Defending Our Communities Through Building Power

Posted on October 29, 2018 | Darakshan Raja and Dr. Maha Hilal, Justice for Muslims Collective

We asked our community members what healing, justice, and empowerment meant to them during our Building Our Collective Power summit, they responded “having power, knowledge, resources, wealth, access to community, and the centering of the margins of our communities.”

Every few weeks, the Weissberg Foundation features a story from one of our Reframing <Washington> Empowerment Fund grantee partners to shine a light on their critical work. Learn more about these powerful organizations by visiting their websites.

Justice For Muslims Collective (JMC) works to dismantle institutional and structural Islamophobia through programming focused on raising political consciousness and shifting narratives, community empowerment and organizing, and building alliances across movements, to respond to the multiple and repeated attacks against Muslim communities. Over 10 months, we strategized on how to approach and win these fights, channeled our grief and pain into action, analyzed what brought us to this point, built our organizing muscle and utilized multiple strategies and tactics.

Here are a few of the highlights of our work:

Coalition-Building: We launched a bi-monthly DMV Resisting Islamophobia Alliance that is attended by over 20 grassroots groups where we share resources, build deeper relationships, make linkages between our struggles so we can be in deep solidarity with each other, and learn about issues impacting Muslim communities in the DC, Northern Virginia, and Montgomery County area. Through our coalition, we are working on creating briefs for our communities to raise awareness on how the policies of the War on Terror have impacted local communities.

Civic Engagement (Community Canvassing): We are using the upcoming midterm elections as an opportunity to get out the vote in Northern Virginia. We have knocked on the doors of more than 400 households to understand what issues our communities feel are important while also encouraging them to get out the vote. This work has allowed us to learn more about the challenges facing our community and how to better engage them in electoral politics.


  • Community Health, Wellness, and Healing Series: This year we launched a series focusing on community health and wellness that included sessions on self-defense, yoga, therapeutic art, and writing as a tool of healing.
  • Community Defense Series: These sessions included multiple Know Your Rights workshops on interacting with the FBI and law enforcement, know your rights post Muslim Ban at border entries, and what to do in the event of being the target of a hate crime.
  • Building Our Collective Power: Community Wellness and Defense: In September, we held our first annual summit which was attended by 50 community members. The summit sessions focused on healing and wellness, a Know Your Rights session, and framing the current political moment.

Community-based research to develop community-driven policy platforms: Too often policies are made without the input of community members. We are shifting this up by centering deep community engagement. Utilizing community-based research to create community-driven policy platforms is our goal.

  • Gendered Harassment of Muslims At Airports: We are finishing up a community-based survey on documenting the gendered experiences of Muslim women, femmes, transwomen, and gender non-conforming community members with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in light of increased harassment at airports. The findings will be used to shape policy recommendations and identify the ways that community members would like to address these experiences.
  • Community Needs Assessment: To build a community-based policy platform, JMC will launch our community needs assessment survey in November to get a deeper understanding of what issues matter to Muslim communities locally in the greater Washington area. The needs assessment will also be used to develop a policy platform that can be used to advocate for local issues.

Muslim-led Mobilizations For Government Transparency & Accountability Under the War on Terror: We have continued to mobilize greater Washington area residents against federal level policies that have an impact at the local level. In addition to our mobilizations around the Muslim Ban, JMC leads efforts against the use of torture, an issue we believe runs to the heart of government accountability and transparency under the War on Terror. We led the only demonstration in protest of Gina Haspel’s confirmation as CIA director given her record in overseeing black sites and the use of torture.

Political Education: Raising The Political Consciousness of Our Communities: We have held multiple political education events focused on understanding different policies under the War on Terror, such as the Muslim Ban, torture, Guantanamo Bay, and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs locally. This year we co-sponsored NATSECDEF 2018: Preserving Justice in National Security with George Washington Law School, Witness Against Torture, Gitmowatch, and Defending Rights and Dissent. Our co-director, Dr. Maha Hilal spoke at the conference to the role of Islamophobia in the national security paradigm post 9/11 and the narratives that sustain anti-Muslim sentiment both in government and society.

As we continue to build the power of our communities, the losses we have faced during this past year have only strengthened our resolve that we must defend our communities by building our collective power for the long-term.

Darakshan Raja is the co-director of Justice For Muslims Collective where she focuses on development and programming. She also currently serves on the Board of Consumer Health Foundation. Darakshan holds a MA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Dr. Maha Hilal is the co-director of Justice for Muslims Collective where she focuses on political education and organizing to challenge institutionalized Islamophobia. She earned her doctorate from American University in Law, Justice, and Society. The title of her dissertation is “Too damn Muslim to be trusted”: The War on Terror and the Muslim American response. She received her Master’s Degree in Counseling and her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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