Often the only Muslim women at their workplaces – Marwa is a speech therapist and Aateka works in human resources – they’ve become used to questions about Muslim culture, especially now that their fashion blog reach thousands of eyeballs. Below is their exclusive Q&A with MALA on their identity and how they’ve adapted to criticism over time.
How important is identity to you?
Who you perceive yourself to be is everything. To us personally, we feel that once we are concrete in our own identity, it does not matter what people say about us because it does not shake our confirmation in who we are as individuals. In that sense, your perceived identity of yourself is everything because it could make or break you.
How, if at all, has the current political climate affected you personally?
The current political climate has not affected us personally, however, we see hostility all around. Whether it is our friends getting harassed in public or simply the judgmental stares we get for wearing the hijab, the current election is bringing forth a new face of America where it has become okay to openly criticize Muslims in hostile manners. On the other end, it has also brought out a lot of support, pointing out that we are just as hardworking and dedicated to our families, religion, school and jobs as everybody else.
Do you have any stories about how things have changed for the better?
Things are both stagnant and moving all at once. The moving part is that Muslims are getting more attention than ever, both good and bad. We are brought to light on social media more than ever, yet forced to overcome hurdles more than ever. The stagnant is that some views of us are as archaic as a caveman.
Do you know where your family came from?
Our family comes from Tulkarm in Palestine. The Samaras were wealthy business owners before they were forced to give up their lands in the overthrow.
What were the circumstances that prompted your decision to immigrate to the United States?
My parents’ circumstances that prompted them to move to the U.S. was essentially a better job and a better life. My mother followed pursuit after my father arrived in America and set up a good base for living.
What aspects of life in the United States have made the greatest impression on you?
We stand out like a sore thumb with our hijabs on, however, it only strengthens our resolve to be who we truly are inside. We appreciate that we don’t blend in, and it has built our character in a sense. It has allowed us to be the kind of individuals who embrace it all, the good the bad and the in between. You never know what can come of every encounter. Overseas it’s all the same and everybody knows what it is to be Muslim, you almost start to miss having the opportunity to educate somebody on the beauty of Islam.
What efforts have you made to maintain your cultural traditions in this country?
We attempt to wear the hijab to the best of our abilities each day as a physical reminder of who we are and why we are on this earth. Looking in the mirror and being reminded we are Muslim is a good way to keep our culture and religion alive throughout life. We do love the Arab culture, but we have let go some of the old cultural aspects because we did not feel that they suited us anymore, and one example of that is the feminine role in the Arab culture. We find that Islam is more liberal when it comes to the part a woman plays because it refuses to define actions based off of what the community says, but rather what Allah says. If it is haram don’t do it, if it is halal that is a green light. Arab culture is not as non-discriminatory.
What has been the greatest challenge that you have faced living in this country?
Trying to accept that we will always stand out regardless of what we wear. Our middle school and high school years we overcame adversity because we were faced with a lot of questions as to why we were different.
What has been your greatest achievement in this country?
Being a good citizen who can both contribute to the community yet not compromise beliefs.
What kinds of relationships do you maintain with people from other racial or ethnic groups in the United States?
They are our friends, coworkers, teachers, and anywhere in between.
What’s your greatest accomplishment?
Being a proud Muslim that tries to improve each day.