A young local Muslim lauded by Bakersfield and Pasadena city leaders for her continuous community activism has become the highest-ranking woman in America's largest Islamic civil liberties group.
Tahra Goraya, 34, was hired in September as the Washington, D.C.-based deputy director and chief operating officer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. That makes her the organization's second-in-command.
"She has excellent character, she's a hard worker and wherever she goes, she's gonna do a great job," said Bakersfield City Councilwoman Irma Carson.
Carson is also the executive director of Ebony Counseling Center, where Goraya worked with minorities and youths from 1997 to 2001 as an HIV and drug prevention educator, then as a program director.
"My passion is really about community," said Goraya, who lives according to her favorite verse from the Quran, which says that God has divided people into nations and tribes not to segregate them, but "so that you might come to know one another."
After her work for Carson, Goraya went on to became the executive director of Day One in Pasadena, also a nonprofit that works with at-risk youths and families.
A 1992 graduate of West High School who majored in biology and minored in psychology at UC Irvine and later earned her master's in organizational management from the University of Phoenix, Goraya stayed at Day One for more than six years until being hired by CAIR.
While in Day One, she worked closely with Pasadena City Mayor Bill Bogaard on summer programs for at-risk youths.
"Tahra has a maturity in her work that far exceeds her youthful age," he said. "She is dedicated and brings the highest integrity to her responsibilities. She's quiet but is focused and disciplined in pursuing the best interest of the young people with whom she works."
Goraya was born in Sacramento in July 1973. In October of that year, her parents, Pakistani immigrants who have lived in America since around 1971, moved with her to Bakersfield.
She was raised here together with her younger sister and three younger brothers and attended mosque at the Islamic Center of San Joaquin Valley on Ming Avenue.
Her father, Mohammad Goraya, a local real estate broker who is active in Bakersfield's Islamic community, said he and his wife have always had high expectations for all their children, but "some children excel better than the other ones." He called his firstborn a perfectionist who works "very, very hard," sometimes doing as much work as two or three people. Goraya herself said mediocrity was never an option for her.
"We are proud that our daughter is, Islamically and culturally, a good person," he said.
Goraya, who is single, said she started wearing a head covering in college and has sometimes suffered others' prejudice for being a Muslim, especially after 9/11. She said that, as a woman, she does not feel hindered or limited in any way by her religion.
"I think people need to differentiate between the culture and Islam," she said. "Islam is about women's rights and celebrating their intellectual capacity. The various cultures people come from make the negative spins and perpetuate the myths and stereotypes.
"There's nowhere in Islam that says you cannot be both career-driven and a good wife and mother. The role of women in Islam is to be engaged in all levels of society," she said. "Women have a lot to give back to society. We're intellectually just as capable as our male counterparts." (MORE)