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Stars, stripes and the crescent: the foundations

By Anis Hoda

Stars, stripes and the crescent: a series on American Muslims.


In her university which has tens of thousands of students enrolled, Naiyerah Kolkailah is the only girl one can see wearing a hijab. A very distinctive trait, one can easily point her out in the crowd. When I was interviewing Naiyerah for this article, I asked her, how does it feel to be the only person in hijab on the university campus? She replied "Its constant dawah". When people see Naiyerah in hijab, they know she is a Muslim, a Muslim who is proud to present herself as one, who does not hesitate to put on a hijab in a society where lack of clothing is considered fashionable.

Sitting next to Naiyerah is her friend, Angie Ellaboudy, who defines herself as Muslim. Everything else, whether it’s being of Egyptian decent, an American, or Californian, is all secondary to her. She doesn't associate herself with any culture or tradition, her association is only to Islam and her loyalty only to the Almighty. Angie thinks of herself as an activist, an activist in hijab. When she is involved in community work, whether it’s feeding the homeless or volunteering in a health fair, her hijab is a constant reminder to people around her that she is a Muslim. She says it’s a non-stop representation of Islam.

Naiyerah is a fifth year student majoring in Biology and pursuing a minor in religious Studies, while Angie has graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. In their twenties, both girls are prime example of what defines an American Muslimah. Well educated, active in their community, striving to learn more about Islam, passionate about implementing that knowledge and working against all odds to preach the knowledge gained. They are part of a grass root organizations; they work with the community, not only the Muslim community, but the community at large. They put themselves out there even though the reaction to a girl in hijab is not the best in the world. Even after facing problems because of their decision to wear their hijab, both girls, keep it on, not because it makes a political or social statement, but because it is an order from Allah. The socio-political statement is just a healthy by product of following the commandment of Allah.



Like these two girls, the American Muslimah doesn’t think that to be free, she needs to shed her clothes. She is at ease in her hijab and jeans. She portrays a balance between modernism and Islam. The modernity of her personality does not compromise with her modesty, though it’s as easy to find a Muslim girl in short sleeve t-shirt as it is to find one in a hijab, as that is the bane of this culture and society.

She knows her rights, and unlike the rest of the women in society, she does not have to demand them. Her rights have already been given to her by Islam. She understands the boundaries of her religion, and at the same time is not scared to break down the taboos created by cultures. Breaking cultural chains is one of the biggest boons of the American Society. With the assimilation of different cultures, education and the search for a Muslim identity, she has discovered herself to be just a Muslim as Angie said.

One of the differences between a Muslimah who comes from America, and one who comes from other parts of the world, is that of activism. She takes being an activist as part of her religion. Taking part in the development of the society, taking leadership initiatives, learning, teaching, giving dawah, and most certainly being political and not shying away from stating her political views, are the characteristics that define her. Completely in sync with modern democracy, she runs blogs that state her views and reads between the lines of the media’s reports. She organizes protests, she participates in debates, and her voice resounds from the hijab with intellect and elegance.

One must not make the mistake of thinking that the American Muslimah is able to achieve much more on a holistic basis because the life in the US is easier, or that they have more facilities. While it’s true that much more facilities are available in this country,  her life is still a constant struggle. She may not be physically harmed most of the time, but there are constant attacks of a different nature.  There have been incidents of hijabs being pulled off of girls, some are called derogatory names such as “rag heads�, some are yelled at by passerbies, and some are not given jobs just because they wear the hijab.

The hostility towards Islam, which has become more apparent after the incidents that occurred on September 11th, 2001, has become much easier to be targeted towards her because she is so clearly visible with her hijab. There certainly have been instances where the hijab was given up, or some have quit school or work because of the criticism they have had to face. However, in the majority of these cases, the adversity she has had to face has made the American Muslimah stronger, and she has become bolder and her will is stauncher than ever. The daily struggle of the American Muslimah is double sided. On one side she is constantly dealing with the cultural hypocrisy inside her home or in the mosque and at the same time is fighting for her existence as a Muslimah. She deals everyday with the fact that she is looked upon differently because of her hijab, or her name, or because she takes prayer breaks at work. Her visibility because of her hijab makes her an ambassador for Islam by default. Her actions are taken and generalized to represent the whole Muslim world.

It is no exaggeration to call the Muslimah “the foundation� of Islam in America. She is the one who teaches her children to become the pillars who will support this mighty cause. She is the leader, she is the scholar, she is the teacher, she is the mother, and she is the foundation. A foundation that is based on the Quran and Sunnah alone, and is not corrupted to a harmful extent by the clout of culture. She is brave, strong, has a clear vision and is not scared to take the leap for the cause of Allah.

It would be erroneous to think that all Muslim girls or Muslims in general follow Islam to the best of their ability or work for the ummah. There are many who fall in to the temptations of the of the American “pop� culture lifestyle. Being materialistic and having the living in the moment approach can very well be found among many Muslims. It’s not hard to find Muslim girls dressed in revealing clothes and dancing on a night club floor, or spend their afternoons sitting in front of their television sets, engrossed in lives of other people. There also is no lack of those who are still tangled up with the cultures they are born into, and for whom cultural practices dominate and so they end up following something that is a mixture of their cultural values and Islam

With the western influence being so tempting, I asked Naiyerah and Angie, what they do to keep themselves away from these influences. The answer was: by continuously striving to learn more about Islam. Also, by understanding and implementing Islam in their daily lives, as well as constantly making sure that their intention is that what they do is only for the sake of Allah. They understand that there is a scarcity of Islamic scholars in this part of the world, so they teach what they learn. And by teaching or giving lectures, they learn more. It’s a circle, another circle of American Muslims.

They are the American Muslimahs, the foundation of Islam in Modern America. I salute them! Would you not?