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August 1, 2008
CAIRO — Coming from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, a group of American Muslim women are forming the country’s first only-women law firm to dispel stereotypes about Muslim women.
“They are defeating stereotypes on multiple levels,” Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), told the Chicago Tribune on Friday, August 1. “On the one hand you have Muslims standing up for justice and due process, and on the other hand you also see Muslim women succeeding in the professional world, leading the community in more ways than one.”
Six Muslim women attorneys formed Amal Law Group to offer legal help to American Muslims and clear misconceptions about Muslim women.
“People think that somehow we’re weak and not able to express opinions,” Iraqi-born Janaan Hashim, 41, who founded the firm, said. Opened last year, the firm offers legal services on issues from civil rights and employment regulations to criminal, family, real estate and Immigration law.
The firm also organizes seminars for Muslims on drafting prenuptial agreements and helps teens avoid traffic tickets.
“People think that we are prohibited from getting an education and being engaged in society,” said Maryam Khan, 28.
The six Muslim women are coming from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Some don hijab while others don’t. Some are Sunnis and others are Shiites. “We never talk about it,” Hashim said. “We are all open-minded and respect each other’s beliefs.”
The Muslim women were spurred to become lawyers to defend their community against backlashes following the 9/11 attacks. “I think it’s good for the community to have the opportunity to be represented by Muslims and hopefully the community will also feel empowered that six Muslim women attorneys are representing them,” said Kapitan.
Nearly seven years after the 9/11 attacks, many American Muslims complain that they continue to face discrimination and stereotyping because of their Islamic attires or identities.
Since 2005 alone, CAIR-Chicago has logged more than 1,200 cases of Muslims reporting discrimination. Now, the Muslim women attorneys hope that their move would help show that Muslims are part and parcel of American society. “We’re part of the American fabric,” said Hashim.
There are between six to seven million Muslims in the United States, making up less than three percent of the country’s 300 million population. “You may not be used to seeing it, but this is what Muslim women in America look like,” said Khan. “We’re educated and we’re professionals, and we’re not an anomaly.”
Copyright © 2008 Islam Online
October 5, 2007
By Shenequa A. Golding, Staff writer
When asked what kind of attorney she is, Janaan Hashim has a sharp reply.
“A good one,” Hashim said with a laugh.
She is one of six attorneys in a new, all-female, all-Muslim, all-working-mother law firm in Palos Heights. The women named their venture Amal Law Group.
“Amal,” which is Arabic for “hope,” is what these attorneys hope to bring to their clients. Ranging in age from 27 to 40, the women practice a variety of specialties. Their law firm will offer general litigation, family law, immigration and civil rights law and more.
Family law and real estate attorney Maryam Khan said the firm’s makeup will seem a little unusual to some clients.
“I think we’re breaking quite a few stereotypes,” Khan said.
Despite the characteristics they share as Muslim American women, the lawyers have many differences – beginning with appearance.
Rima Kapitan, an employment and estate planning attorney, and Majdel Musa, a business and real estate lawyer, do not wear the traditional hijab that adorns the heads of some Muslim women. They also don’t look like what many might expect.
Kapitan – who has short, strawberry-blond hair and freckles -is a bi-racial Palestinian-American. Musa, who has a Belgian mother and Palestinian father, also doesn’t have what many might consider typical features. Musa believes that’s why she hasn’t experienced much prejudice.
“I haven’t experienced a lot of discrimination because I don’t necessarily look Arab,” Musa said.
Hashim said she has been pleasantly surprised to find many people have a positive reaction to her as a Muslim attorney.
Nikia Bilal, who practices general litigation and family law, said not every experience is negative and, at times, individuals try to overcompensate.
“There is that instantaneous ‘who are you, and what’s your purpose here?’ ” Bilal said. “(Sometimes) people try to prove how open-minded they are.”
Heena Musabji, who practices immigration law, hasn’t encountered much discrimination because of her faith. More often, Musabji said, it’s because of her gender.
At her former job, she said, clients expected her to work twice as hard as male counterparts to prove herself – particularly with male clients.
Many reacted as if they were thinking, “Oh, you’re the women taking my case,” Musabji said.
Khan, who wears a hijab, said some clients judge her based on appearance.
“The only difference between me and the next attorney is the cloth on my head,” she said. “Which makes everyone else think that my IQ is lower, which it is not.”
