The big, yellow hat accompanies Muslim student Isra’a Belgasem this week as she sits down with the Collegian to tell us what makes her stand out and what makes her fit in at CSU. The first thing most people see when they look at Belgasem is her headscarf, but underneath is a woman who holds the responsibility of representing her religion and culture. Belgasem is a senior majoring in psychology and human development and family studies.
Q. Were you born in the United States?
A. Yep. Born and raised. I was born at the Poudre Valley Hospital.
Q. Where is your family from?
A. They are originally from Libya. My parents were born in Libya. They moved here when my dad was in college, for studying purposes. Then they just stayed here.
Q. Have you ever been to Libya?
A. I have been to Libya twice, Egypt twice, and I lived in Jordan for about a year and a half.
Q. How did your parents raise you?
A. We were raised Muslim, of course. We attended the Masjid. So everything we did was in the lines of Islam. My parents wanted us to implement Islam into our lives as much as possible. So we attended Sunday Islamic school, memorized Qur’an and most of our close friends were Muslim. I went to the Arabic school until fifth grade. I speak Arabic fluently. My parents talk to us in Arabic and we answer back in English and that’s how I learned the Arabic language. My parents are very traditional, of course. My mom is the homemaker and my father is the breadwinner.
Q. Do you have arranged marriages?
A. We have semi-arranged marriages meaning I have a choice and my parents have a choice. So it’s not like, “ok, this is your husband.” It’s more like, “we think this person to be a good guy and are you interested in marrying him?” And I can say yes or no.
Q. What are your thoughts on arranged marriage?A. I actually love it. I think it’s very successful. It kind of puts love to be the last thing, because, you know, love can blind you. You see that person as perfect and then after you get married – bam, anything could go wrong. Everything comes crashing down.
Q. How would you describe yourself in three words?
A. I would say I’m outgoing, I like being around people and, I guess, I’m pretty open-minded.
Q. What would you say are the good aspects of American culture?
A. Americans are for the most part very organized, on time and are very comfortable. I don’t know how to explain that, but people can come out in their pajamas and it’s fine.
Q. Do you think that you are viewed differently after the September 11 terrorist attacks?
A. I think that some people have become more open minded while other people have completely shut down. A lot of people were ignorant about Islam, and then after 9-11 they went out and educated themselves and found out that what happened on 9-11 was not part of the religion. The religion completely prohibits acts like that: killing innocent people. Regardless, there is a lot of staring.
Q. Why is your scarf important to you?
A. The scarf (called hijab) is part of religion. In Islam, women are supposed to cover when they hit puberty. It is for protection, modesty and identity, to show that I’m Muslim … I decided to wear it on April 17, 1998. I remember the day because it was such a huge step, but since the day I wore it I never regretted it. And I’m so happy with it. I think it has made my life easier . it makes me want to be a better Muslim because I know I am representing Islam.
Q. What has your experience at CSU been like?
A. So far it’s been outstanding and a positive experience since there is less prejudice and (people are) more accepting of other cultures and religions. I’m the (first female) vice president of the Muslim Student Association .. so through the MSA I have chance to raise awareness about Islam and also clear any misconceptions. I think students are pretty cool and open-minded. People stare and, of course, that’s normal. I don’t mind people asking me questions. I’d rather have you come ask me questions than stare at me.
Q. What are your goals for the future?
A. I want to finish school and maybe go to graduate school. I also want to be a stronger Muslim and I want to make a huge difference in the community as a Muslim woman.
Let us know who you’d put the big, yellow hat on by contacting staff writer Laurel Berch at email@example.com.