Meet Manal. Manal Machhour Assaf is a 20-year-old from Edmonton, Canada. She loves helping people and wants to become a doctor. She’s also a proud Muslim.
FLURT’s Maya Kuipers interviewed Manal in the hopes of opening up a dialogue about what it’s like to be Muslim, being negatively portrayed in the media and how we can work towards ending the stigma towards the Muslim community.
What are your dreams and aspirations for yourself and your life? Has your faith influenced or impacted those dreams/aspirations in any way?
I aspire to one day become a physician. I want to help many people, and I want to make a difference in this world and inspire the youth, as well as build relationships. Islam has influenced me to be a good person on the outside, and an even better person on the inside. The prophet (pbuh) [peace be upon him] is an example I follow.
What’s your favourite part about your faith?
Being in the mosque with people of different races, ethnicities, social statuses, backgrounds and different walks of life, standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, praying to the one that created us all. Also, turning to God in the form of prayer five times a day.
How has your faith impacted you most in your life?
It’s taught me to love and respect all of mankind. It’s taught me obedience, patience and trust. It’s given me this beautiful relationship between God and myself. Through the obligatory prayers, I reflect 5 times a day. These daily reminders keep God in my mind and in my heart. Also, wearing the hijab has made me more aware that I’m a representative of my faith, to respect it and to be a good example in the way I dress, speak and act towards others.
“There will always be bad apples in groups of people, and I refuse to be negatively labelled alongside them.”
What are your thoughts on the way people of the Muslim faith are portrayed in the media?
Unfortunately, the media tends to be very biased. I wish that rather than completely believing the media people would meet a Muslim themselves and make their own judgement. I strongly disagree with how Muslims can be portrayed negatively. There will always be bad apples in groups of people, and I refuse to be negatively labelled alongside them.
Do you feel that people outside the Muslim community truly know what being Muslim is?
Being a Muslim is believing in one God alone, being kind to your neighbours, living every day and doing what everyone else does – but having God in the back of your mind and remembering Him throughout the day. It means being able to use the holy book, the Quran, as a guide and as a way of life. Islam is very closely related to religions such as Judaism and Christianity, so I assume members of those religions have an idea of what it’s like.
Have you experienced any harassment or persecution because of your faith?
One example that stands out the most was when I was having breakfast at McDonalds before school. It was my first week of university and I was 17 years old. I was wearing a Jordan Eberle jersey that day. As I was eating, an elderly Caucasian woman across from me kept staring, and I just smiled back. In my religion, I’m taught that a smile is an act of charity. I thought, maybe she’s having a bad day, and hopefully my cheerful smile could change that. However, the more I smiled, the more she would frown and shoot daggers. So, I decided to ignore her and finish up my breakfast. When I saw that she stood up, I thought to myself that she was leaving and I wouldn’t have to get those mean looks anymore. I was sitting next to the door, and as she was walking past, she turned and start screaming in my face, “how dare you wear THAT (pointing to my hijab) with an Eberle jersey!” She just kept screaming, “how dare you!” and pointing at me. Finally, she left. The restaurant had a few people sitting at tables nearby, but no one said anything. When she left I heard a couple people whispering, “what just happened?” but absolutely no one came to my defence. I’ve always been a huge Oilers fan, and I will never be ashamed of my hijab and stop wearing the team I love.
What’s something you wished people understood about being a Muslim?
Being a Muslim still means being a citizen, a human being, a coworker. We’re normal people, following a beautiful religion. We’re kind people and appreciate you asking questions rather than choosing to go with what the media says.
What would you say if you had the chance to give one message to the world?
If you’ve never met a Muslim, please get to know one before judging. I promise you, we’re loving people. We love our community, and just like people of other religions and ethnicities, we’re humans with goals and dreams and families – and we experience the same emotions that everyone else does. We’re all equal.
Manal wanted to add: On February 10th, 2015 three Muslims named Deah, Yusor and Razan were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They are on my mind every day. They were murdered because of their faith, and the way their community remembered them as well as the legacy they left will always be instilled in my heart. Rest in peace Deah, Yusor and Razan.
Published in the Winter 2017 issue. Get the issue in print or digital download here.