Amal B. Malik
"I guess you could say I'm your typical twenty-something. I love to go shopping with my friends. I love chocolate. As a child, I loved Halloween. Everyday I wear my traditional Islamic clothing; the hijab, the head scarf and the abaya; the long full-covered dress. I am a proud Muslim-American."
"I was born in 1981, in a town called Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates. I lived in the United Arab Emirates until the Gulf War in the 1990s. During the war my parents had two choices: either return to their native country, Pakistan, or move to the U.S."
"In 1991, I migrated with my parents and my sister to New York. I graduated from Longwood High School in 1998, after which my family moved to Bordentown. I began studying at Mercer County Community College in the spring of 1999 while working full-time at Sears. In the fall of 1999, I met a guy named Shir, whose parents were from Afghanistan and had moved to the U.S. during the Afghan-Soviet War in the 1980s, when Shir was around three years old. During my school years up until college, I never wore my hijab, nor was I ever forced by my father to wear it, because I never thought of it as a symbol of my freedom. Meeting Shir was interesting because we were both raised in America as Americans, but we both had families who had strong ties to their cultures. As Shir and I began to know each other, we began to develop a sense of our faith. We began to understand who we really are. It was hard for us to say that we are Pakistani or Afghan because we had no other roots to those cultures except through our parents. The only country we could really belong to was America."
"In 2001, Shir and I got married because we realized it's not where we are from that makes us so alike, it's what we believe. The core of that realization was September 11th, 2001. When the rest of the world looked at Islam as a barbaric and inhumane religion, we found truth and peace in Islam."
"A few days after Shir and I got married we decided to take a trip to NYC because we couldn't believe that September 11th actually happened. We visited one of our favorite pizza places on Sixth Ave and 34th St. in Manhattan. As we were ordering our pizza, a man walked up to us and began to yell and curse and call us terrorists because I was wearing my hijab and my husband had began to grow his beard. For the first time in my life, I felt different, as if I didn't belong here. That was a wake-up call for me. I began to notice how people looked differently at me. Even one of my friends once said, 'Take that stupid thing off, you look like a terrorist.' I shrugged off her comment, but in my heart I was surprised at her."
"In 2003, after living for a few years in Providence, Rhode Island, we moved back to New Jersey. I returned to Mercer County Community College (MCCC) to pursue a degree in teaching. I soon heard of a new group on campus, the Islamic Awareness Society. There I met other Muslims who were concerned about the true representation of Islam. The club was based on one goal: to clear up misunderstandings about Islam and Muslim women. I met a girl named Hafsa, and she and I began to think of ways to show our fellow students that Muslim women have choice and freedom."
"One of our first moves this February was to participate in the 'Women Take Flight' program promoted by the college's aviation department. It was a study of why there aren't more women pilots. Participation in the study showed the 'normalness' of being a woman in Islam. The study involved a group of twelve women, surprisingly all with different backgrounds, races, religions, cultures, and ages, who volunteered to come together for the two-day workshop because we were determined to fly. Hafsa and I, dressed in traditional Islamic attire, took the seat of the pilot in command. The second day of training, my husband came out to support me and see me fly. The group of women I was with had a chance to see that Muslim women are not oppressed."
"The Islamic Awareness Society at Mercer County Community College has been a great experience for me. Today, college campuses have organizations of all kinds. As different as you may be, you will find your place because college campuses are becoming incredibly diverse. My own college and personal experiences often remind me of my favorite verses from the Holy Qur'an: 'O mankind verily we have created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.'"
Amal B. Malik, 23, now lives in Lawrenceville and has an associate's degree in computer graphics from Mercer County Community College. She hopes to graduate from a four-year college in 2007 with a degree in education.