Khalilah Sabra

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Khalilah Sabra (/ˈhɑːlilə/; born Christina Couzan 18 December 1967) is an American Muslim advocate and author best known for her work with refugees in the Middle East and literary contributions to the Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg series Transgression: Cultural Studies and Education.

Sabra currently works as an Accredited Representative, assisting aliens in immigration proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals (Board), or before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She has been designated by Muslim American Society, an organization that is recognized by the Board. Muslim American Society is the only Islamic organization approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals (the Board) to represent aliens before the Immigration Courts, the BIA and Department of Homeland Security.

Sabra’s is considered to be a woman who has been active in the defense of human rights, as well as the rights of Muslims. She has campaigned to fight inequality in education, poverty, racism, and sexism. “Respect for diversity is about behaviors and attitudes. It goes beyond legal rights to encompass such issues as a secure sense of belonging and a feeling of being accepted and welcome.” [1]

Khalilah Sabra received the International Human Rights Award in 2013. Sabra, was honored for her work with refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and nations hosting Palestinian and Syrian civilians as well as for her leadership role as Director of the Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center. [1]

Early life[edit]

Sabra grew up in Westwood, a district in western Los Angeles, California. She attended Saint Bernadette Catholic School, a private Roman Catholic elementary school in New Haven, Connecticut. She later attended Hamilton High School, a public high school in Los Angeles. Sabra studied criminal justice at California State University earning a graduate degree. Postgraduate work in Paralegal Studies was completed at UCLA.

Conversion to Islam and Induction to Islam[edit]

With the teaching of mentors Sheikh Ahmed Naufal, director of the Islamic University of Jordan, and Palestinian scholar Abdallah Azzam, Sabra converted to Islam. In the late 1980s she was recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikwan Al-Muslimeen), the only American female in the organization at that time. She worked for two years at the Institute of Islamic Studies as an instructor of English as a foreign or second language. She then lived and worked in refugee camps in Afghanistan and in Palestinian refugee camps in Southern Lebanon. She has since advocated for the rights of women living under oppressive regimes and against cultural transgressions prevalent in Third World societies.

Khalilah Sabra is Executive Director of The Muslim American Society (MAS) Immigrant Justice Center, a division of Muslim American Society, a nonprofit organization founded in 1993, and headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, that describes itself as an Islamic revival and reform movement. Its founding member were mainly foreign students of Arab descent. MAS is said to have been created by the Muslim Brotherhood, after a debate among Muslim Brotherhood members in the U.S. about whether to remain underground, or to have a public face. Historically, the Ikhwan has followed the path of toleration and came to find democracy compatible with its notion of slow Islamization. An Islamic society, the idea goes, will naturally desire Islamic leaders and support them at the ballot box. The Ikhwan also repeatedly justified democracy on Islamic grounds by certifying that "the "umma" [the Muslim community] is the source of "sulta" [political authority]." In pursuit of popular authority, the Brotherhood has formed electoral alliances with secularists, nationalists, and liberals. Sabra continues to an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of the organization and asserts, “The Brotherhood differs from those admonitory precedents: its road to power is not revolutionary; it depends on winning hearts through gradual and peaceful Islamization.” [2]


Sabra is the author of An Unordinary Death: The Life of a Palestinian, a work on critical pedagogy, a teaching approach designed to help students achieve critical consciousness by asking them to question and challenge the beliefs and practices that dominate their society. Sabra designs and implements programs to educate non-Muslims about a moderate version of Islam that denounces violence and extremism. In 2007 she became North Carolina Director of Civil Rights for the Muslim American Society.

Her advocacy activities include supporting international human rights, national civil rights, the promotion of democratic immigration protocols, the advancement of Muslim rights and the rights of other marginalized citizens. Sabra has appeared in the media insisting that the American courts and public adhere to due process during trials of alleged terrorists, insisting that defendants "must be proven guilty in a court of law." She says that government-initiated torture is a crime, whether it is committed by the Central Intelligence Agency or any government entity in the United States or elsewhere. An anti-war advocate, Sabra believes that the United States exceeded its authority by its presence in Iraq, which, along with its support for Israel, creates hatred for the American government throughout the Middle East.

Political Advocacy[edit]

Since 9/11, Sabra has given controversial speeches about the subsequent marginalization of Muslims and religious racism.

“To a woman the definition of rape is quite straightforward. A sexual assault to the body by force, an invasion into the private, personal internal space without consent, an inner assault by one of numerous methods-constitutes a conscious and premeditated violation of emotional, physical and indisputable honor; and is a vicious, hostile, degrading act of violence that warrants the name of rape.

“Contemporary legal perceptions of rape are rooted still in ancient male concepts of property, clearly being the case in Saudi Arabia and other so called ‘civil’ societies.

“Legal foundations have been shrouded in the quagmire of ancient history, as the law of rape continued to advance. it never completely disassociated itself from the earlier perception that this violation was first and primarily a violation of male rights of possession, based on male requirements of virginity, chastity and consent to private access as the female bargain in the marriage contract.”[3]

Sabra readily admits that cultural bias and transgressions can make transition to Islam difficult. She has often remarked that culture is a transgressive philosophy that often breaks the rules of traditional Islam and Islamic values.

“Gender issues and, in particular, the rights of women in Muslim culture, continue to generate much media attention in the West. Muslim women are often portrayed as inferior beings, despite rights accorded them in Islam which sought their liberation from patriarchal cultures that prevents their progress.

“As we become more active our work will not be overlooked by scholars and policymakers, as the Muslim woman becomes a significant contributor to policy, culture, and social change. This work is not a recommendation, but a requirement.

“Recognizing this responsibility in application, involves both Muslim men and women right away in the positive affirmation of advocacy.It is not possible for a Muslim to fully comprehend her religion if she believes that she can sit with indifference, assured that anything of great importance will take place without mass commitment; and that human transformation does not call for her to be within collective participation.” [4]

“The process of social, political, and cultural change in the United States is incomplete without the voices of Muslim women, particularly those whose words have been actively involved in civic activism and in resistance against inequality. In the west, the common picture of a Muslim woman has yet to transcend the stereotype of a woman hidden behind a veil, a voiceless, silent figure, bereft of rights. It is a picture familiar to all of us, in large part because this is invariably perpetrated by the western media and there are few scholars who have described women in Islam without prejudice. In most text it appears that great, heroic or courageous Muslim women don’t exist at all. Those few who do are mostly images of submissive, timid women covered in black, valuing nothing more than anonymity.” [5]

Sabra says the following about the necessity for a transformation in gender-related advocacy within the American Islamic movement.

“Only the direct words of Muslim women activists can reveal the depths of their understanding of possibilities and promise in the presence of political and social despair. Their voices must be the narratives that reveal an understanding of the Muslim's roles in institutional change as well as their analyses of social isolation based on religion, gender and class. As such, their own personal representation and words will expose the myths about the gravity of their influence and leadership that previously evolved from patriarchal, Eurocentric, male-focused, sociological definitions or ideological terms that have no connection to Muslim women or Islam.” [6]


  1. ^ Irbid, R. Respect: The Formation of Islamic Character in an Age of Inequality. Sense Books, 2013.