Bilal, Kapitan Hashim and Musabji all earned their law degrees from DePaul University, where Bilal attended school on a full scholarship and Hashim graduated cum laude.
Khan graduated cum laude from Northern Illinois University College of Law, and Musa earned her law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Not all the women originally planned on legal careers. Musa’s parents told her she should be a lawyer, and Musabji originally wanted to be a dentist but had a change of heart when she realized she needed something she considered a higher purpose.
Bilal set her sights a little bigger.
“I wanted to be the Muslim equivalent of Oprah,” Bilal said.
Hashim said it was her husband’s idea she go into law. He supported her and took care of their kids in the evenings while she went to law school.
Along with being attorneys, the six women have another full-time role as moms. Khan and Musabji both are mothers of two; Hashim and Bilal have three children each. The youngsters often are in the law firm offices, where their mothers juggle work with caring for them.
So do these women who chose careers in the legal profession watch any of the dozens of legal television shows?
Musa use to watch “Boston Legal.” Bilal loved “Alley McBeal,” and Khan enjoyed “The Practice.” But Hashim said she doesn’t care for television shows based on her line of work because she believes they minimize serious issues.
She recalled the graphic crime scene photos from a case in which she represented a man appealing his first-degree murder conviction.
The victim’s hands and feet had been tied, and the murderer had beaten and tried to drown him. Eventually, the killer used a razor to slit the victim’s throat and shot him in the neck. It wasn’t material for prime-time entertainment, she said.
“Its hard to look at this kind of entertainment, but this is real, and they’re making money off it.” Hashim said. “To me, it doesn’t sit right that we make this entertainment.”
These women take on different types of cases and have different personalities, but they share a passion for the law and a faith in the American judicial system.
“Better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted,” Hashim said.
Amal Law Group’s lawyers enjoy working together and, when given the chance, are happy to describe one another.
Maryam Khan: According to her partners, Khan is feisty. And when she wants to have fun, she does everything everyone else does, “minus the drinking.”
Rima Kapitan: She plays the piano and the viola and, her peers! said, stands her ground.
Majdel Musa: She is never too serious and is the self-proclaimed “mellow one.” She enjoys photography.
Heena Musabji: The other attorneys refer to Musabji as the “negotiator,” does yoga and travels. She also loves to salsa dance.
Janaan Hashim: She likes to read and garden and is content with taking walks with her husband. The other lawyers said Hashim’s the one with all the jokes.
Nikia Bilal: This lawyer enjoys traveling and has gone to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. She soon will be traveling to Asia. Bilal’s the orderly one who has to make sure all the T’s are crossed and all the I’s are dotted.
By Stephen Anderson
Domiciled on the third floor in the middle building of a Palos Heights office center is a small law firm that is as typical in many respects as it is unique in others.
The six partners in the Amal Law Group represent clients in matters that range from commercial and residential real estate, family law and estate planning, to immigration, criminal defense and civil rights. Something for almost anybody in need of legal counsel.
Located on Route 83, which is called College Drive in this area, the firm is based in Cook County’s 5th Municipal District, but its partners travel frequently to downtown Chicago, Wheaton and other suburban courthouses.
Nothing unique about those attributes, but other things stand out among the practitioners in this neatly appointed law office.
The Amal Law Group is less than a year old, and the six partners have practiced law for only one to four years each. And all are women – Muslim women to be specific. Four are graduates of the DePaul University College of Law: Rima Najjar Kaplan ’05, Heena Musabji ’05, S. Janaan Hashim ’05, and Nikia Marie Bilal ’07.
The others are Majdel Sami Musa, Thomas M. Cooley Law School ’04, and Maryam Khan, Northern Illinois University College of Law ’05.
Their previous experience has been varied. Bilal clerked with the Cook County public guardian’s office. Hashim was with the state appellate defender’s office. Khan worked at Chicago Title and managed the real estate practice at Leeders & Associates.
Kapitan had a solo practice and has been staff attorney for the Council on American Islamic Relations. Musabji also was a staff attorney for CAIR-Chicago, where she directed the Citizenship Delay Program. Musa is a Realtor who had her own law firm.
Although all were born in the United States, some are fluent in other languages. Kapitan and Musa, for instance, speak Arabic and French. Musabji can converse with clients in Gujrati, Hindi or Urdu.
