Yasmin El Haj Ibrahim is a Palestinian-Moroccan-Muslim-American born and raised in Southern California. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy, is a global health advocate, and currently works in community and youth development in hopes of making a positive impact locally and abroad. She is currently serving as an intern for MALA for the Fall 2016 semester.
Typically, the story of my life starts with where I was born and quickly ends with what my current occupation is. I’ve come to realize that that’s not the way I want my story portrayed. Instead, I found that my journey always comes down to one simple fact: I am inspired and elevated by words.
As a bookworm, I live in a world filled with words. From the creative writings of Tahera Mafi and Jennifer Niven, to the wisdom of Al-Muhasibi and Ibn Ata-Allah, to the informative biographies of Malcolm X and Amy Poehler, to the thoughtful works of Paulo Freire and Albert Camus. Some may not understand the significance of words and how they affect us—they can transform and inspire us to live a different life, a better life; sometimes, they even offer a much-needed escape from reality. I know this from first-hand experience: When I felt alone, I turned to the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, Susan Cain, and Jane Austen for comfort. When I struggled to express my thoughts, the elegance of C.S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf spoke for me. And when became overwhelmed by the chaos of life, I delved into the alternate universes of Amanda Hocking and Rainbow Rowell for a break. Their words have shaped my understanding of the world and myself.
While written words have always been an important part of my personal growth, the words spoken to me have truly taken me on my journey through life. Words of strength and hope from my mentors are what drove me to get involved in youth development work because it made me understand how badly our youth need those same words. Seven years later and I am continuing to do youth mentorship work within my respective communities. Words of encouragement pushed me to become a Leadership Fellow at my University, an experience that highlighted my time in school and gave me the confidence I needed to take new steps in life.
My newfound confidence prompted me to apply for and be accepted into a program to spend a semester in Washington D.C. interning with an NGO and taking coursework in the hub of all policy. When I returned and graduated, I had a stronger appreciation for getting out of my comfort zone and stepping into the unknown. It prompted me to apply for an opportunity to attend a major global health conference in San Francisco as a student ambassador; attending this conference renewed my passion for deeper involvement in policy work locally and abroad. Words of faith, patience, and mercy are what guide me to pursue God in all His Greatness, allowing me to be unwavering in my identity as someone who practices Islam and believes in an Almighty God.
Words of understanding and acceptance allow me to explore myself as an individual and more specifically, as an American Muslim. These words combined allow me to experience growth, support, and love. Now, it is my hope that I can extend the same hand towards other to provide them with growth, support, and love. I want to elevate people with words the same way others have done for me—encourage them, strengthen them, and give them hope.
All of this collectively has brought me to MALA. I believe in their mission of unity, diversity, and empowerment—concepts that everyone should try to promote in their daily lives. My experiences have made me a witness to the importance of sharing stories, and how they can affect our understanding of our communities and ourselves. I want to be apart of the process to showcase stories that will change the way we understand Muslim-Americans within our internal Muslim communities and our broader communities. I believe we need to start defining Muslims-Americans in a human context, instead of a solely religious context, and MALA is at the forefront of that effort.