Founders Series: “Behind Every Man is a Great Woman”: PVS’s Hidden Figures
The five founders of PVS are five men with incredible dedication and devotion. They had very successful careers, but they set aside their time and energy to focus on PVS. However, when things started looking difficult, there was an amazing group of women who stepped up. Some of these women were Muslim all their lives, and some were reverts. Some of these women had children, and some did not. But they all had one thing in common: a dream. A dream of an alternate world where their children/future children would grow up in an Islamic environment.
Memphis was a completely different city nearly 25 years ago. With only a couple thousand Muslims living here at the time, there were only two mosques. Masjid As-Salam, founded in 1984, was one of the few places where the community would gather as a whole in congregation. This ended up being the perfect spot to advertise for the school and raise funds.
“We started selling lunch,” said Sr. Sabrina Ibrahim. “Out of our own money, we would go buy things and make lunch boxes, and we would sell it. And anywhere between $150 and $200 we would earn every week.”
In fact, selling food became one of the most effective and popular ways to raise money. A group of around 20 women gathered together and devised a plan to expand this initiative and take turns cooking for the community. “We would have alternating weeks where five of us would cook large amounts of food and sell it at the masjid. Then we would donate that money to help build the school,” explained Sr. Fatma Esmail. Esmail and her friends continued this tradition every Friday for over five years before the school was built, as well as after. “We bought vending machines and other resources and put them at the school to help bring in more money.”
Although cooking food was marketable, the Muslim women in Memphis used creative and diverse methods to gain as much profit as possible. “We even had garage sales,” Ibrahim explained, “We would make announcements at Friday prayer for people to bring stuff. A lot of people bought from there. One time, we raised around $1600. We were so excited; we had never raised so much at once! You have to start somewhere, and that was somewhere.”
But this journey was not easy. Raising $200 a week was not enough to fund the construction of a school. The women often felt frustrated and discouraged. But their husbands and brothers stood by them. Dr. Ibrahim Benter would frequently tell his wife, Sr. Emine Benter, and her friends to not worry about the amount of money they raised because Allah will reward them for their intentions. Often, the sisters needed these reminders because at the end of the day, they felt that their efforts were insignificant.
Today, when we look back at their sacrifices and efforts, we see how selfless and dedicated they were. Sr. Ibrahim said, “None of our children got to benefit from the school, but our community children got to benefit.” Imagine putting in all your savings, energy, and time into a project and not being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. There’s no teacher giving you any grade or any extra credit for that matter. You can’t put this on your college resume. However, others will benefit. Your efforts are then solely for the sake of Allah (SWT). We don’t know the names of many of these sisters today, we don't hear anyone talking about their sacrifices, we don’t see them being recognized, but we know their reward lies with Allah (SWT).