This series aims to shed light on the people who are the underlying driving force of change in the Jordanian society: The ordinary citizens with extraordinary ideas, stories or actions.
Have you ever talked to someone that made you feel like they’ve just entered your brain and opened the windows for sun and fresh air to come in? That’s exactly how I felt after a 2-hour conversation with Lana Abu Ayyash.
A non-stop researcher and a life-long women rights enthusiast, Lana can’t remember a time when she wasn’t preoccupied with women rights and women issues. In fact, that could be one of very few constants about her mindset, because for her the mind is a constantly expanding horizon. That said, and learning about the big ideological transformation she went through, you will know that it wasn’t an overnight miraculous transformation, but rather the result of a diligent quest for the truth, where she decided to let go of all her predetermined prejudices and embark on a journey of in-depth research, as objectively and impartially as possible.
I don’t know if it was her down-to-earth nature or something else, but as Lana told me her story, she told it in a laid back manner as if it was something that happens to everyone, every day. Perhaps it’s because she sees it as the natural logical sequence of things, which made me quite humbled as I was listening intently, with an inner sense of amazement.
Growing up, Lana fell in the trap of mistaking tradition for religion. She was an intellectually rebellious teenager who refused to live by society’s rules and found herself somewhere between atheism and agnosticism. Later on she would decide to move abroad, thinking that living in the Western “modern” world would be the answer. Never one to take things at face value, she found that the status of women in those societies was a long cry from perfection and it fell short from the preconceived image she had in mind. Be that as it may, she decided to go back home, and to look for the answer there.
As she started digging through the books and doing more research on Islamic studies, she began to realize the gigantic amount of misconceptions surrounding Islam, and how Religion is used by some people to shape the society in a certain way that conforms to the image of the traditional male-dominated Arab society in their heads, marginalizing women and overlooking Religious texts and interpretations affirming the status of women in Islam and that could open new doors for understanding women rights and the issue of women empowerment in Islam.
According to Lana, extremism is a relatively modern phenomenon. Extremism didn’t exist in the days of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and many things that the Prophet used to do may now be frowned upon by many; again due to the traditional mindset and practices that have been mixed with Religious values. What added insult to injury was that some religious people believe those things, and some women believe they were put second to men by Islam and they are okay with it. At that point Lana knew she has to do something, so she made it her cause to empower Muslim women to speak up for themselves and to know their God-given rights.
As a result, Sister Power was born: a platform that’s all about Empowering Muslim Women by creating a space where their voices can be heard and their concerns made public. At first, membership was open for both genders, but then there was some sort of a male dominance to be noticed which made some reluctant to speak their minds and express themselves. Hence, membership was made exclusive to women.
As I toured through the website I was impressed by the different backgrounds of the members there. It’s like a common ground with a chance to learn, share and be understood. When I asked Lana about the impact the website has had on women, she said she’s had some women telling her the website had a direct impact on their lives, yet it’s not about changing lives overnight. It’s a continuous process of learning and expanding your horizons constantly, and being open to due change.
Of course Lana’s work isn’t confined to an online community, as she believes women who need empowerment the most are those who don’t necessarily have access to these online communities. She also believes that empowerment shouldn’t apply only to women, as in our society both men and women need to be empowered as individuals. One important point she stressed is how important it is to realize that we’re not the only ones who think in a certain way or have a certain interest. And this is one thing online communities are good for: they bring together people of common interest, and together they realize they can do something to influence change.
During our 2-hour conversation we’ve talked about many things, that I believe she should share with more and more people. Speaking about sharing ideas, Lana mentioned something quite interesting. She said that no idea you come up with and nothing meaningful you do goes to waste. Ideas are a form of energy, and energy never dies, it transforms. So never underestimate what you can do and never be discouraged to do something because you think it won’t resonate with anyone. Do it because you know it must be out there, sent forth into the universe.
Lana Abu Ayyash is one of the most impressive people I have met, and if we had more people with her passion, channeled the right way with such dedication and selflessness, I’d say it’s safe to be optimistic about a better future ahead.