Standing 5-foot-2 and wearing a Muslim head scarf, Khalilah Sabra doesn't look like a firebrand.
But the diminutive woman has become the voice for Muslims in the Raleigh area, and over the past few years has shown she will not be cowed.
She recently took on a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who tried to smooth relations with Muslims. When the official described to Muslims the new steps his office was taking to ease their security hassles at airports and to respond to complaints about detentions, Sabra was the first to get up and speak.
"It sounds like Habitat for Humanity," Sabra scowled, conveying that she did not accept the rosy picture he had painted. "Don't you think the laws are directed at Middle Easterners and Middle Eastern-looking people?"
Sabra, who converted to Islam 26 years ago, has emerged as one of the loudest defenders of her faith, locking arms with those who have been harassed, intimidated or discriminated against. As the director of the local Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, she sees her role as ushering in a new era of Muslim civil rights activism.
If Sept. 11, 2001, woke up Americans to the reality of Islamic terrorism on their own soil, it woke up Sabra to what she saw as prejudice against Muslim American immigrants. Sabra felt uniquely qualified to serve as an advocate. She is American-born, a convert from Roman Catholicism. And she has lived abroad — in Pakistan in 1989, and in Lebanon, from 1995 to 1997 with her husband and family.
If anyone understood the complexities of the Muslim Americans, she did.
So Sabra, 41, threw herself into community action.
"The day of isolationism is over," she said. "It's time to get involved."
But Sabra is not only critical of U.S. policies that deprive Muslims of their liberties, she is also critical of her own faith community. (MORE)