Ordinary Heroine: Ameena Jandali
By: Afshan Hai
An ordinary heroine is Ameena Jandali. I’ve respected her eruditely outspoken demeanor, mothering style (since she did not let being a mom limit her activism) and Islamic character. She has been a huge asset to the Muslim community in the Bay Area and I wish there were many more “Ameena Jandalis”. From the late ‘80’s, when she was at UC Berkeley (Cal) herself, through the early 90’s, and over the past decade when her own children attended Cal she facilitated Cal students with guidance, support and meaningful activism for those many years.
Why should there be more Ameena Jandalis? She has used her education at Cal as a springboard for activism and social justice. She has lectured not only at Cal, but at the Graduate Theological Union, the University of California at Berkeley and Davis, SF State, USF, UCSF, and numerous other universities and colleges. The bio from the ING website describes how Ameena has represented and explained Islam in countless venues.
Since 1993, she has delivered hundreds of presentations in schools, colleges, universities, churches, and other venues on Islam and related subjects. Her speaking engagements have included repeated lectures at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Sacramento State, St. Mary’s College, San Jose State, San Francisco State, Los Positas College, Diablo Valley College, as well as lectures at Stanford, Santa Clara University, University of San Francisco, California Institute of Integral Studies, School of the Pacific, Cal State Hayward, Chabot College, Ohlone College, San Francisco City College, Sacramento State, Sonoma State, University of Colorado, Boulder, and Texas A & M. She has also delivered cultural competency trainings to a variety of healthcare providers, including repeated trainings at Kaiser, UC San Francisco and Sutter-Alta Bates. She has conducted trainings for dozens of police departments throughout the Bay Area, and conducted a weekly class for the SFPD over an entire year. She has appeared on numerous television and radio programs, including KPIX, KPFA, and KQED. She has presented on a variety of interfaith panels and events, including conferences and series through the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She has also been a frequent guest at conventions, seminars, and other forums, speaking on a variety of topics relating to Muslim outreach, family, and the environment. She currently team teaches a class on Islam at San Francisco City College. She received her M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and B.A. in History from the University of Illinois. (1-ING website)
As a founding member, trainer, speaker and Content Director of ING, Islamic Network Group, she has been a voice of educational reform of Islam in high school and middle schools, preventing ignorance before it begins. Here are some excerpts from Richard Scheinin, a writer from the San Jose Mercury News. The article is entitled “Speaking about Islam.”
In California, it has been almost 15 years since educational reforms set academic instruction about religion firmly into the world history and social sciences curricula, so that children will understand how major faiths have shaped history and civilization. Many non-public schools also observe these guidelines. . .
Since the reforms were made, ING has become a success story: Two Muslim women in Silicon Valley have built a one-of-a-kind educational group, spinning off a network of 18 affiliated, Islamic speakers bureaus in 12 states, from Arizona to Nebraska and New York, as well as two in Canada.
With so many affiliated bureaus cropping up during the past two years, ING has become a prototype: It doesn’t proselytize, it describes the faith, and it emphasizes the commonalities among Islam, Christianity and Judaism… The Muslim community already had its political and civil rights advocacy groups. Education was the missing piece. In 1993, they established Bay Area Media Watch, which attempted to monitor — and educate — local media about coverage of Muslims and Islam. After three months, they changed the name to Islamic Networks Group and began to focus on education in schools…
Even with the help of assistants, the two founders work 60-hour weeks, and still haven’t been paid a penny — by choice…
After nearly a decade of hard work, Jandali is encouraged: “For a lot of people, when we walk in the room, it’s the first time they’ve met an American Muslim. Just humanizing this very mysterious religion for them, it’s a positive thing. It’s a pleasant surprise for them that Islam is not just this horrible, violent religion that oppresses people.”… (2- San Jose Mercury News)
My kids and many other children in the state of California (and other states) who are in middle school and high school benefited from the work of Ameena Jandali and Maha ElGenaidi. In the present dark climate demonizing Muslims and Islam, Ameena Jandali is a bright ray of light. She is a living example of a refreshingly outspoken educated American Muslim woman to many youth in Californian classrooms.
Ameena is also active in many other venues, as an avid environmentalist who is known for enforcing recycling and composting rules at community events, speaking out against domestic violence and the oppression of women, and advocating for oppressed communities in the U.S. and in Syria where her husband is from originally. She is also involved in her son’s school where she volunteers and serves on the PTA. Ameena also sits on the One Nation – Bay Area Community Advisory Council. One Nation is an organization which aims to reduce public misperceptions about Muslims in cities across America through civic engagement. (3- One Nation)
What would the world be like with more Ameena Jandalis? Let’s reflect what she has accomplished: empowerment of Muslim women through association of misogyny with pre-Islamic ways rather than Islamic ways, educating people about Islam in California curriculum by founding and strengthening ING, being an example of religious tolerance in American society by actively representing Muslims by participating in interfaith dialogue. God Willing, a person like Ameena Jandali will be just another ordinary heroine from Cal, but for now, she is an American Muslim pioneer.
“ING Staff.” Islamic Networks Group. Web. <http://www.ing.org/index.php/staff>.
- Scheinin, Richard. “Speaking for Islam: Schools Have Questions About Muslims, and Bay Area Volunteers Have Answers.” San Jose Mercury News. Web. <http://www.zawaj.com/articles/speaking_islam.html>.
- The Civic Engagement Initiative. OneNationFoundation.org. May 2009. Web. <http://www.onenationfoundation.org/>.
Photo Courtesy: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle