We are pleased to announce Sofia Haq as our Tenth Muslim Woman of the Month!
Sofia Haq is a multi-ethnic, Muslim woman born and raised in Southern California by her Pakistani father and Mexican mother, who converted to Islam after they met.
Her multi-layered identity, coupled with her strong involvement in community service from a young age, and her personal life experiences greatly influenced many of her decisions, and the untraditional career path she chose to take. As a result, Sofia truly is a multifaceted woman of many trades and interests whose determination and hard work helped her gain invaluable experience in a variety of fields.
She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2015 with a major in Gender Studies, and completed an intensive study abroad program in international business at the London School of Economics. However, her true passion lies in fashion, which was greatly influenced by her mother.
Sofia began her work in the fashion industry at the hijab brand, Austere Attire, where she learned more about branding as well as the ins and outs of operating a business. From there, she went on to work at the luxury fashion brand, Diane von Furstenburg. At DvF, Sofia utilized her unique perspective and identity to help create effective strategies for marketing to Muslim women, Latinas, and Arab women, since these highly ignored groups made up the majority of their consumers. However, due to the intense toll the job had been taking on her mentally and physically, she decided to leave. Sofia’s journey, however, was far from over.
She was interested in pursuing an MBA, and was accepted into two pre-MBA programs including UCLA’s Riordan MBA Fellows Program and the Forte Foundation Program, which gave her more insight and expertise in various areas of the business sector, and the tools she needed to eventually bring her passion project to life.
In Sofia’s journey, each opportunity led her closer to where she was meant to be, and that’s in the numerous impactful roles she holds today. Currently, she is the founder of her own trailblazing organization known as Muslim Women Professionals, which aims to assist Muslim women as they navigate through the professional world. With her experience working at Pathways Travels, a nonprofit that provides experiential learning for at-risk youth, she hopes to turn her organization into a nonprofit one day.
Sofia also recently accepted a position as the Head of Operations at Glory Skincare, a Black-owned, clean and inclusive startup beauty brand after completing a startup accelerator program at Grid110, where she learned more about venture capital, and how to build a successful and sustainable business.
Furthermore, she is an ambassador for The United State of Women (USOW), where she helps advocate for women and minorities, and brings awareness to the various inequalities and injustices they face on a daily basis.
At the core, Sofia is a go-getter. Despite any discrimination, barriers, or obstacles she may have faced along the way, she never let anything stop her from reaching her goals. Time and time again, she took the initiative, made the most out of every opportunity, and turned her dreams into reality. And now, through MWP, she is empowering Muslim women across the globe to do the same.
In our chat, Sofia shares more about herself, her journey, and the amazing work she is involved in. She also gives us advice on how we can be more empowered and unapologetic in the workplace, as well as how we can break away from our gender roles in order to reach our true potential.
Read on to learn more about this resilient, brave, and ambitious Latina, Pakistani Muslimah, and to find out what her future goals are for MWP!
What is Muslim Women Professionals?
Muslim Women Professionals is an organization that educates, empowers, and mobilizes a network of Muslim women. At the core of MWP are our four pillars, based off of the pillars in Islam. They are community, connection, commitment, and content.
Through community, we’re making sure that we’re creating an inclusive space that is ultimately building bridges within the community to empower women. Through our content, we’re creating relevant content that highlights the incredible strides of Muslim women within different fields. It’s also an incredible opportunity to educate the community through content around things like social justice, entrepreneurship, diversity, and inclusion.
Through connection, we are trying to create long-lasting meaningful connections between Muslim women of different ethnicities and industries. Commitment for us was really important because we really wanted it to be a pillar that brings awareness to the commitment that we as individuals have, not only with our faith, but with ourselves, and giving ourselves the investment that we need personally, professionally, and spiritually to ultimately thrive.
So this organization really has been an incredible tool to create and promote the identities of Muslim women. Our community is so diverse. There’s over 800 million Muslim women in the world, and unfortunately, we’re still seen as a pawn in so many ways.
We’re really trying to empower Muslim women to be their authentic selves, to understand the value that they bring to their workplaces, and encourage them to also help bring other Muslim women into their industries, companies, and friendships as well.
“That’s when I realized,…‘You need to do something that is going to be impactful. You need to remind Muslim women of their power, and remind them not to be afraid during this time.’”
That is such a great idea! I love what your organization is doing and what it stands for. I definitely wish I had something like that growing up. What led you to create MWP and how did you start it?
