by Unbasic, 12th
Arriving in the United States from Yemen at age 11, I faced many difficulties. As a young Muslim girl in a country very different from Yemen, I was completely out of step. The U.S. was one of the most advanced democracies in the world, while Yemen was about to experience the outset of the Arab Spring. Although fluent in Arabic, I knew very little English, but quickly got up to speed in my new language. As a Muslim, I was expected to accept the role of females very different than expected by other families in the U.S. The political climate in the U.S. was not favorable for Muslims. My path to attend College has included a constant struggle to resist stereotypes. which I face repeatedly in the broader community in which I live.
My journey as a Muslim female in the U.S. cannot be described without considering the presence of Islamophobia. Depicting Muslims as anti-American is just plain wrong. A professor at —— College asked me if I would be getting an “arranged marriage” before I turned 18. I remember this moment well and thought only of his ignorance and how offensive his comment was in front of the class. I recall the hurt I felt when I saw my father and brother, dressed in thobes on their way to pray at the mosque, confronted by angry white men asking “why are you here”? And I am deeply offended when, out of ignorance and lack of respect, a white person questions fasting during Ramadan. I could go on.
In my Sunday Arabic School, I learn the true teachings of Islam, which are to live in peace and respect others. In a hadith (words of the Prophet Mohammed), even the manner in which one should eat a meal teaches respect for others. In these classes, I easily get immersed in the Quran, which teaches how to live peacefully in the world and serves as a form of meditation for me. In high school, I also read widely in literature to which I can relate, such as Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. In my experience, solutions to life’s problems are frequently found in fiction and the Quran. In Exit West, a character named Nadia wears the "black robe" not as a symbol of oppression but of freedom and protection. I intend to use my experiences to play a role in society to convey to the community that the Islamic religion and its rich culture are multi-faceted and in line with a peaceful life. It is only through knowledge and understanding of our differences that communities can live in harmony.
As a daughter in a close-knit Muslim family with three brothers and two sisters, I have met the responsibilities expected of me as a result of my gender. This was no easy task. I have served as a “second mother:” cared for younger siblings, performed household duties, and cooked, all while excelling in my school work with the goal of attending college. I am lucky to have supportive brothers and parents who have taught me to be independent and work to achieve my goals. My family is unlike the typical Middle Eastern family, where male children are free to do what they desire while female children are saddled with responsibility and overly protected from the outside world. I reject the thinking of Muslims I know outside my family, who ask: “Why go to college, you’re only going to be a housewife anyway?”
My journey to Mills College is not typical in any way. My religion and culture have played a significant part in my development. I am interested in the sciences, especially where they intersect with my faith. My studies in integrated biology; especially DNA, have created a curiosity to further study these areas. My goal is to explore the possibility of working in the medical field. I am more than my religion or my headscarf.
My path so far has included some difficult times and a variety of accomplishments: leaving Yemen at a young age in the face of the Arab Spring, learning English, playing a central role in a strong and supportive Muslim family, adapting to a completely new country and culture, navigating the tide of Islamophobia, and finding passion and curiosity along the way My father wanted an education but never got it because he needed to work to help support his family. My mother wanted to be a teacher but was sidetracked by the demands of a woman in the Muslim culture. They wanted a better life and education for me. I want to continue on that path and make Mills College my next stop as the first woman in my family to attend college.
Oakland | East Bay, CA