This month was Islam Awareness Month and the University of Central Florida’s Muslim Student Association had an array of events to bring awareness to the Islam religion, culture and community. Their concluding event was an empowering night full of female headliners and speakers that rallied together a multitude of people: from women and children to men and adults. The title of the event was “Women In Islam” and it featured a number of female speakers that talked about their experience as women in America, as women in the Muslim faith and the plights they face everyday and how they overcome them. You may be thinking that this event was a way to draw people in to become religious or to convert, but it was nothing of the sort. Instead, the platform was based off of focusing on women’s beauty, strength and courage and how we can improve ourselves everyday.
The event took place from 6pm to 9pm and began with a recap of the different events that MSA has put on over the last few years, detailing their success they have found despite the tragedies that have occured. The president of MSA was the first speaker of the night and she gave us an overview of how the media has been putting down women and Muslims and shifted the focus of negativity onto women in Islam who have made a difference throughout the centuries such as Rani of Jhansi who was known as the Courageous Queen Rebellion of India. After this inspiring list of influential women was shown, an alumni of our own University of Central Florida took the floor: Hannah Voisard.
Hannah Voisard is a female engineer who has worked her way up the hierarchical ladder, despite the rarity of females in her field. To begin, Hannah explained how only 11% of engineers are women and disgraced this statistic by telling us what women have to offer to this field and other fields in general. She gave tips and tricks of how to be assertive without being unkind and how to be kind without being stepped on. Some words of advice from Hannah included, “Be confident in your decisions and execute them,” “Kill with kindness”, and “Sometimes you need to put yourself first.” After Hannah spoke, the MSA showed a heartwarming video about how hijabs are empowering women around UCF and why each individual chose to wear her unique hijab. This video in particular was eye-opening because it showed that women of all different backgrounds and cultures have chosen to accept the Muslim faith and realize their own self-worth and beauty through doing so.
The next speaker up was Rasha Mubarak, co-founder of Floridians Responding to Refugees Committee and an involved activist with the Council on American Islamic Relations. Rasha spoke about how there is “no homoegenity of what a Muslim woman looks like” and we cannot be close-minded and myopic. She reminded us of the previous hate crimes inflicted upon Muslims and how we can help stop these acts by not limiting our leadership to simply our own community, but spreading it elsewhere and to different platforms and arenas. She even goes on to speak about how, through religion and self belief, there is such a thing as unconditional love and that we should work towards this each and everyday.
After these amazing and empowering speakers, the headliner and US Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad came to the stage. She told us about the history of how she got into fencing and why. She told us about how being in a fencing uniform was the first time she didn’t feel different or out of place. For the first time, she was dressed the same way as everyone else, whereas when she played in sports such as volleyball and soccer she had to find shorts that were long enough and long-sleeve shirts that covered her arms. She talked about how she became a sports embassador and how she qualified for the Olympic team in 2010, but didn’t make it the first time she tried out. Instead of becoming frustrated or disappointed, she took it as an opportunity to work harder. During her speech, she mentioned to us that there had never been a woman of color or of Muslim faith on the Olympic team until she joined and that she was honored to bring a little bit of diversity to the sport. Ibtihaj was both modest and open about her place in society and explained that she truly believes that everything happens for a reason and that she tries her best each and everyday to just be genuine.
Despite Ibtihaj and the other women’s modesty that spoke during this event, they all were inspirational and unique. Ibtihaj chose to be brave and follow both her religion and her dreams despite what society may think and wore her traditional hijab. There are women each and everyday that choose to be courageous and this event showed that each and every one of us can do the same if we only try.