It was a lot of things. When I got back from LSE (London School of Economics), unfortunately, I didn’t have a job because I decided to go study abroad. I didn’t get to recruit or anything like that because nobody told me how recruiting works in undergrad. I didn’t even have a network. No disrespect to UCLA, but our network was not that strong at that time, and I paid to be a part of the alumni network, which is just ridiculous. I had no mentors, because again, nobody told me how to get a mentor. I had nobody to lean on to help me.
At that time, I was depressed. I was like, “I don’t have a job. I’m back at home after going to one of the best schools in the country. What was the point of that?” Looking back, a lot of people were also in the same situation I was. That was my first encounter, like, “There’s no network for Muslims?” That was number one.
Number two was that I started going to networking events for MBA schools because I knew I wanted to get an MBA, and I was always the only Muslim there. It was very much a drinking culture, so I felt a little out of place.
My mother’s side of the family is Catholic, and so I grew up going to family parties where there was alcohol, which I had no issue with. But being in a space like that, where we’re there to meet the admissions directors and to interact with alumni, and drinking was such a huge part of it, I was a little turned off. In my mind, professional also meant inclusive.
Then also, within my community, I saw a lot of competition amongst Muslim women. I didn’t see a lot of Muslim women who supported one another, and I didn’t like that. Finally, what really made me realize that I needed to take this idea live that I had since 2016, was after Nabra Hassanen was killed in 2017.
She was killed in Virginia as a Black Muslim woman. She and her friends went to a diner to get suhoor during Ramadan, and then someone ended up attacking, raping, and killing her. It was an Islamophobic attack and a hate crime, but so many people did not label it as that. This was during the time that Trump was getting elected, and so it just created fear for people like myself.
That’s when I realized, “You have a huge network,” which at that point I did. “You have so many mentors. You have so many connections. You need to do something for the community. You need to do something that is going to be impactful. You need to remind Muslim women of their power, and remind them not to be afraid during this time.” That is what ultimately drove [MWP] to become what it has become now.
“At the end of the day, I am a multi-ethnic woman. I am very passionate about my identity. I’m first and foremost Muslim, that’s how I choose to live my life, and that matters so much to me.”
Wow, that is so inspiring, and is something that our community definitely needed, and still needs today. I am sure a lot of women, like myself, can relate to your experiences and the way you felt. So, I am very glad that you created this resource, as it will be helpful to so many Muslim women. Can you tell us more about USOW (United State of Women), and your work as an ambassador with them?
USOW was started a few years ago under the Obama administration to promote gender equity at a grassroots level. What they found was that so many of the issues that have been centered on gender equity are really being handled at a grassroots level, which is impacting those communities on a smaller scale, and in a more intimate way. The Obama administration really wanted to bridge that gap, so they created an organization that amplified the work that grassroots organizations were doing.
This opportunity has been an amazing experience for me to learn about so many grassroots organizations, and even bring awareness to MWP. So much of the work that I’ve done, even within other organizations like Riordan Programs, and Forte Foundation is to amplify and advocate for more women in these spaces.
This has also been an incredible opportunity for me to also bring awareness to issues that are really important to me. A few months ago, I did a workshop centered around the conditions at the border.
It was really important to me, especially as a Mexican woman, to bring awareness to the injustices and the atrocities that are going on at the U.S.-Mexican border, and to shed light on the incredible work that organizations like Immigrant Defenders and Border Angels are doing to create experiences for immigrants that are a lot more tolerable.
At the end of the day, I am a multi-ethnic woman. I am very passionate about my identity. I’m first and foremost Muslim, that’s how I choose to live my life, and that matters so much to me. I’m also Mexican. That’s a huge part of who I am culturally, and I want to make sure that I use my platform to bring awareness to the struggles that Latinos and Pakistanis are facing in this country, and then sectioning out to Arabs and Black people, and just continuing that. I’m able to do that through USOW, and hopefully set an example for others in our community to do the same.
Yes, I completely agree, it is so important to use your voice and your platform to raise awareness about issues and things that matter, and to also just contribute to the greater good of the community. In MWP’s coffee chats, what is a common problem Muslim women have expressed they are experiencing professionally, and how is MWP helping to address it?
For so many of them, what they were facing was not having other Muslim women to look up to in their respective industries or fields. A lot of them didn’t know skills like networking, so we held a networking event last year, and it was really successful.
What we garnered from coffee chats was that a lot of women wanted that community. Being able to interact with other women who they had never met before was an opportunity for them to build their network. Every coffee chat we were having, there would be a specific topic.
It would be an opportunity for us to educate the community, and do breakout sessions like, “So, for an issue like this that our community’s facing, why don’t we get in our groups and talk about solutions to the problem?” The beauty of that is you have people from such different industries–STEM, arts, entertainment, business., agriculture–able to talk about their experience, and what a solution would look like for someone like themselves.
