By Vanessa Silva
In celebration of Muslim Women’s Day, Her Campus is shining a light on the voices of Muslim college women who are making their mark on-campus. That’s why we’d like you to meet Hana Elbarrawy, a 21-year-old Egyptian Political Science major with minors in Women Gender Studies and Public Relation at West Virginia University.
As a passionate activist, Hana uses her role as a student ambassador at WVU to help coordinate events for the division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office on campus. In her spare time, she serves as a WVU ModelUN team delegate, a WVU debate team member, and VP of UNICEF at WVU. Keep reading to hear Hana’s story and how she found great empowerment through her Muslim identity.
Tell us about the importance of activism and advocacy in your life.
Hana: Not everyone has the bravery to talk about other people’s issues. But for me, I can put all of my heart and time to stand up for others. I understand that this is not everyone’s’ priority, but it is mine. Activism is of great importance in my life because it allows me to serve my purpose of standing for the vulnerable and voiceless.
When I was in high school, I served as the vice president of the Student Council. In this role, I advocated for local workers’ rights. We raised funds and awareness for more appropriate attire and access to water during hot summers. Last year, I participated in marches and rallies for global warming awareness such as the Global Climate Strike. Being part of awareness-raising campaigns feeds my soul and prepares me for leadership in my future.
How would you describe being a Muslim woman in the U.S?
Hana: Being a Muslim woman in the U.S allows me to feel more confident, unique because it allows me to stand out with my hijab in places like classrooms and the community as a whole. My hijab makes me feel more visible.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a Muslim woman? How have you overcome them?
Hana: The biggest challenge is dealing with stereotypes. Not only because I’m Muslim, but because I’m from Egypt. That brings many stereotypes about female oppression in the Middle East. I have faced harsh judgments because of misunderstandings about my culture. Fortunately, I have been able to overcome them as my parents raised me to be mentally strong and proud of who I am.
My grandfather, being a sheik and an amazing role model, inspired me to be fearless, have self-respect and honor my culture, heritage and religion. The stereotypes are evident and present in my life, but I do not allow them to define me or hinder my everyday course of action, or most importantly, my purpose.
Why do you choose to wear the hijab?
Hana: When I wear my hijab every morning, I feel like I represent a whole community, not only myself. While my religion goes way beyond a veil to cover up with, I consider myself lucky for possessing something in which I could use to represent my profound appreciation and admiration for. It’s what I view as the most important value and attribute of my identity and faith.
In my personal experience, Hijab acts as a great vehicle for me to express myself and search for my unique character with less exterior distractions. Not only does it allow me to retain my modesty, faith and complete freedom of choice but also gives me a sense of purpose and meaning. Representing a whole community. For me, Hijab is a symbol of empowerment and liberation.
How have you made sure your voice is heard on-campus?
Hana: Joining organizations and being active has allowed me to be part of their communities, has permitted me to have my concerns expressed and addressed. Whenever I have concerns, I am never concerned or afraid of reaching out to authorities/department heads. It has never really been a direct obstacle to voice my concerns.
If there is anything you wish you knew before you came to the United States as a Muslim woman?
Hana: I was so hesitant to make the final step and just move here, and sometimes wonder why I was hesitant. I would tell all young girls and boys out there to make the move and study abroad if they have the chance. Set yourself free, have the courage to make mistakes and forgive yourself but most importantly learn and grow through them. This is how you flourish and do great things. Each individual has their own meaning of life and it is through our downfalls that we get back up stronger and better prepared for more challenges.
Is there a piece of advice or message you would like to send to all Muslim women in the country and around the world?
Hana: Empower one another. Support your sisters and always extend a hand, success has room for all of us. This is how we endeavor to change the world. Be game-changers. Unleash the beast in you, whether that be through art, sports, education, or giving birth to and raising your little ones. Exercise your rights. Voice your opinions. You are the leaders, the educators, the activists of the future. You are the future. Challenge the status quo. Don’t allow anyone to thoughtlessly enforce their beliefs on you; telling you how to dress, act, or express yourself. Have enough courage to be liberated and believe in yourself; that you can and will!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.