Being born and raised in America, my parents constantly reminded my siblings and I of how blessed we are to be in a country that grants endless opportunities. I was told that if I worked hard to pursue my dreams and goals, I’d be successful. The reality is that no one truly understands the trials and triumphs Muslim women in particular endure to reach heights of success in the areas of education and/or career.
The very first time I felt intimidated for being a Muslim woman was when I ran for my high school’s student council board. I attended an all-girls Catholic high-school. It was out of the ordinary for a Muslim girl who wore a hijab to run for a position of treasurer at a Catholic high school. I decided to run for the board because I never thought of religion as a dividing factor. I was raised to believe that no matter what religion or ethnic background one comes from, it is the morals and manners that dictate a person’s character. In my speech to run for student council, I mentioned leadership, the strength to endure adversities, and the ability to always look at the positive and act on it. I was elected treasurer my senior year. This led me to believe that I could pursue anything I wanted.
With the elections fast approaching, it’s hard not to note how few Muslim women hold political office in the United States; especially while some Muslim-majority countries like Bangladesh have had Muslim women leading and presiding over the entire country. Here in the U.S., there are only two Muslim women in Congress currently. They are Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who were sworn into the 116th Congress, joining the legislature as the first two Muslim congresswomen. Both of them receive a tremendous amount of hatred, as did Muslim Girl’s founder, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, when she ran for a political office to represent New Jersey this past summer.
Now is the time more than ever for women — and Muslim women — to step up and lead in our communities. Although religion doesn’t dictate character, the next generation of Muslim girls need to know that anything is possible, including a career in electoral politics. If we don’t step up, there will be more policies about us, without us. We need to get a seat at the table so that we can enact positive change. We need to vote — and lead — like our lives depend on it…because they do.