Soumaya Khalifa felt split into parts. She was born in Egypt, raised in Texas, and her multiple identities—Egyptian, American, Muslim—were kept separate. In a bid to unify her different selves after she left her career in the corporate world, Khalifa decided to start wearing the hijab. At first, she felt self-conscious around non-Muslims. But she learned, by projecting confidence, that she could help others accept her. Khalifa founded the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta (ISB) out of that same thought. By providing Muslims with training in public speaking and poise, Khalifa believes she can help create a positive relationship between Muslims and the wider community. “The more we educate, the more we outreach, the more we talk to each other, the more we can be helpful for the future,” she says.
A week after the ISB’s first training, 9/11 happened, and Khalifa’s work grew even more essential. As some American preconceptions about Muslims became more entrenched, the ISB started receiving requests for education about the Islamic community from churches, police agencies, and schools. Through the work, Khalifa and her team found new friendships in unlikely places. “Out of this horrible tragedy, there was a silver lining,” she says. As a next step, Khalifa launched the ISB’s Institute for Muslim Civic Leadership last year. She helps train future Muslim leaders, showing her students how to “break down the silos” between their seemingly disparate identities. “A passion of mine is to develop people and to see them succeed,” Khalifa says. “I just can’t wait to see their impact, what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to change the landscape.”