Muslim profile: Ra'wi Mahamud
Ra’wi Mahamud has all the phone apps that you would expect of a 17-year-old Washburn High School junior — Twitter, Instagram, 2048, Snapchat.
But she also has an app that goes off five times a day, reminding her when it is time to pray.
Mahamud is Muslim, and praying five times a day is just one component of her Islamic faith. Another aspect that sets her apart from her peers is the scarf she wears around her head. Mahamud wears it daily as a symbol of her modesty.
That, of course, leads to non-stop questions from her peers: “Why do you wear that? Do you have to wear it? Do you wash your hair? Do you have hair?” Instead of being annoyed or offended by questions, Mahamud welcomes them.
“I’d rather have people ask me about their questions (so that I can) educate them versus letting them believe their misconception,” she said.
How do you practice?
There are various ways (based on) what is required in the religion, like praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan. And the Five Pillars of Islam, which are (following Allah,) fasting, praying, charity, going to hajj (which is visiting Mecca, the pilgrimage that every Muslim is required to go on if they are financially fit). I pray five times a day and I do fast. I do the basics, what is required. But like, it’s everything. It’s your character. It’s kind of a part of you.
What do you consider to be the most important values of your faith?
Charity, because I feel that sometimes charity is just an effortless thing that can go really far. Even if some people aren’t able to donate something, they find a way to help others. When I do charity or donate or whatever — I don’t like mentioning it, like, “Oh, I just did this and this and this, I’m better than everyone” — but like just being kind. I try to donate and go to places and help people who aren’t as fortunate.
Most important traditions?
Ramadan. It’s really fun. Literally, you are fasting for a whole month, and you are doing this routine for so long. You spiritually get into it. At the end, it’s just a huge celebration. You just feel cleansed.
Fasting is a moment where you put yourself into other people’s shoes who don’t have food and remind yourself not to take your life for granted. There are countries where people don’t even have food but they still fast.
What comforts you?
It’s really difficult to explain religion sometimes, because it’s something spiritual that you can’t see and you (have to) believe. I feel like I always have this connection with God, and that I can ask for something. I won’t necessarily get it all the time, but if I do, it’s in different ways or over a time period. Like, we always ask for good health, because you don’t want to be sick all the time. And I’ve been fine my whole life — knock on wood.
What challenges you?
Living in a society where your religion isn’t the majority. It is the minority. But it’s just different, because I have friends who live in Dubai and different countries where Islam is the big religion there, and it’s just completely different how they live. It’s like everyone is the same religion, the majority, and they all have similar lifestyles and it’s easier to relate. People dress differently here, they eat different foods, there are different faiths, which is cool because there are different cultures and religion. But sometimes it’s difficult because you don’t have very many people to relate to.
What are the biggest misconceptions you face?
If you’re Muslim that you hate the U.S., but that’s not true. I was born and raised here. This is my home. I am more American than I am Somali. That’s more cultural, but with religion, too. There is that stereotype. Another misconception is that I’m forced to wear my scarf. But my parents never forced me to wear it, ever, in my entire life.
How did you decide to wear your scarf?
Honestly, when I was younger, my sister wore hers. And I wanted to wear it because my sister did it. After awhile, it just became a part of me, and I felt different when I didn’t have it on. So it just grew on me and I really like it. I am a big fan of modesty.
What’s the reason in your religion that you should wear it?
It’s a part of our beauty. You should be modest, shouldn’t be exposing yourself. That’s how the religion is, and I agree with it, but I don’t think you’re a bad person if you don’t cover up. It’s another personal choice you have to feel connected to.
Do you think if you didn’t wear it that your parents would be disappointed?
I don’t think they’d be disappointed in me at all. They wouldn’t be mad at me or disappointed, they’d be more confused. Like, what made you change your mind? Just because of how strongly I feel about it now. I don’t think I ever will in the future.
Do you feel like your generation is different than your parents’ generation?
Yeah, because we are growing up in a society that is completely different. Like, just with the media’s influences. An example could be with clothing and how less is better. Or showing your hair makes you more beautiful and such.
Although growing up I was never forced to cover up — it was my own choice — I am glad to say that I didn’t conform to the social norms. But over time, it’s helped me figure out who I am as a person, and that I truly do value the beauty of modesty. Whereas my parents grew up in a generation where media didn’t heavily influence them or their decisions to the extent of my generation.
Do you feel like you’re different from your peers because of your religion?
I feel like, just physically on the outside with appearance, you can tell with my scarf and how I dress. Wearing my scarf symbolizes it, whereas some people don’t wear their scarf and you don’t know they are Muslim but they still are. I do bond with people that are Muslim a lot faster. I really don’t know how to explain that. It just works.
How do you define the role faith plays in your life?
The older I get, the more I am able to understand it better. With Islam, there are such deep morals and good values and context … I guess you don’t really develop that until you’re older or when you figure out your character. So I just felt that connection, like this makes sense to help others to not lie and not gossip about people.
Is it hard to be a Muslim teen?
Yeah, it’s really hard. Just because in our religion we don’t smoke or drink … and a lot of people are about that. I don’t think I’d give into peer pressure. I’d be extremely disappointed in myself if I did.
Do you ever wish you weren’t Muslim?
That was more me during my freshman year, just because I wanted to fit in really bad. Now … I could care less. Everyone was different, no one was the same as me. But now I don’t care. I never would want to leave my religion.