During the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, 2,977 people were killed, thousands more were injured, millions more continue to be impacted.
Ifrah Mohammed ‘23 was their miracle child. Shazia Fahim had been pregnant several times before, though each pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage. But on September 7, 2001, Fahim and her husband, Fahim Mohammed, welcomed a beautiful and healthy baby girl into the world. On that very same day, Mohammed earned his U.S. citizenship. After some struggle, the immigrant family from Pakistan was finally living its American dream. And then, from their hospital room in Queens, NY, as they prepared to head home with their 4-day-old daughter, they saw from the window a billowing cloud of dark smoke in the distance.
Fahim always dressed in traditional Pakistani attire. It's the only wardrobe she knew, but more than that, she was proud of the culture and country her clothes represented. That's why she felt guilty sending Ifrah to school dressed like everyone else. The hijab is a declaration of faith. But in a post 9/11 world, Ifrah's parents feared for their daughter if she literally wore her Muslim faith on her sleeve. The day they left the hospital they had no way of knowing who flew the planes into the World Trade Center, or why, or how that day would ignite widespread Islamophobia. But years later, when Ifrah went to school, the tragedy of 9/11 lingered.
Even in a culturally diverse neighborhood like Jackson Heights in Queens, Ifrah's family would get dirty looks. Too many Americans ignorantly linked the terrorist attacks to Islam, and harmfully held more than three million American Muslims accountable. In the 9th grade, Ifrah's family moved to Ft. Worth, Texas. She didn't wear her hijab to school, but on the first day, the teacher took attendance by last name.
"When he called 'Mohammed,' the classroom fell eerily silent. It was very scary."
In middle school, Ifrah's class took a field trip to the 9/11 museum at Ground Zero for the New York City attacks. The students were given an assignment to research one of the victims. Ifrah's immediate reaction was to choose one of the Muslim victims. She wanted to tell people that Muslims died in the attack... she wanted to confront Islamophobia... she wanted to change opinions. But she wasn't ready. Not yet.
For 18 years, Ifrah attempted to blend in because it was easier and it was safer. But during her First-Year Seminar course with Britt Haas, Ph.D., co-director of First-Year Seminar, Ifrah was encouraged, for the first time in her life, to speak up. A journalism major, she continues to share her voice as a student writer for the Muslim Student Association. On the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, hear what she has to say...
"During First-Year Seminar, I found my voice. Dr. Haas pushed me to fearlessly say whatever I needed to say. Not only did she encourage women to voice their opinions, but she strongly supported women of color as well. Ever since freshman year, I’ve no longer been afraid to voice my opinion; I no longer find shame in it. For the first time in my life, I feel free to share myself with the world."
Ifrah Mohammed '23
In a letter to First-Year Seminar faculty, Mohammed wrote:
"It is about time Islamophobic rhetoric is diminished, and the FYS classroom is the best place to start the conversation. Saints will meet people from all walks of life in the future, and their Education for a Lifetime should not let them down."
With her voice, Mohammed sparked real change.
"We had many discussions about the hijab in our class, and I remember Ifrah explaining to her classmates why she doesn't wear it. It was eye-opening for the non-Muslim students to hear that it was due to fear of being targeted, particularly because these same students had been brought up to believe very firmly in one's right to practice religion freely.
Ifrah embodies what it means to be a Siena Saint. She cares deeply about justice and fairness. She uses her voice to speak up for others and to speak out against mistreatment. I remember well her research paper on Pakistani transgender women in which she argued that Islam properly understood calls for acceptance of and kindness toward all. Furthermore, it was thanks to her impassioned letter to First-Year Seminar faculty that Islamophobia is now discussed widely during the Diversity and Social Justice units.
Ifrah is a treasure, and we are all very lucky she chose Siena. I can't wait to hear about what she will do next!"
Britt Haas, Ph.D., co-director of First-Year Seminar