Muslim Student Faces Challenges at Jesuit university
- Ayah Abdul-Samad is a Muslim student at Marquette University, where she is a junior majoring in international affairs.
- Abdul-Samad has never had a roommate at college, and has to pray before dawn every day.
-She does have a lot of non-Muslim friends on campus.
Ayah Abdul-Samad is a college student who wears yoga pants to class, hangs out with friends and is a member of a sorority, but she is so much more than that. She is a Muslim student who attends a Jesuit school, Marquette University in Milwaukee. Abdul-Samad is a junior studying international affairs with her main focus on Third World studies.
Abdul-Samad has never had a roommate at her time at Marquette. It was her mother’s idea for Abdul-Samad to live alone. She is not allowed to eat pork, which can be difficult with dorm dining halls. Fasting is a major part of her Muslim religion, which means she can only eat before sunrise and sundown. She fasts during Ramadan and Eid, which fall anytime throughout the year, because the Islamic calendar follows a lunar cycle.
“The hardest thing is being the only Muslim out of my closest friends,” Abdul-Samad said. “So when I do have to fast or pray it is not like I ask people if they want to do it with me. I am the only person doing it so I do feel isolated, but at the same time I know my parents are only two hours away.”
Abdul-Samad,20, was raised in Hinsdale, Ill. with her two sisters. Her parents were born in Homs, Syria, two hours from the capital, Damascus. Her father came to the United States in 1982 for medical school and his residency. Her mother immigrated in 1989 to marry her father.
Syria is in the middle of a civil war and what Abdul-Samad describes as a ‘revolution.’ Abdul-Samad’s uncle has had his house bombed, her mother’s family has left the country, and some of her relatives have gone missing. Abdul-Samad and her family used to visit Syria every summer, but have not been able to go since 2010.
“I know that it is affecting my parents more than me, because I am very immersed in the college aspect of life right now,” said Abdul-Samad. “When I do hear news about Syria, I either hear it from my mom or read it online.”
Not only does Abdul-Samad fast during particular days, but she also starts her days by waking up at dawn to pray. She first cleanses her body, gets into her pray clothes, which are made up of a long white skirt and long white hijab, and pray on a prayer rug for about 15 minutes.
“Most people understand that I’m Muslim and Arab, but there are some people out there who are against the idea,” Abdul-Samad said. “It has just been easier to live by myself because I do have to get up early to pray.”
She attends Marquette because her parents really liked the school and what it had to offer. Abdul-Samad wanted to go to a school located in a city and decently sized.
“The Jesuit part never really struck me but my parents really liked it because they respect the Jesuit faith and saw it as a school that would have a religious aspect to it,” Abdul-Samad said.
Abdul-Samad is a member of the Muslim Student Association on campus, but also has many friends who are a different religion.
Emily Carton, a Catholic sophomore, is a member in Abdul-Samad’s sorority.
“I’m sure that Muslim students will say that it is not hard, but I am sure that they would want to be surrounded by people of similar cultures, especially around their holidays,” said Carton. “Ayah being Muslim has no influence on our relationship, it makes me admire her that she can keep up her values and doesn’t let other people influence her. “
She wants people to be aware of other religions and ethnicities on campus. Abdul-Samad believes that with a diverse group of students that you can learn a lot.
She wants others to know that she is like everybody else.
“I am a Muslim student, I am an Arab student, but I don’t let one thing defineme,” she said. “That may be one characteristic that people see but I am a college student first and foremost.”