Watch Besa Ismaili perform during Strong Voices Strong Communities 2015
Please join us in congratulating KARAMAH’s alumna Besa Ismaili on her accomplishments. On November 21st, 2015, the Universal Peace Federation bestowed upon Besa the title of Ambassador for Peace for her contributions in interfaith dialogue.
For nearly two decades, Besa has been a leading activist, researcher, advocate and trainer on society, religion and gender in Kosovo, especially as it relates to Muslim women issues. Besa Ismaili is deputy dean to the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina, Kosovo. She played a big role in establishing the Department for Women in the Islamic Community of Kosovo and also provided valuable guidance to its functioning.
For over a decade, Besa has been actively involved in inter-faith dialogue with diverse women groups and worked on implementing projects that foster and strengthen inter-faith dialogue. Besa has participated in various panels and working groups on gender, religion based discrimination, patriarchy and extremism.
Last summer, Besa sacrificed 3 weeks away from her children, including a newborn daughter, to attend LLSP 2015 and she says “it was worth every second!”
“There are times when working for too long in an environment and community, especially in a rather isolated country as Kosovo, you think that is how the whole world is, knowing no better, knowing no worse, specially with regard to women and religion matters in a society. I began to lose my creativity that used to bring me to solutions. Regardless of the time I used to spend with community members, I felt lonely as a leader.”
When she came to KARAMAH, Besa was under the impression that her hardships, challenges and achievements were specific to her and her country. But after interacting with other leaders at KARAMAH, she learned that all leaders, in one way or another, go through the same development processes and dilemmas. She came to realize that “the space that we create for ourselves that gives us the power to act.”
Besa could understand experiences of women coming from countries with a communist legacy like in the Balkans, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, but learning about the experiences of Muslim American women was eye opening for her.
“I was used to see Islamic practices in a more uniform manner, that has drawn some intolerance towards pluralism. In KARAMAH, meeting with all these different yet magnificent leaders expanded my level of tolerance towards all kinds of Islamic practices and perspectives.”
What Besa holds so dear to her heart and considers to be “the two pearls on top of the Law and Leadership program experience” was speaking to Muslim American women working at the White House and meeting with Dr. Azizah al-Hibri. When Besa met Muslim American women who hold key positions in the American government, she was inspired to advocate more for the engagement of women and making them part of discussions tables.
“Dr. Azizah, has given both the shape and the direction to the experiences I thought to have piled up all my life as a Muslim woman leader and activist. Her vision has orientated and structured well and clearly my way ahead with Muslim women empowerment projects. I am relying on the wisdom she shared with us, in interaction with other community leaders. I remember her describing a situation she encountered by carrying books to prove her arguments. I have started to carry books with me all the time to show to people what real Islam is, not what people say it is.”
After graduating from LLSP, Besa had the opportunity to participate in President’s Obama Interfaith Challenge. She presented two papers on “Interfaith Women and Peace building” and “Interfaith Women Agency in Kosovo and its Future” at the Howard University in Washington DC.
“The courage and confidence I gained from my LLSP experience not only enabled me to touch some walls but also to break them in terms of gaining recognition for women’s contribution and potentials in interfaith dialogue in our region.”
Being a KARAMAH alumna is an asset for Besa and her advocacy work in Kosovo. Besa is now part of KARAMAH’s alumnae network – a sisterhood of women leaders from around the globe who share Besa’s concerns, dreams and aspirations and with whom she can communicate at any time. This sisterhood, Besa says, is “not only an open door of hospitality but also a window to horizons of potential solutions.”