Archive for February 2017

My First Tech Conference

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending a conference for women in computing for the first time in my life. I am so grateful to the Director of Engineering Diversity Initiatives at my university for encouraging me to apply to the OCWiC Scholarship. 

I used to be a liberal arts major. My empathy naturally drew me toward the liberal arts and social sciences. As a 14 year old, I only imagined myself working as a lawyer, so I could fight for justice and help uplift people and my own community. However, after taking several classes in the field, I began to get bored by the curriculum. I read non-fiction history and political science books for fun as as a young teen. To me, everything I was learning in college was just review. Why should I spend thousands of dollars to re-learn the same material? Last year, I finally interned with a lawyer and realized the field really wasn't right for me. 

Engineering was a field that really fascinated me, but unfortunately, I did not have the right background for it. I was already in my junior year, and my university had a mandatory co-op program for engineering majors that would set me back five years. As an international student, I really could not afford to do that. 

I initially never considered tech because I didn't fit the stereotype of a typical professional in the field. Weren't all programmers supposed to be misogynist white men who hated feminism? How would I, a brown hijabi feminist, fit into that picture? Plus, most of the computer science majors I knew had been programming since they were teens. I would stick out like a sore thumb. 

My friends encouraged me to try tech so I could see if I enjoyed it or not. I was a bit hesitant, but I switched my major to Information Systems anyway. The degree combined business with tech, so I had the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by trying two different fields. After my first semester, I fell in love with the tech side. I realized I had completely misunderstood the field. Programming wasn't the only possible career you could have in tech...and there were many minority programmers who were the sweetest people I've ever met. I found a community in this field, and that community convinced me that I belonged in tech. 

I finally switched my major to IT, which had more programming classes. My life has changed so much in the past few months! I am learning my first programming language (Python), attending my first Hackathon (MHacks 9), working on my first tech project (a workflow engine I am building with a coworker), and starting my own club for women in computing. I am so excited I discovered this fascinating field and even more excited to think about where it may take me. 

The OCWiC Conference helped boost my confidence. I met so many talented and hardworking women with diverse ethnic, educational, socioeconomic, and professional backgrounds. I discovered fields I never even knew existed, such as localization, which enables people to combine their passion for foreign languages with their interest in computing. 

I will now be graduating a year later than I was originally supposed to, but honestly, as Dr. Margaret Burnett said to me at the conference, "it is better to be a Sophomore in a field you love than a Junior in a field you have no interest in." 


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FAQs About Islam

  1. What is the difference between Shias and Sunnis?
    The short history: After the Prophet Muhammad passed away, there was a disagreement over who would get to be the next Caliph. The people who wanted his companions to lead, became known as the Sunnis. The ones who wanted succession to be based on bloodline, became known as the Shias. Throughout history, Sunnis have held most of the political power and even today, they make up around 85-90% of the Muslim population worldwide. Shias have been a historically persecuted minority group who face discrimination and oppression even today. Currently, most of the world's Shia population lives in four countries: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and India.   

  2. Why do Muslim women have to wear a hijab? 
    Do Muslim women have to wear a hijab? That's debatable. Although most Orthodox schools of thought, including Sunni'ism and Shi'ism, do require women to cover their hair, this practice is interestingly not exclusively mentioned in the Qur'an. Regardless, Islam places a heavy emphasis on modesty and for some that includes wearing a hijab. 
  3. What is "Sharia Law"?
    Sharia is literally just the Arabic word for "law" so those who say "Sharia law", are being redundant. The Islamic Sharia, which I assume is what they are referring to, is the law Muslims follow based on the Qur'an (and hadith). 
  4. What is "Halal"?
    Halal literally means "permissible". It's basically everything a Muslim is allowed to do. "Halal meat" is meat that was slaughtered according to the Sharia
    Haram (forbidden) is the opposite of Halal
  5. Why can't Muslims drink?
    Alcohol, along with any other substances that impair judgement, are strictly forbidden in Islam. 
  6. Why do some Muslims drink, have sex outside marriage, etc? 
    Because religion does not monopolize morality or cease individuality. 
  7. Is homosexuality allowed in Islam? 
    Not according to the Orthodox schools of thoughts. However, some modern sects and scholars challenge this view
  8. Is Islam cis-sexist? 
    It isn't supposed to be. In fact, trans people are mentioned in the hadith, and are recognized in Muslim societies. However, in most Muslim majority countries (such as Pakistan), they face extreme discrimination, especially when it comes to employment, marriage, etc. 
  9. What about racism in Islam? Does it exist? 
    According to the Qur'an, all men are equal in the eyes of Allah. Unfortunately, most religious people only choose to follow parts of the religious scripture that benefits them. Anti-blackness is prevalent in Muslim-majority nations, despite the amazing things black people have done for our community (and continue doing for us, even today). Some Muslims will quote Malcolm X, but will refuse to let their daughters marry a black man. It's sad. 
  10. Are Muslim men really that sexist?  
    Just as sexist as all other men. There is nothing unique about their sexism, except that some do use religion to justify their bigoted beliefs. 
  11.  What do I do if I want to convert to Islam? 
    I recommend first starting off by researching the different sects and finding one that aligns with your personal beliefs. Next, try to read some religious scripture from that sect, and search for lectures by scholars from that sect. Finally, find a mosque near you for that particular sect (or any mosque with open minded people) so that you can be a part of our community.
  12. Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan? 
    During Ramadan, which is based on the Lunar calendar and thus doesn't fall on the same date every year, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking (yes, even water) from sunrise to sunset. We do this for two reasons: 1) it's one of the five pillars of Islam 2) it's supposed to help us become more humble and generous as the point of Ramadan is to feel the pain of the poor and starving. That's why in most Muslim-majority countries, people's generosity triples during Ramadan. Fasts are meaningless if you aren't growing from them.
  13. What should I do if a Muslim is fasting or praying in front of me?  
      Muslims who are fasting cannot listen to music, or look at nudity. Also, you should never walk directly in front of a Muslim who is praying. Always ensure there is a physical barrier (a chair, a door, a wall) present between you and them. Try not to stare at us when we're praying, especially if we aren't of the same gender. 
     aaannnddd this is why you shouldn't watch us when we pray. 
  14. Who can see a hijabis hair? 
    Only those who are related to her by blood or marriage can see her hair. Anyone who is sexually attracted to women (including lesbians) generally cannot see a hijabi's hair.
  15. How do Muslims treat non-Muslims? 
    We don't have some magic formula for dealing with non-Muslims. It depends heavily on where you live, and most importantly, WHO you're dealing with. Muslims are just like everybody else- some of us are nice and accepting and other's aren't.
  16. How many sects exist in Islam? 
    Too many, apparently. I am still learning about new ones every day.

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