I am writing this essay because of the invitation to express the way that my cultural identity has provided an important foundation for my personal development. I am hoping that my story will help create an understanding of how my goals have been formed. I am a practicing Muslim, a female who has attended an international American high school located in Lisbon, Spain. I am the product of a multicultural family, with a mother from Mozambique and my father from Portugal. My family background has certainly had an impact on creating the person that I have become, and in particular I have struggled with being a Muslim in a post-9/11 world.
Living in Europe, there is a tremendous amount of ignorance about the Muslim faith, because Islam is portrayed as an extremely negative force in modern Western history, i.e., Muslims are the “bad guys.” I understand that the behavior of a faction of extremist Muslims has contaminated the image of the rest of our flock, but I find it very difficult to confront on a personal basis. I am dismayed that people are not able to separate those very horrendous acts of terror from the peaceful and accepting behavior and attitudes of the vast majority of Muslims. My parents always instilled in me the positive values associated with my religion, and I only wish that other people could be exposed to them as well, in order to prevent such stereotyping.
That said, I work at a social development network, and even though it is nonsectarian, i.e. not linked to any specific religion or faith, it is chaired by His Highness the Aga Khan, the imam of Muslim Shia Ismailis for the entire globe. My education has been a combination of Islamic culture combined with a western secular education, and while being exposed to two very diverse cultures, it has been a challenge for me because at times, there is a clash between the two foundations. I completely understand and sympathize with the apprehensions that people have had about the Muslim faith after the attacks of September 11, but I also feel strongly that many of these doubts have been reinforced by the coverage from the media. However, the tremendous amount of so much misunderstanding has allowed me to clarify my goal in life, which is to work in a management position at nonprofit organizations in countries that are both Islamic as well as Western. I would like to utilize my experiences and my talents to build a bridge between the two cultures that will result in mutual respect and understanding.
My intentions have been formed as a result of my excellent educational experiences where I unfortunately was exposed to prejudice against my religion. Prior to attending my current high school, I was a student at an all-girls’ military boarding school, and at times, I was excluded by my peers as well as my teachers because of their attitudes about my Muslim faith. I worked hard to overcome that by demonstrating that their perceptions of Muslims were stereotypical. I am a Muslim woman who is also a product of Western culture and beliefs, so that I consider myself to be progressive as well as open-minded. My moral beliefs are those of the universal humanitarian ethos, and that is also the situation for the majority of Muslims throughout the world. We are a peace-loving people, and want the rest of the world to know that their ideas about Muslims have been negatively impacted by the actions of a very few.
I am hopeful that attending an excellent university and working to receive my diploma and a degree granted by that institution, I will be able to help reconstruct the image of Muslims by providing an example of the values that are inherent in our religion. I am also enthusiastic about attending university because I know that it will prepare me to be a spokesperson that will be able to unite the Muslim culture with our Western brethren. I would experience a great deal of satisfaction if I could contribute to building a bridge between two very different cultures that happened to have a great deal in common as well. Thank you for the opportunity to express my goals and dreams.