We would take the information that we had at those coffee chats, and create tangible resources for Muslim women, and then incorporate that into our newsletter and our website. Now, given everything that’s happened with COVID, it’s been an adjustment, but Inshallah, I’m really excited for the new year and what that’s going to bring for us.
“No, you were meant to be in this space, because you were meant to be more than just one thing.”
That’s so amazing, and Inshallah you will continue to make an impact and be able to do the wonderful work you are doing going forward. You undertook a variety of career paths before getting to where you are today, can you talk about your different experiences and how you knew which was the right one for you?
I think through everything that I’ve been through, I took the most non-traditional path that you could take. I feel like I am every auntie’s worst nightmare. When people were like, Get a stable job. Be traditional,” I went against the grain. I did everything that you’re told not to do from a community standpoint, and it worked in my favor.
Every experience that I’ve had, from working at Austere Attire to working for DvF, to starting MWP, to being a part of Riordan and Forte, to working at a nonprofit, and being a part of Grid110, has all led me to this position. Every single one of those experiences taught me something that I incorporate into this position.
I think that what has made me fortunately, Alhamdulillah, so far successful, is the fact that I’m not a traditional applicant. You need help in operations? I know what to do. You need help in customer strategy? I know what to do. You need help in marketing? I know what to do. I have experience in all these areas, and that is what gives me leverage to understand an organization in a way that most people couldn’t.
I think that in being successful in the startup sphere, especially, you need to be able to know multiple things because you have to wear so many different hats. And if I’m being honest, I knew at a very young age that I didn’t want to just do one thing. I feel like, Alhamdulillah, at least for right now, this is where I’m meant to be because I’m able to do so many different things, and wear so many different hats, and it’s the most incredible experience.
All of that uncertainty and instability that I’ve dealt with for the past five years since graduating–yes, it was absolutely difficult, and yes, seeing so many people I know take the traditional route and have that stable career, or have that stable income was so hard. But now, I’m like, ‘No, you were meant to be in this space, because you were meant to be more than just one thing.”
Mashallah, that just goes to show how far you can come when you believe in yourself, and when you don’t settle for less than you know you can accomplish. You have a full-time job as Head of Operations at a startup, along with running MWP– how do you balance your personal, professional life, as well as your passion?
The most important thing that I’ve realized is that you have to set boundaries. You cannot do everything all at once. It’s really important to learn how to manage your time, and to make time for yourself.
In these past few months, given everything with COVID, it definitely took a toll on my mental health. I had a really great experience with therapy a few years ago after losing my dad, so I started going to therapy. It’s really amazing to have someone be a guiding light for you in all areas of your life to remind you like, ‘Hey, you need to do XYZ.’ Therapy has just been a great outlet for me to prioritize myself emotionally and to understand a healthy way of living.
The first thing I did was really understand where I want to be, and what I see myself doing. What type of life do I want to live, and what boundaries do I need to set? A lot of it was realizing where I am investing my time. So, I would say invest in either therapy or in some sort of outlet that really allows you to prioritize yourself.
Set those boundaries and be firm in them because I think that, sometimes as women, we’re so empathetic, helpful and kind that we end up with all this stuff we have to do because we didn’t learn how to say, ‘No.’ So, I set boundaries with my family. I set boundaries in my professional life, even with MWP.
Another thing has been setting hobbies for myself. I love horseback riding. I used to go horseback riding a ton when I was younger. I picked it up a few years ago, and it is such an amazing outlet for me to destress. I think for anybody who’s trying to be involved in so many things, you have to create structure in your life. You have to be mindful. You have to set a schedule, even if it means setting a time for you to watch TV, to do a face mask, or to go for a walk.
You need to invest in all areas of your life, not just your professional life because if you don’t invest in your wellness, you’re going to be investing in, God forbid, an illness, anxiety, or all these things. So be proactive as opposed to reactive, find a balance between personal and professional, and make sure you prioritize yourself because if you’re not good, you won’t be able to sustain your success.
“You have the power to make your life better right now. The question is, are you going to take the steps that you need to take to make it better, and to use this time wisely to make positive change happen?”
Thank you so much for that advice, I really needed to hear that. You talked a lot about how your parents taught you to be unapologetic at a young age, and how that has been very helpful to you in many ways now, especially in the professional world. How can Muslim women come into their power and stay genuine and unapologetically themselves in the workplace?
