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I’m a member of the Congressional Muslim Staffer’s Association (CMSA), an organization on Capitol Hill that seeks to unite Muslims working in Congress and quell myths about Islam through outreach. Last Friday, some members of CMSA met with a group of young Egyptian men and women as their two-week congressional internship came to a close. Their trip, sponsored by the American Embassy in Cairo, was part of a student-led project to build a replica of U.S. government. I asked some of the women about their experience.
Sally Kotb, 23, a graduate student in International business law at the University of Indiana’s campus in Cairo, said she was surprised by the diversity in American politics: “The practical life we see in Congress is very different from what we see in the media,” she said. “I thought all lobbyists were like AIPAC, but there are also lobbyists who support the Middle East.”
Her colleague, Sara Mustafa, 22, agreed. “The media makes it seem that Muslims are refused in America, she said. “We found it completely different; it’s definitely not to the extent that we believed it to be,” she said.
Not many families in Egypt would allow their daughters to travel thousands of miles on their own. Ms. Mustafa, who was traveling on her own for the first time, agreed that the subject was contentious but said her family recognized the value in her visit.
“For two weeks I was totally independent and it is difficult,” she said. “But my mother was the one who really encouraged me to go because she saw it was a good opportunity.”
Heba Al Hass, 20, a political science major at The Faculty of Economics and Political Science, said the internship was an eye-opening experience, especially for a Muslim woman from Egypt.
“This is what I study, so it was great to see the process and also to see so many women working in government,” she said.
Al Hass also agreed with the other women, saying she was surprised by how easily accepted Muslims are in America: “I’m surprised there are Muslims in U.S. government and I’m surprised there is a mosque* in the Capitol, it’s really great.”
I asked Al Hass what her perceptions were about the treatment of Muslim women in America: “Well, we used to think they are not that easily accepted,” she said. “But I’ve seen people smile at women who wear the veil, and it’s really nice.”
I’m glad I met with these women. It was heartwarming to know some of their misperceptions abut America were corrected. They really valued their experience and enjoyed their time. Their company made my day a little brighter and reminded me why it’s important to write about Muslim women and continue the fight for women’s rights in the Middle East.
*It’s more a large prayer room than a mosque, but barakah is there nonetheless.
Editor’s Note: This was written by Yusra, but was initially published under Fatemeh’s name erroneously. The error has been corrected, and MMW is sorry for any inconvenience or confusion.