Some in the West have long held negative stereotypes toward the Islamic faith, particularly when it comes to the role of women. But if one woman in Toledo, Ohio has her way, that is about to change. She was recently elected president of a local Islamic center. She oversees the operations of a community center, school, and mosque, including the activities of the Imam. Her goal is to show the non-Muslim world that women of Islam can do and achieve anything they want.
Like many Afghan women, Salmenna Sedique enjoys spending quiet time with her family in their Toledo Ohio home.
But unlike some of her Muslim counterparts, Salmenna also plays a prominent role outside the home, in Toledo's Muslim community.
She is the first woman president of the Masjid Saad Islamic Center, which includes an Islamic school and mosque.
"It is a hard position for anyone to run, Salmenna said. "It is a responsibility. And every single second I am thinking, am I going to fulfill it in the right manner, in the right way?"
Toledo Ohio is an old industrial city in the middle United States. The Masjid Saad center started as a small prayer area at a local University more than twenty years ago.
It has grown to a community of over one thousand people. Women play prominent roles in all aspects of the center's life.
Salmenna wants to change the negative stereotypes held by some toward Islam -- particularly, the role of women. She says rules that say women cannot be educated, or leave the home without the company of a male family member, or must be covered, are rooted in culture, not Islamic tradition. She says, in Islam, those issues are a matter of choice and points to the role women played in the household of the Prophet Mohammed.
"They were not hiding," Salmenna says, "They were not behind the curtains; they were not behind the walls. They were going to battles, they were in business."
Salmenna also plays a prominent role in the family business.
She keeps the books and maintains the computer system at her husband Ahmad's auto dealership. It was her husband who pushed her to become president of the Islamic center. "We needed somebody in our community right now to work and organize it. And she is qualified for that," Ahmad Sedique says, "And I am fully supporting her for that."
Salmenna says leading by example is the best way to change perceptions. She encourages young people to get more involved at the center. Today, these young women are planning youth group activities, but were shy about talking with us on camera.
Salmenna wants to see more action from Muslims outside the center. "We don't have people in politics, we don't have people to fill out the social working areas. They don't look at it as a priority, but to me," she adds, "it is a priority."
Her appointment as president is for one year. In Islam, the only position a women is not allowed to hold is Imam. She encourages women to educate themselves, get involved, and stand up for their Islamic rights.