Ammarah Rehman is a role model, leader, activist, and all around giver to her community. This Woman of the Year exudes confidence and poise. She knows how to keep herself busy in the District by being involved in a plethora of campus activities and outside working opportunities. From creating The Muslim Project to interning at the Peace Corps, this woman does it all. She is our SIS Woman of the Year because of her strong passion for advocacy and constant striving to make her community heard and understood. Oh, and she describes her life as “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars!
Her Campus American University: What are your thematic areas in SIS?
Ammarah Rehman: My first thematic area is identity, race, and culture, and then my second one is peace, conflict, and resolution.
HCAU: What would you like to do with your major?
AR: Ideally some kind of like anthropologist perspective, but I really enjoy learning and listening and storytelling about other people and their experiences with Islam. That’s just something that I can relate to, so that’s why I’ve been so interested in it- because I grew up Muslim, born and raised. So that’s something that I’m more interested in, which lead me to doing what I do.
HCAU: Tell me more about the Muslim Project.
AR: The Muslim Project is an awareness campaign. It originally started as just a photo series and every time I would take pictures of people, they would just have such great stories to tell about themselves, their experiences with Islam and Islamophobia, so I started writing articles, but I realized that no one was really reading articles, so now I create short videos about people. They’re like AJ+/Now This style videos, short clips and high quality pictures with a couple of words that summarize what the person does. Now I get a lot more views! Essentially what the Muslim Project is trying to do is bring a new face towards Muslims. We’re all different shapes, colors, sizes, sexualities, genders, and we’re more than just Muslim. There’s even the play on words with the Muslim Project like “oh they’re put on display”, well yeah because we already are every day. But now it’s a platform where they can be put on display with their own words and where they don’t have to justify for just being Muslim. I try to highlight what they’re doing professionally, for their hobbies, what do they like as a person, really get to hear them. I want people to tell their own stories the way they want to and not the way the media negates this negative portrayal of it.
HCAU: What was your inspiration to start the Muslim Project?
AR: I guess I was just getting really fed up with this whole Islamophobia and growing up in a post 9/11 world. So I don’t know what it was like to be Muslim before 9/11, but I definitely know what it’s like after. The idea of people just thinking you are what you are by just looking at you, and that’s not true. I’m just so tired of the way we’re portrayed on the news, the media, in movies, so that’s why I started it.
HCAU: Where would you eventually want the Muslim Project to go?
AR: There really won’t ever be an end goal because how would I ever be able to write about every Muslim, but ideally I would want it to turn into like a media platform. Right now I’m the only person doing it, but it would be awesome to have others on my team to maybe write articles about something Muslim related. I feel like now that I’ve talked to a lot of people, I almost kind of want to create a book where each chapter is a different Muslim character talking about their experiences being Muslim and written in their voice and perspective.
HCAU: Are you involved with anything else on campus?
AR: I lead an alternative break to New Orleans where we focused on the intersection of race and class when we’re looking at the education system. So, how does socioeconomic class and your race play a role into the education system. It’s a very important topic in New Orleans with the public school verses charter school system debate that’s going on there. But you could draw parallels to any urban city area as well. Growing up low income my entire life, it was more personal for me to lead this program that was something that I literally lived with every day. So being able to be on the other side and hearing what it’s like on an administrative level and hearing from kids who are in a predominantly low income school, that was definitely different. It helped me see that this is the life that I lived my entire life, but seeing it on a different lens of almost myself being the one with privilege to be able to go on this trip.
I’m also a part of the Islamic Awareness Coalition. My friend started it this semester and I’ve been helping her to get it going. We’ve been trying to branch away from Muslim Student Association which is socially motivated and we created Islam Awareness Coalition in order to be more politically motivated so that we can take more political stances. IAC is going to be more about collaborating with other groups and fostering Muslim community as well but we wanted to take more political stances.
HCAU: Do you work around the District?
AR: I work at the Air and Space museum. At the Air and Space museum we talk about how things fly, and that’s what the exhibit is called that I’m in. Most of the time I’m just doing shows or working at interactive stations. It’s probably the best job I’ve had in my life!
I also started interning for Peace Corps back in January. I feel like I’ve gained so much knowledge on the developing world and how it works. I’m originally from Pakistan which is also a developing country, and learning how the developing process works has been very beneficial and it’s something that I can see myself doing as an actual profession.
HCAU: What do you want to do after college?
AR: I would like to stay in D.C. for a few more years. Work something in the federal government, maybe try to get a job at the Peace Corps in their head office. After I graduate, I probably will try to get my masters because I can see myself in the future wanting to be some sort of Islamic scholar in the sense of contributing academia. I feel like there’s a lack of representation in academia in the Muslim community and there’s this missing voice that I think I can give perspective to.
HCAU: How do you think SIS can improve as a school?
AR: I want to say hire more Muslim teachers and if there’s an Islam class, have it be taught by a Muslim professor. But growing up in my community, I don’t know a professor, that’s just not a career path I think a lot of people take. So maybe within my own Muslim community we need to be preaching to the kids to take some liberal arts field. I think SIS here does do a really good job of adding diversity, but at the same time, there’s always room for improvement.
HCAU: So lighter things, what do you like to do for fun?
AR: I do like dancing, any type of dancing. I like to cook lots of Pakistani food. It’s funny, I never realized how much I missed Pakistani food until I left home. I love exploring any city, I try to go to New York once a semester. There’s this little neighborhood in Queens that’s very Indian, Pakistani, and you go there and don’t even feel like you’re in New York. The food is so good!
HCAU: What’s your favorite place in D.C.?
AR: I really like U Street a lot because walking down it is the only place in this city that doesn’t feel too superficial to me. It feels alive and not sugar-coated, it feels rich and like home. Where I grew up kind of feels like U Street. It doesn’t feel like the D.C. that you think of when you’re a tourist.
HCAU: Do you have a favorite professor at AU?
AR: I really like Professor Susca, I had her for Understanding Media and she is just a badass women and I loved her. She said whatever she wanted, the way she wanted and I appreciated that so much. She was really engaging and knew her stuff. I also love, love, loved Professor Sybil Roberts. I just love talking to her one-on-one.
HCAU: How would your friends describe you?
AR: I think they would describe me as the mom. Because I feed everyone, you know that’s how I grew up. Growing up my house was always that place that everyone went to eat, to relax, to do whatever. We have this word in Urdu which means orphanage. So we used to call our house the orphanage, which in Urdu sounds less sad. All my brother’s friends use to come over, all my friends used to come in and out, most of all our friends called our parents “mom” and “dad” because that’s the type of environment that my parents created in the house and everyone was allowed no matter what you looked like. That’s how I want to live the rest of my life, just always having people over so maybe that’s why I’m called the mom.
Photos taken by Anthony Brunner.