Modest Me: Arabic Student Association offers insight into lives of Muslim women

McKenzie Jean-Philippe

On a Friday night, walking into a lecture hall in Bowman Hall, all eyes focused on three women sitting at the front of the room.

Fatina Abdrabboh, Winnie Detwa and Jinan Deena spoke on their opinions regarding the culture they share at the event “Modest Me” hosted by the Kent State Arabic Student Association.

Presenting personal experience and a passion for what they believe in, the women offered guests a different perspective of modesty and women’s empowerment in the Muslim culture.

“There’s so many ways to define modesty,” said Deena, a writer and activist in the Muslim community. “It can mean so many different things to so many different people.”

The association hosted the event with the hope of helping the Kent community see past the stereotypes that are presented of the Muslim people. Guests were able to have their questions answered in a safe and welcoming environment.

“We wanted to have an event that was open to everybody so that we could have an interaction between the speakers and the audience,” said Nora Hmeidan, a sophomore international relations major and vice president of the association. “Personally I believe that the way to break stereotypes and a way to gain tolerance is to learn and educate yourself. Once you gain that knowledge, you can pass it on to other people.”

One of the main focuses was the subject of the hijab and what it means in the Arab culture.

A hijab is a veil worn by Muslim women, if chosen to do so, that covers her hair and chest. The veil is known to be a symbol of modesty.

However, following the events of 9/11 in America, the hijab has incorrectly become a symbol of terrorism. For women, wearing the hijab comes with the pressure of knowing that they may be viewed in a negative light due to personal beliefs and how they choose to express them.

“When you get to know someone, you see what their hijab means to them specifically,” said Deena, who chooses to wear a veil. “Over time I’ve learned that a hijab is whatever is inside your heart. It’s the relationship you have with your faith. Hijab comes in all different shapes and sizes just like any other identity in the U.S. One person does not represent the whole.”

The speakers went on to express their disappointment in how Muslims are displayed in the media and in American culture. What people listen to on TV or read in a book is not the only way of getting valid information on the Arab world.

“That’s a problem,” said Abdrabboh, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee-Michigan. “Demand of yourselves and those around you to not get the cliff notes version of things.”

By having three women explain their beliefs, they were able to offer their individual perspective on a misunderstood culture.

“I hope people will be more tolerant of (Muslim) women,” Hmeidan said. “When they see someone in a hijab or who identifies as Muslim, don’t be afraid to go up to them and have a conversation and not have that stereotype. They’re real girls. They’re normal people. I hope this humanizes Muslims.”

Contact McKenzie Jean-Philippe at [email protected].