Get to Know Mirriam Seddiq: Founder of the First-Ever American Muslim Women PAC
Oct 19, 2016
Amid an increasingly tense campaign season, Criminal, Immigration, and Appellate Lawyer, Mirriam Seddiq, made the decision to use her voice to help others express their own voices.
To do so, Seddiq founded the first-ever American Muslim Women PAC, giving American Muslim women a "platform from which to speak out in support of political candidates and policies that impact their community."
"I never really felt like I was 'the other' until now," Seddiq told The Atlantic, adding that "It's a strange realization to have, but it’s what motivated me to do this. There are so many misconceptions about Muslim women, and I want to help counter that narrative."
Check out Seddiq's exclusive Q&A with MAKERS below to learn more about her decision to start the first PAC for American Muslim women, how the political sphere has shaped her mission, what public figure has influenced her most, and more.
Q. What is your biggest hope for helping or changing the dialogue around Islam as a whole?
A. I think being engaged in the political process will force the conversation to change. I think most Americans don't know Muslims, they don't know what we think or what's important to us aside from what they've seen on TV or read on the Internet. Just today, a woman from Nebraska called me. She got my number "off the Internet" and was concerned that we wanted to impose Sharia law and didn't believe the Constitution was the law of the land. I assured her that we did, in fact, believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and we were concerned with the very same things she was. You could hear the relief in her voice. And now she can go and tell her friends she talked to me and that is what I said. Our very existence as a political group — not a charity — has changed things for us.
Q. How important is it for you to be able to create a sense of unity between American Muslims and other American citizens?
A. It's the reason why American is first in our name. We are Americans first. And, when we sat down and said "ok, when we support candidates what are we looking for? What's important to us?" We came up with a list that isn't different from any other platform really: Equality for all people, civil rights (getting rid of this nonsensical surveillance of American citizens), access to good health care, good jobs. Our young people want us to talk about the environment, about food security. We want exactly what all other Americans want. And it is important for us to keep talking to people about it.
Q. This election season is filled with tension around most issues. How has it inspired you to prompt change?
A. You either have a seat at the table or you are on the menu. I don't know who said that, but it's true. It is open season on minorities, women, people of color of all sorts. We can't ever let this happen again and that's what has caused me to do this. I could tweet angrily, or Facebook extensively, or I could see what candidates are speaking in a voice that supports our values and vision for America and give them our money and our endorsements. So, I started a political action committee. Like Americans do.
Q. You named this political action committee, American Muslim Women PAC, which is actually the first-ever PAC for American Muslim women. Is this more important now than ever before?
A. I had no idea that it would be this big a deal. A childhood friend who has been in the non-profit sector for a long time asked me, on the morning of the filing (I had posted about it on social media) "Do you know what you've gotten yourself into?" And I said "Nope." I really had no idea how this would take on a life of it's own. It was important before but no one did it. If we had done it we wouldn't have allowed ourselves to be such targets. But we are doing it now. You see it everywhere — the Latin American community is organized right now. The coalitions they are forming are incredible and definitely worthy of being emulated. It is important that people know we are here, that we are women with thoughts and talents (and money) in our own right. And it helps tremendously in dispelling some of the myths around Muslim women. I think it is an idea whose time has come. The more voices in our political arena the better off we all are for it. The marketplace of ideas is richer if there are more ideas from which to choose.
Q. Did you ever think you would have done this prior to the election season or did campaign dialogue spark the idea?
A. Never. I was perfectly content only being hated for being a criminal defense attorney. The campaign dialogue was a huge part of this. I was looking for a place to put my frustrations and it wasn't with the Clinton campaign and it most certainly wasn't with Trump. But I wanted to be a part of the political process in my own way. And I wanted other American Muslim women to join me in this. We don't have any party or candidate affiliation because we want to maintain our independence and be able to hold our elected officials accountable. If you fail us and we supported you, you won't necessarily get our support again. So that's why the PAC was formed.
Q. What kind of dialogue do you hope to see after Election Day, particularly around Muslim-American women?
A. Dialogue is important. We need to keep talking to each other about what is important to us. We need to bring the country back together. For the first time in my 40 plus years in America I see how divided we are. I hate that I see it, but it was good for me as well. I've never faced discrimination in this country. I've never had a person single me out for any reason whatsoever. But it has happened to people who 'look' Muslim. This can't go on. But for the PAC, here's what I want: I want us to get ready for mid-term elections. I want women to join us in key states and start fundraising and letting us know which races are important and which people we should support. I want to 'normalize' us so we aren't the token hijabi'd women in photos on the dias. And then I want to be ready for the next Presidential election. American Muslim women will be in full force then!
Q. Why is it important for you to make sure (particularly) these female American Muslims' voices are heard?
A. It is important for all Americans to be heard. And, there are lots of American Muslims who are making change. Debby Almontaser who is on our board is active in New York City politics and was a huge part of getting the NYC school district to give kids the Eid holidays off. Linda Sarsour is out there making waves. I want to show that we are not a monolith. Many of us don't wear hijab. We come in all shapes, sizes and we express our faith differently also. I've always had a voice. Now I just have to use it to help others express theirs.
Q. How do American Muslims fit into feminism?
A. This is a long story! When I talk to other American Muslim women we are always talking about strong women in the history of our faith. I was taught that Islam is an early adopter of feminism. I think, these days, that term has fallen out of favor especially with young women. But if we define it as the desire for equality between men and women then American Muslim women are, indeed feminists. Whether we work outside the home or not, we champion equality — equal pay for equal work, paid leave for mothers and fathers, et cetera.
Q. How important is feminism to your cause?
A. Well, I mean, we are a woman's organization so it's pretty important! We are taking part in a system that has been dominated by men. Fortunately, there are fantastic PACs out there that have paved the way. EMILY's list, for example. While our PAC doesn't necessarily endorse or support all of the candidates EMILY's list does and will also support men, it's a group by and for women (with a lot of support from our men).
Q. On the topic of feminism, this is a very historic election. What would seeing our nation’s first female President prove to women and girls in the United States?
A. That it can actually be done. That it isn't just a thing to say, "Oh, someday I can be president," but that a woman really and truly can be President of the United States.
Q. Who would you say is your biggest public influence?
A. Martin Luther King, Jr. He got up every single day and fought a fight that he probably didn't want to fight a lot of days. And he put himself in the line of fire and he took it and took it and took it. I imagine he was afraid for himself, for his family. Afraid of what would happen. And yet he sucked it up and kept on going.
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mirriam Seddiq