By: Kristen Geez
This Monday we had the pleasure of spotlighting 22 year old Reja Yousuf, who is the brand ambassador for the first professional Muslim women sorority in the country, called Mu Delta Alpha. The Mu Delta Alpha sorority was founded in 2014, as the first Muslim women sorority in Texas and the second in the United States.
Reja, has always been passionate about being a part of Muslim women flourishing so when Samira Maddox, founder of MDA, asked her to be a brand Ambassador she happily accepted! Reja, is currently attending Indiana University Maurer School of Law to become a human rights attorney, so she can demand equality and safety for all Muslim women around the world.
To learn more about Reja’s mission to ensure Muslim girls aren’t excluded read April’s Monday Millennial exclusive interview:
When did you first realize that Muslim girls didn’t feel safe?
It occurred to me the first time when girls in my community felt that they needed to take off their hijab’s or headscarves off. Wearing the headscarf is something that empowers Muslim women and is closely tied to forming their identity. Feeling scared to be able to wear it shows that these women and especially young girls feel that they can not express themselves to be who they are and stay true to their identity and in a sense hide a fraction of who they are because they felt unsafe to do so express who they are.
How did you get involved in the Mu Delta Alpha sorority?
The current President of the Grand Alpha Chapter, Umaima Nasir is a close friend of mine and she encouraged me to join even when I myself was hesitant to do so. Joining was one of the best decisions I have made and genuinely feel that it is one of the most powerful ways I can impact the community in which I live. Currently, I am the Treasurer of the Grand Alpha Chapter.
What made you want to become a lawyer?
I realized for the first time I wanted to become an attorney when I lived overseas in Pakistan. I saw the way women and individuals who were underprivileged could not fight for their own basic rights because they lack a platform that would enable them to voice their injustices. I believe that God has sent every single one of us to better the world in some capacity and our careers should reflect this mission. I believe that my purpose is to be the voice for the voiceless. Those that are stripped of basic human rights or unable to attain them but are granted to so many others that have the resources and capability to utilize their rights. I want every girl in this world to have access to education to be able to go out in the world and become our leaders of tomorrow. To realize that they also have so much to offer to our world.
What/who inspires you to be a proud Muslim woman?
Firstly, my mother. My mother inspires me every day to be proud of my identity and to proudly represent who we are. She carries herself in a way everyday that I could only imagine to be half of. My mom makes me feel like not only I can survive but thrive safely in a that a world filled with so much hate because she carries herself everyday as an ideal Muslim woman. Additionally, I know this is a basic answer but Malala Yousafzai inspires me everyday. Her platform for education for girls is something I also hold closely to my heart. Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim-woman elected into state legislature and even though I personally do not want to work in government she proves everyday that you can break any barrier to get what you want.
What was it like growing up as a Muslim?
When I was younger, I never felt that being Muslim was bad. And even though 9/11 happened at a time when I was still in elementary school I felt that much of my life was still the same. I remember when I was in the 3rd grade someone asked me if I was on the “terrorists side or our side” and I remember thinking that I thought we were all on the same side regardless of our skin tone it was always evil vs good to me. I knew that they weren’t “real” Muslims. When I got older though, I started to notice the difference. My mom started telling me to wear modest clothing and as a result I was forced to be the only girl in my high school that wore pants for uniform while every other girl wore skirts. But I never faced any thing negative until my senior year of school. I never felt conscious of who I was or where I came from. I would explain why we would refrain from eating during the day for a month, why I had “orange tattoos” or henna covering the palms of my hands twice a year, When I was in high school, my physics teacher told me that we had to “protect our nuclear energy from the Muslims who would use it to blow everything up”. He knew I was Muslim. That’s when I realized that I was different and hated. Even if people did not say it, I realized that hatred ran deep in the souls of individuals. I hated that people felt this way about people from my faith. I thought I had a beautiful religion that preached taking care of the needy, being kind to orphans, and to be kind always to one another. But the same day my history teacher looked at me, and I will never forget this, “Reja you are as American as the rest of us. You are perfect the way you are. There is nothing wrong with you. People will always say nasty things. Don’t let the hate get to you. There’s more good in this world.” From that day I never once looked at our world plagued with hatred but instead flourished with love that had pockets of imperfection or “hate”.
Share one positive thing about the Muslim culture that most people don’t know?
Almost all our food is sugar infused or soaked in oil deliciousness.
If you had the power to improve one thing in the lives of Muslim girls what would it be?
I would make young Muslim girls realize the value of education and that it should not be something optional but a must and right that they have and should aim to attain.
Describe the impact that MDA has made for professional Muslim women.
Our focus right now is empowering younger girls to become strong professional Muslim women. MDA’s impact will be seen when these young girls take what they have learned into the real world.
How can women who are not Muslim join your fight to make Muslim girls feel safe?
Get involved. Listen to our message. Even if you hear one good thing. You’ll tell at least 3 more people. Who will tell 3 more who will go on to tell 3 more. It is all about improving our image and spreading our message and to see what real Muslim women are like.
What are Muslim women taught about women’s rights? Are they encouraged to have strong voices?
The answer to this question depends on the environment ne is raised in and the family they come from. I was brought up in a house that encouraged me to express how I felt and my opinions. I had the freedom to be able to express my voice. But this was because of my environment. This is what MDA aims to change. We ant to make sure that every girl feels this way and feels that she has the same amount of rights as a man. They are both equals to one another.
How are Muslim women treated in other countries?
This just varies as to what country and what environment and household the woman in question is referring to. Women in some of the most conservative countries have all the freedoms that some women in the most free of countries do not have. Unfortunately, even though it should be taught how to treat woman, many ignore these teachings and take it upon themselves to misconstrue meanings that power women to be as free as men.