Sumaia

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Hi! My full name is Sumaia, Sumi for short. I am a Muslim currently living in Italy my whole life and identify as Italian. I double majored in English and German and did a minor in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies.  My parents are originally from Morocco but my mom was also born in Europe. Because of that, I have been a bit hardened to the Moroccan culture (I went there a few times briefly). I feel as though I don’t know the culture well and relate more to my life at home. It’s not because I am not proud of my Moroccan heritage, I just feel too foreign for that side of my identity. Even back in Morocco, people would always tell me that there is more Italian than Moroccan in you and I see it as well.

How you are treated for being Muslim in Europe is something that depends on where you live. Depending on where you live, you will have a different experience. I live in Modena which is in Emilia – Romagna a very progressive region. In fact, one of the restaurants here, Osteria Francescana, is one of the best restaurants in the world.

It’s interesting because the treatment to Muslims (and the whole narrative in the media) is the exact same from the United States to Greece. The first thing the general public associate with Islam is fear.

I personally have never sensed judgment for my hijab and for being Muslim. I do feel like a lot of people do buy what they hear on the news. I actually wrote my dissertation about this with lots of articles and research to back me up. It’s interesting because the treatment to Muslims (and the whole narrative in the media) is the exact same from the United States to Greece. The first thing the general public associate with Islam is fear. Luckily, I have personally never felt terrified- the people here will treat you like everyone else. But the media does sometimes have an affect on the questions they’ll ask or the looks I’ll receive.

My mom was a huge inspiration for me to wear the hijab, especially since there are not many people who wear it.

Despite the media and the association of fear to Muslims, I still wear the headscarf. My mom was a huge inspiration for me to wear the hijab, especially since there are not many people who wear it. I always saw my mom as a very brave woman and she never let her hijab stop herself from building her career. My mom was also a huge inspiration to my career.  As a social worker, she specialized in immigrant and single women with kids. She used to work at Consultoria, which is an organization very similar to Planned Parenthood in America. It is run by a team of gynecologists and women can come and get tests for free and receive birth control. It also allows for patients to have the support to understand their bodies as well which is pretty awesome. What my mom did here is help bridge the gap between immigrant or colored patients and the doctor in the room. The local government felt that women with a background from North Africa might not feel comfortable with a white woman with them in the room. My mom would accompany the woman who could not speak Italian well because a lot of the topics needed to discuss are “taboo” topics in culture. Because of this, some women don’t feel comfortable talking about them so openly. I always found my mom’s career choice to be inspiring and helped me choose my own career. I saw her covering in roles you don’t usually see head-covered women in. I realized that just because you dress a certain way, doesn’t mean you can’t do anything you want.

Aside from my mother, I am lucky enough to have some incredible friends to look up to. These are just women who are doing their own thing, helping out the community in their own way. One of my friends would use her summer vacation during the refugee crisis in 2012 to go to Sicily. She would work as a translator for the people who needed assistance and had trouble communicating. What was even more rewarding is that she did this as a volunteer. Another one of my friends runs a social enterprise called Ballare (@ballareco) which is an Italian handmade shoe business that gives a percentage of their income to fund refugee girls mainly focused in Palestine. Her brand believes that education is a right and that all girls deserve to go to school. My friend’s business really made me think a lot about how we spend our money and how we don’t really think about our purchases. She has inspired me to think about what I’m investing in and how my money affects other people. I love to see another woman do good for the community, especially someone I consider a close friend.

I very rarely see women using their platform to help MORE hijabi’s and Muslim women on platforms in magazines, store webpages, and more. I feel like there shouldn’t be about being the first hijabi here, or the first hijabi there, but to have MORE hijabi’s everywhere.

I feel like as women, we sometimes work really hard to get to a place and then, once we are there, we want to keep the secret to ourselves. I think we want to enjoy being the first one to get there. While it’s fine to be happy and victorious for a win, a lot of our Muslim fashion industry has become about “being the first hijabi” to do this or that. I very rarely see women using their platform to help MORE hijabi’s and Muslim women on platforms in magazines, store webpages, and more. I feel like there shouldn’t be about being the first hijabi here, or the first hijabi there, but to have MORE hijabi’s everywhere. Instead of marketing our knowledge on how to open more doors, a lot of the times we settle for just being the first. I am a huge believer of normalizing the hijab and the identity of a Muslim woman. Of course, I am not blaming anyone, and I know it is so easy to judge especially since getting to these places is very hard. I just feel like after some time, the focus should shift from “being the first”- to being one of many.

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