A Woman of Faith by Avi Smolen
A leader is someone who speaks her mind, dedicates herself to a cause, and inspires others to act. Randa Kuziez, an interfaith activist, fits this description perfectly. She has co-founded a social change organization dedicated to bringing people together, spoken on behalf of the U.S. State Department around the world, and manages to maintain a network of hundreds of friends, colleagues, and family members-- all of whom she cares about and connects with deeply. As her partner in the Faiths Act Fellowship in '09-'10, Randa and I engaged college students in Washington DC on the importance of interfaith cooperation. Every day of our work together I was inspired by Randa's commitment to her faith-- she is an observant Muslim who prays five times a day, is an active part of her religious community, and is a living example of the power that women of faith can have. Some people feel that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is hiding herself or diminishing her power, but Randa, who chose to start covering her hair when she began high school, proves through her assertive presence and thoughtful, probing questions that this is not the case. Randa finds meaning and spirituality, love and compassion in her religion and shares these qualities with others of all faiths. When her martial arts instructor was sick with cancer, she visited him in the hospital and shared with him the teachings of comfort and solace from her tradition, despite the fact that he followed another tradition.
To Randa, Islam is a wellspring of knowledge that helps to guide her life and compels her to pursue social justice and interfaith cooperation. A line from Eshet Chayil (Woman of Valor), an excerpt from Proverbs that is recited on the Jewish Sabbath, strikes me as being particularly appropriate to describe Randa: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the lesson of kindness is on her tongue.” I sometimes struggle with my religion, thinking about how it applies to me or how I choose to observe its traditions, and though Randa struggles as well, she maintains a confidence that the teachings of her faith will guide her on the right path. This serenity is soothing to those around her and gives her a confidence that is inspiring. Her positive attitude belies the bullying and discrimination she has endured in high school for wearing hijab and the number of times she is “randomly selected” for additional screening at the airport. One teaching that she often shares with me is that charity, one of the pillars of Islam, begins even with a simple smile. Randa practices this and other measures of charity often-- she is always smiling and laughing with friends, ever at ease even as she juggles a full-time job, research for her Master's in International Affairs, multiple volunteer positions and speaking engagements. I am amazed at her conviction, envious of her boundless energy, and admiring of her engaging personality. Women like Randa who are inspired by their faith traditions to give back to the greater community are role models for us all, and should take leadership roles in their communities—we will all be the better for it.