim women leaders worldwide. Building capacity for collective action, its effectiveness rests on the following components:

  • Convenings to allow a diverse spectrum of participants to strategize on the most critical issues facing Muslim women, enable the sharing of best practices and facilitate partnerships between otherwise fragmented movements. View 2009 Conference information.
  • Communications to leverage digital information on Muslim women and Islam and support proactive information exchange, first and foremost of WISE members, but also community leaders, policymakers, media representatives, educators and students.
  • Consultation services to offer strategic support, training and guidance for building, operating and sustaining the WISE’s global network, as well as country and local networks. View ‘Ask a WISE woman' request form.
  • Common learning to provide accessible knowledge and the sharing of critical strategies, enabling Muslim women around the globe to benefit from each other’s experiences and expertise. View resources.