Interview: Zainab Chaudry Makes the Case for Faith, Activism and Acceptance in the Workplace

Here at Graymake, we talk a lot about bringing our full selves to work.

But what about our religious identities? Our faiths? Our belief systems? Is there room for them in the business world?

We decided to pick the brain of an expert: Zainab Chaudry, civil rights advocate and activist, and the Maryland outreach director for the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR).

In addition to being the first Muslim appointed to the Maryland State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Zainab was also a ‘Nominated Changemaker’ at the 2016 White House Summit on the United State of Women. That same year, she was also recognized as one of the Baltimore Sun’s 25 “Women to Watch.”

Zainab offers a solution: To use your faith to guide your work and to give meaning to your daily efforts.

Anne Hilb: Tell us about yourself and your work.

Zainab Chaudry: I am a Muslim American woman born and raised in Baltimore, and the proud daughter of immigrants.

My parents arrived to the United States in the 1970’s in search of better educational opportunities for their children. They put themselves through college and went on to serve veterans and their families in Baltimore for collectively over 50 years.

This city sparked my passion for social justice work. Growing up experiencing firsthand the impact of systemic racism opened my eyes to the concept of privilege long before I understand what it actually is. After working as a pharmacist for several years, I transitioned over into social justice work, and now serve as the director of the Maryland office of America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. 

AH: How do you define faith? 

ZC: One of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Faith is accepting something we can’t see but still know in our hearts and minds is true.  

AH: How have you seen faith become a source of power and of persecution in workplaces? 

ZC: More often, I’ve seen it become a source of persecution in the workplace. People are often discriminated against because of their beliefs—thereby leading to a toxic work environment.

Part of my organization’s work is to defend religious pluralism in our country and protect individuals’ rights to worship as they choose. No one should ever be targeted for harassment and discrimination because of how they choose to worship. 

AH: How do you balance your spirituality with other parts of yourself? 

ZC: My faith guides my activism. The Quran specifically instructs Muslims to stand out firmly for justice even if it is against ourselves. People often ask for advice on weathering this current political climate; nurturing spirituality can help see us through the toughest days. Prayer and mediation can help bring peace for many. 

AH: What are your biggest tips for someone faced with conflict they are unsure how to confront? 

ZC: Be open-minded and evaluate the situation objectively. Try not to personalize it, even if it feels deeply personal. Try to speak with the people involved in person. Make a list of pros and cons of different scenarios/outcomes, and never make a decision or write an email when you are angry or upset. 

AH: What is the best advice you have ever received? 

ZC: I’ve been blessed to have terrific mentors who’ve given me lots of great advice. One piece of advice that I love: Your job isn’t to save the world; it’s to never stop trying.

AH: Do you have a favorite quote or text you refer back to that renews your faith?

ZC: “This place where you are right now,

God circled on a map for you.”

– Hafiz 

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