After Stephanie Kurlow freely decided to convert to Islam in 2010, she immediately faced a much more suffocating choice. Despite a dance career that stemmed all the way back to her second birthday, the aspiring ballerina unwrapped the silk ribbons of her pointe shoes and tucked away her professional dreams after realizing no local studious agreed to accommodate another religious choice of hers, the hijab.
Six years after her conversion, however, Kurlow is reclaiming what it means to be a Muslim girl — or rather, what it means to simultaneously share our other identities that need not at all be compromised by a choice in faith.
Currently, the 14-year-old, based out of Sydney, Australia, plans to manifest her dreams of professional school into reality. Thanks to a LaunchGood campaign, Kurlow has begun the journey toward $10,000 to cover the first year of her ballerina training.
The ambitious teenager, however, emphasizes that her story is not meant to serve by any means as some isolated headline. This is not about one token Muslim girl pursuing her dreams, nor is it about one girl defying one obstacle.
“It’s not just about me doing ballet. It’s about Muslims becoming engineers or T.V. presenters or writers,” she said.
Kurlow and her thoughts stand by the crucial notion that Muslims do not, nor can they let others, cap their identities at their religious belief. Muslims thrive in a variety of fields — and we must be recognized for such leadership as local Muslim mentors, but also largely for the achievements within our fields.
We aren’t Muslims who happen to do science or write or run for office. We are scientists, writers and politicians who also are deliberately Muslim. Strong identity and affiliation with Islam are by no means mutually exclusive with ceding all other accomplishments and recognitions.
Despite endless support from her immediate family and close friends, Kurlow speaks of hateful and bashing commentary by random internet strangers who accuse her aspirations of dance as “haram.”
Yet Kurlow is but practicing a creative form of expression, while also so gracefully intersecting her religious self into it. Ballet is such a fine medium of art, and perhaps nothing could make it more poised than this interwoven element of Muslim pride — especially from a 14-year-old superstar.