Issraa Faiz '19 
Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts

"I just didn't think it was possible to be a Muslim Feminist, especially because, you know, you're an Arab. Isn't that, like, an oxymoron?" my friend asked, expressing a popular opinion amongst my peers. I had just referred to myself as a feminist, and her response was exactly what I had been expecting. I am a first-generation citizen. My parents are from Morocco and raised me with a love for my culture and origin. Nonetheless, growing up in the West proved to be challenging socially due to my numerous encounters with microaggressions and ignorant comments about my heritage.

I have spent the majority of my life trying to defy the stereotypes imposed upon me. My experience has been a bumpy ride of self-doubt mixed with a more powerful determination to persevere. I was not going to let anyone's opinions stop me from developing my identity. As a result, I was able to grow into a stronger, prouder and more passionate person. I am not afraid to push limits and make a statement. My outfits are bright and colorful, purposely intended to make me stand out. I walk with humble self-assurance, confident of the person I am. Most importantly, I am loud and assertive when expressing my beliefs.

I discovered my passion for social justice at a young age, but to most people, the scarf on my head automatically eliminates the possibility of me being a human rights activist. Introducing myself as a feminist has always surprised people, however, up until that day, I had never understood why. I realize now that the first aspect people notice about me is my scarf, which our society has deemed as a symbol of oppression. People often feel uncomfortable when they hear me advocate for the rights of women, because in their minds I am supposed to be oppressed. Therefore, every time I say I am a feminist, I am grouped in a separate category known as "Muslim Feminism" — which most people view as contradictory. Nevertheless, I never let this stop me from pursuing my passions.

I have considered myself to be a Muslim and a feminist for a long time, but the concept of being classified as a Muslim Feminist was new to me. I had never considered the two to be related. My religion was something that I was born into whereas feminism was something that I found on my own. Ever since I could speak, my parents worked hard to instill in me a quiet confidence. Growing up in a family mostly populated by males, I used this confidence to get the things I wanted despite being the only girl.

To this day I believe that the more definite a label is, the less meaning it holds. Terms like "Muslim Feminist" simply create boundaries that force people to feel as though they have to act a certain way because of their beliefs. Although it is human nature to conform, our minds and thoughts are constantly evolving and I do not think it is fair to limit ourselves to the permanence of our labels. By linking the word "feminist" with "Muslim," one is deducting from the significance of what it means to be a feminist, as if a "Muslim Feminist" is different from a "conventional" feminist. Both terms constitute large parts of my individuality, but combining the two would take away a certain complexity within my identity. I am Muslim and I am a feminist, but I am not a Muslim Feminist. I pride myself in having multiple layers to who I am and believe that my identity will never be as simple as black and white.