Practicing Islam at a Catholic university: “I’m 1 of 5 hijabi students on campus”

Berikaa, an Egyptian-American who grew up in Massachusetts, says she chose BC for its academic programs, its friendly campus and its financial aid

She lives in a dorm on the Upper Campus with other freshmen

Berikaa hopes to teach and is studying secondary education and English, with a focus in English as a second language, and minoring in Arabic

Berikaa talked to The Huffington Post about her experiences on campus –  what she worried about before starting at the school, how strangers approach her with questions, and how she manages living in a dorm and squeezing in prayers between classes

Here’s her story, as told to Alexandra Svokos

I was super worried about attending a Catholic university

I thought I would be the only Muslim on campus

We have a Facebook page for every class here and I would scan it looking for names that sounded Muslim, just to get an idea of what to expect

I met a few on Facebook before coming, but I met a bunch more once I got involved with the campus’ Muslim Student Association (MSA)

I’m one of five hijabi students on campus – women who wear the headscarf – and I’m the only one who actually lives on campus

Islam is a big part of who I am – it’s kind of, inside and out, part of my identity – so I always feel pressure, like I’m essentially representing my religion all the time

It’s hard sometimes, because that’s 1

6 billion people who can be judged based on how I’m seen

I don’t want people to see me having a bad day and generalise that to the entire population

On campus, people are really open and friendly

People walk up to me and start asking questions

Sometimes people are really offensive without even meaning it, but I’d rather have them ask me outrageous questions and get the right information than go on believing something that’s not true

A lot of people start off by commenting on the headscarf

They’ll talk about the colour, or ask to feel it

And then every once in a while, you’ll get ridiculous questions like “Can you ever take it off?” I don’t shower with it

For the record, that’s not how it works

I teach ESL in Boston as part of a volunteer program, and a lot of the students there are recent immigrants from El Salvador or Colombia, and they don’t have big Muslim populations in those countries

They’ve never seen a Muslim, so they ask me a lot of crazy questions like “I heard that men can have four wives

” It’s really sweet that they make the effort

I love when people ask questions, because it shows that they’re making the effort

So I want to reciprocate and make the same effort

Once I got here, I found that a majority of the people that I was meeting came from really diverse backgrounds, and that’s great

But it’s also nice spending some time with people who are on the same page as you

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="533"] The Boston College MSA

Photo: Fatmah Berikaa[/caption] I can’t even begin to describe how much I love our MSA

We’re all going through the same things, so everyone is supportive

We do a lot of things together too

We go for Friday prayers, obviously

We also have social events as a group – we’ll do lunch after jamaat prayer, we see each other around campus daily

I have a friend who lives down the hall from me, and a couple live in buildings near mine

So it’s nice to hang out together, watch movies, do lunch and stuff

I applied into the only building that’s all girls, which I love

Interacting with guys in class or in a club is not a big deal at all, but I don’t necessarily want to think, “Hmm, do I have to put on my scarf to go down the hall to wash my hands?” So it’s nice having a little safe space

My RAs asked me about boys being on the floor at the beginning of the semester

I didn’t want it to be awkward – to be like, “Well, you have to let us know before you bring a man home

” I’ll poke my head out the door to make sure there’s no one in the hallways, or if there is, I’ll just put my scarf on

And then there’s that occasional awkward moment when you get out of the shower and you’re trapped in the bathroom because there’s a man in the hallway

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="533"] Fatmah and her friends in the MSA

Photo: Fatmah Berikaa[/caption] My religion absolutely affects my student life

Islam puts a big emphasis on how important knowledge is; knowledge is super important in our religion

That’s obviously a motivator when the latest episode of Downton Abbey is more appealing than my philosophy essay

Praying five times a day is great for me because it gives me time to talk to God, and it helps me relax so I can refocus myself

I plan my schedule around prayer times, in terms of classes and work – it’s not as hard as it sounds

It’s not even about changing a class time, it’s just knowing I need 10 or 15 minutes between each class to get my prayer in

It’s not a super lengthy process, and all I need is a prayer rug and a clean space

Depending on where I am on campus, I usually pray in my dorm, my friend’s dorm, an empty classroom or lecture hall

I keep a small little prayer rug with me, and it’s not really that big of a deal

On jummah – which is Friday, the holy day – we gather in this building that the school provides for us

We call it the hut, though I think it’s technically called the Multifaith Center

But it looks like a hut

It’s really cute

Every week, the guides take turns giving a sermon and leading a prayer

The space feels really, really safe and cozy, and it’s always pretty clean

We all look forward to Friday prayer

You know, there’s not as much bias as I would have thought

Sometimes people will say ignorant things

But it’s never confrontational

Other than that, everyone on campus is really accepting

That’s not always the case in the real world

I have had a lot of instances outside of BC where things have happened, or people have been really, really offensive

But that’s not happened at BC, which I was surprised at, but also am really thankful for

A lot of people look at Muslims like we’re aliens, like our lives aren’t parallel to theirs

That’s just not true

I giggle out loud when my friend sends me a text

I procrastinate

I stress over finals

I love Nutella milkshakes

We’re just like everybody else

If people don’t have personal interactions with Muslims, they have no way of knowing that

We’re just “the other”

I want to tell people to go out and meet a Muslim

Just go meet one on the train or at work or whatever

Just make small talk

If I were to say something to the Muslims reading, I would say: It’s our job to represent

We can’t leave people in the dark

They want to understand us, and they need to understand us

It’s important for our religious image that they know who we are and what we’re about

Islam is such a big part of who I am, and I want people to be able to see the beauty in it, the way I see the beauty in it

This post originally appeared here

Date:15-Apr-2015 Reference:View Original Link