Soraya Deen is OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership’s lead organizer for women’s initiatives. She is the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, and Co-founder of Peacemoms (Promoting Christian and Muslim dialogue). Soraya is an attorney who blends her legal expertise with her uniquely diverse background to inspire people to navigate conflict and promote human connections. She is also a certified Nonviolent Parent Educator and author of "Peace Matters: Raising Peace Conscious Children." Soraya organized the first Interfaith Women’s Leadership conference at the Los Angeles City Hall and was a speaker at the nation's second women-organized mosque in the U.S.
Her outstanding work inspired a colleague to recommend Soraya for a 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions Award. At the 2018 Parliament in Toronto, Soraya was honored with the 2018 Paul Carus Award.
In 2003, Mr. M. Blouke Carus partnered with the Parliament of the World’s Religions to establish an award in memory of his grandfather, Mr. Paul Carus, a keynote at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions. The award honors “outstanding work in the international interreligious movement and celebrates the efforts of an individual or organization that work effectively toward the creation of a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world.”
Soraya joined the Parliament to share more information about her ongoing work, her experiences at the Parliament of the World's Religions and the path forward.*
Welcome Soraya, thank you for taking the time to speak to the Parliament! Can you tell us a little about your background?
I am a lawyer, Community Organizer. I work in the area of gender justice, heading Omnia’s women's initiatives and partnerships.
I am also the President of the Interfaith Solidarity Network. The largest Interfaith organization in the San Fernando Valley.
I held and organized the first Interfaith Women's leadership conference at the Los Angeles City Hall, Women’s Voices Matter. We do trainings on building power and taking responsibility for issues that impact our communities.
I travel widely. I want to be a voice for girls in patriarchal communities - they must be bold, fearless and confident. As a Muslim woman even to this day, I am a casualty of patriarchy. How come my voice is suppressed whilst my brother's voice is expressed?
I want to see more Muslim women's scholarship and leadership in our places of worship.
I work in the area of building partnerships with women. Wherever women lead we see great results.
Faith and the role of religion today is important and also sensitive. Who better to lead these movements but women and interfaith partners??
That’s an amazing mission Soraya, women empowerment and women’s dignity, especially as it relates to faith is a critical issue at the Parliament. What was your experience at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions?
It was my first parliament experience. I was truly humbled and at the same time blown away.
So many religions... The diversity and yet the spirit of unity gave much hope. What a privilege to be there. I was extremely grateful to the organizers for their relentless commitment to organizing and holding the event and we must all acknowledge the enormous amount of work, planning, and vision that goes into every Parliament.
You’ve done some amazing work yourself! The Carus Award recognizes work that effectively moves us toward the creation of a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world, what has it meant having your work recognized by the international interfaith movement?
Winning the award is very satisfying. It is an award won by the community. Especially in view of the work we do in [North East] Nigeria. It is dangerous. We are within 100 or so miles from all the violence that Boko Haram unleashes. But it is our commitment to the people, the women of Nigeria and the hope of peace to the world that drives me.
To be recognized for our work and for that element risk we take courageously is empowering. So winning the award emboldens me. It compels me to greater action and deeper commitments.
That’s wonderful to hear Soraya, it’s a very well deserved recognition. What are your plans for the future? Are there any on-going programs you are working on?
In Sri Lanka, I am building an interfaith classroom. Teaching children at a very young age that we must make deliberate commitments to understand each other's faiths and traditions. When we teach them young we can be assured that we are laying a strong foundation for dialogue and coexistence.
My goal is to build such classrooms in all schools. Engage and empower youth and our children to acknowledge and appreciate our differences and our faiths. Acquiring an appreciative understanding of all faiths is a precursor for peace in this world. My vision is that like Habitat for Humanity.. communities come together and build such a classroom in every school. Generating funds and bringing together a coalition of volunteers is a dream and a goal I hold very dearly.
I am also a National Trainer for an organization called Vote Run Lead. We are looking to identify, recruit and train women to run for political office. For effective social change, women must drive policy, must take a seat at the table, women must communicate, confront & collaborate with stakeholders.
We are also building Interfaith Peacemaker Teams in SriLanka. We empower the community to address religious-based oppression dominance and violence.
That’s an amazing initiative Soraya, interfaith education is so incredibly important. Are there any lessons you want to impart on our audience as we conclude this interview?
Patriarchy is a debilitating stumbling block for women. The roots of gender inequality often find its roots in religious dogma and traditions. Dismantling these concepts are critical for a just and more humane world. What happens to one woman must affect us all.
So when women support each other we build power.
A special thank you to Soraya Deen for sharing her experiences with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Interested in learning more about Soraya’s work? Visit the SorayaDeen.com today.
*This interview was edited for length and clarity.