Prompt: How has your family history, culture, or environment influenced who you are?
When some hear my name, Mujahid, the first thing that may come to mind is the Mujahideen, the Afghan warriors in the Cold War era who later became extremist jihadists. Some are taken aback upon hearing it, but I don’t blame them for their skepticism and fear. We Muslims are negatively portrayed in the media that micro-focuses on the very few who cause chaos around the world and ignore the 1.5 billion Muslims who believe in peace. There is a side to Muslims that is not discussed in mainstream media, our desire for justice. When people shed their fear and recognize my compassionate, innovative, and ambitious side, they become aware of my upbringing in a rich culture and faith, my promise, and desire, for equality.
Being raised to look at different perspectives and never shy away from learning about the people around me, I was given a different outlook on life. My parents have recounted their stories of migrating to the US before I was born and how hard they worked in order to give my brothers and me a better future. The veil was quickly removed from my eyes and created an appreciation for any situation I am faced with. My parents inculcated the spirit of attending mosque on a weekly basis in me since childhood, making my Muslim community an integral part of my upbringing. Humanitarian relief projects, school drives, and mosque community service balanced my nurture in the American and Islamic society teaching me to give back when I can and make the world better than I found it yesterday.
I have approached a stark reality that I live a privileged life as an American Muslim. Others have such difficult lives because of their birthplace and the circumstances they have little-to-no say in. This unfairness increased my curiosity and brought me to my involvement with Zainab Rights, a start-up media website that strives for justice through journalistic storytelling in order to shed light on media bias. I believe vehemently that life means more than simply making a living. Was my life reduced to the walnut frame encasing my diploma, or the expectations of settling down, having kids, and then ultimately dying at an old age confined to my bed? My selfless Shia culture, principled Islamic faith, and fearless American identity taught me there is more to the material aspects of a career. As I sit in this Zainab Rights make-shift studio I helped create, I realized I began the process not only for my future but also for peace in the most unachievable of niches.
My journey at UCF will be an experience, where I will grow under the tutorage of the finest Computer Science professors and go on to develop interfaces for world-changing and ground-breaking organizations like Zainab Rights. Under this vitriol era of Islamophobia, I will utilize my identity and the cultures that have had a hand in shaping it. After all, I can only know where I’m heading if I know where I’ve been.