Managing niches of a general practice firm, the six partners provide comprehensive legal services to individuals and families outside of the Muslim community in the south suburbs. The firm name, Amal, translates to “hope” in Arabic, Hashim said. “Our faith calls us to be active participants in civic life.”
An adjunct professor at the McCormick Theological Seminary, where she teaches Religious Pluralism and the Ministry, Hashim is a spokesperson for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
“This firm is how we, a new generation of American Muslim women, choose to contribute,” she said, “offering our expertise and our service to communities in Chicago and beyond.”
March 2008 Issue
By Jill Schachner Chanen
In an unassuming office park in a quiet Chicago suburb, six lawyers are planning a revolution. The six are American women of the Muslim faith, and they have started what they believe is a first-of-its-kind law firm. They hope to change the way others think about their religion and culture, as well as the way law can be practiced.
“The pictures you see in the media of Muslim wom¬en are of very shrouded, very oppressed women,” says Janaan Hashim. “That is not us … not what our faith advocates. We have a great opportunity to overcome the odds in a very pluralistic, very accepting society.”
Launched last fall, the Amal Law Group in Palos Heights, Ill., is named after the Arabic word for hope, the partners say. The firm represents their hope for themselves and their community. “Today the word Muslim has a very negative conno¬tation, and we are trying to overcome that,” Hashim says.
Much like the varied ethnicities of Amal’s partners, a variety of matters are handled by the firm, including criminal defense and business law. While they don’t exclusively cater to Muslims, the partners say their combined knowledge of American jurisprudence and Islamic law and culture has created a demand for their services in their growing Muslim community.
“If clients have the option to do it in a Shariah-compliant manner, they want it,” say Maryam Khan. Shariah combines legal principles derived from the Quran, the teachings of Muhammad and interpretations of those teachings by Islamic jurisprudential scholars. It’s perhaps most recognizable as a factor in financial transactions because Islam prohibits charging interest, but the Amal women apply Shariah more often in family law situations, like drafting estate planning documents recognized under Islamic and Illinois law.
Sharing a religious connection not only brings in this business but eases workplace pressures. Majdel Musa points out that they can maintain their cultural identity without worrying about drinking alcohol at social events or dressing a certain way. Indeed, four of the six wear traditional Muslim headscarves.
And they are striving to break down another workplace barrier: creating a flexible, family-friendly environment. Children are welcome and can often be found in the office (five of the six lawyers are mothers). All six are free to maintain their own hours and work where they are most effective, be it telecommuting at midnight or working 9 to 5.
“We feel no pressure to conform to anyone’s ideal of a lawyer,” Musa says.
Except, of course, their own.
1. Posted by Mohd Hasan – Mar 5, 2008 07:17 am CST
I’m very happy for Amal Law Group. I wish you All Success. Allah Bless You.
2. Posted by Shahed – Mar 5, 2008 03:25 pm CST
GO AMAL LAW GROUP!!! allah bless you!
3. Posted by Asal Sedghi – Mar 6, 2008 04:41 pm CST
Very inspiring story. I hope that other muslim professionals will follow your example.
4. Posted by Lubna Qazi-Chowdhry – Mar 7, 2008 02:12 pm CST
Wish you all success- it is so inspiring and wonderful to see a the legal arena becoming more and more diverse and in so many different ways! I hope all of you realize what an admirable path you are paving.
5. Posted by Rick Horowitz – Mar 14, 2008 10:53 am CST
This is a great idea and I wish you the best of success. Hopefully, you will be able to change some people’s impressions and raise consciousness about and hope for diversity in America.
6. Posted by F. Shaikh – Mar 16, 2008 01:35 am CST
Wow!! Congratulations to all six of you. I hope that other women are inspired by your accomplishments.
7. Posted by Susan Yates – Mar 17, 2008 02:30 pm CST
This article made my day. I wish this firm all the success in the world. These women are inspiring as they pave new paths.
8. Posted by John Holt – Mar 20, 2008 03:28 pm CST
Good luck with your new firm. I hope you can take the time to educate American lawyers on the muslim faith and islamic law.
9. Posted by naima – Mar 24, 2008 03:21 pm CST
this is the coolest thing ever. I wish I can come shadow your firm sometime in the future. I can learn so much from you six wonderful role models for muslim young women thinking about a profession in the law