A lot of it comes from first and foremost working on yourself, and figuring out, “What areas do I feel like I need to improve on?” Whether it’s your confidence, or whether it’s like, “Do I feel insecure talking about my Muslim identity? Why is that, and what can I do to take the steps to make sure that doesn’t happen? How can I empower myself?” I think that it starts with really doing the work that you need to do in order to get to that point.
From there, I think that’s where community plays a huge part. So, getting involved in something like MWP where you can be around other like-minded Muslim women, and learn more about their experiences, and start to build those connections.
What I noticed is that being unapologetic, a lot of it has to do with being really secure in who you are. Yes, there are moments where you’re going to be insecure. I’ve had moments of insecurity and doubt, but, for example, I’ve never been insecure about being Latina, Pakistani, Muslim and being mixed.
I think that a lot of that came from doing the work and realizing, “Why do I feel so insecure?” Well, I feel insecure because I feel excluded, or I feel like a minority within a minority, or because of the way people treat me. When you get to the point where you don’t allow people to dictate how you should feel or how you should view yourself, it’s this release, and you just become so much more confident in who you are.
So, I think it’s learning to love yourself and every part of you as best as possible, and also learning like, “Are there people in my life that belittle me or that make me feel less than?” and getting rid of those people, and surrounding yourself with people who are going to embrace you in the ways that you want to be embraced.
You took a nontraditional path, where many Muslim women feel compelled to follow the expectations of their parents and the community, or they give in to the pressure of getting married or having children by a certain age. How can we break out of the gender roles and expectations that our community and cultures try to box us in to reach our career goals and our true potential as strong, independent, ambitious Muslim women?
I think it’s really focusing on who you have around you because if you’re surrounding yourself with people who think that way, then you are going to feel like you have to think that way, too. Family is one thing, like your mom or your dad, but if you’re surrounding yourself with your cousins or friends who are like, “Why aren’t you getting married? You should be doing this, or you should be that,” you need to distance yourself from them.
The beauty about my friendships and the people I have in my life is that they never pressure me into being a certain way, and it’s because they get it. Everyone is on their own path, and they’re very much like, “You do what you feel is best,” and I think that’s so important.
Another thing is figuring out what you want and don’t want because, if you don’t have standards, you’re going to settle for anything. Instead of feeling like you are defined by your relationship status, no, you are defined by your character. You are defined by the type of person you are. You’re defined by all these other things. So, stop putting marriage on this pedestal as if it’s like the best thing that will ever happen to you.
It’s an amazing thing, yes. It’s half of your deen, absolutely. But when you’re in a marriage, all your insecurities, all of your bad habits are now going to be shown to another person. So, you need to focus on yourself, and put less of an emphasis on your relationship status, and more of an emphasis on your goals and ambitions.
If it’s not happening right now, chances are, it’s because it’s just not meant for you. It’s just not your naseeb. In the meantime, God is waiting for you to go after your goals and ambitions. So, don’t waste this time. Being single is a beautiful thing because you’re able to explore who you want to be, and what you want to accomplish as an individual, and not waiting for someone to make your life better.
You have the power to make your life better right now. The question is, are you going to take the steps that you need to take to make it better, and to use this time wisely to make positive change happen?
“Trust what you know, trust your judgment, and lead with that.”
I don’t think I could have said it better myself. What advice do you wish you received when you were starting your business that you would give to yourself now?
I would say a few things. The first is: stop taking advice from people who are not in a position to give you advice. In the beginning, I really doubted myself. Once I had a team, I would get really nervous because I didn’t have a background in how to start a business.
I was scared to make mistakes. I was scared of what people would think. But, you can’t please everyone. You’re always going to disappoint someone, and someone is going to find a reason to not like you. Your job is to just do the best that you can.
So, you have to stop doubting yourself and hone in on what you know. As a founder, you know your business the best. You’ve invested the most time in this. Trust what you know, trust your judgment, and lead with that.
Another thing would be: never stop learning. Always try to invest more time and energy into seeing how you can learn more because the goal is to learn as much as you possibly can to be the best that you can.
I absolutely love that! It is definitely something to keep in mind, especially when starting your own business. What are your future goals for MWP?
My goal is for us to be the go-to organization for Muslim women and to be a safe space where Muslim women really feel like they are empowered and can thrive, where Muslim women see more people like them, and can learn so much.
Check out the Muslim Women Professionals’ website to get involved, see current job openings, and subscribe to their newsletter to to stay up to date on their latest resources and happenings. You can also check out Sofia’s website to reach out to her, and to learn more about the work she continues to be involved in. Be sure to follow MWP on all their social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And you can also follow Sofia on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well.