By Maisha Islam
(External content - posted on behalf of the author)
The right to education is just one among 16 that are stated within the Human Rights Act (1998), meaning that education is something everyone (regardless of their background) is entitled to access. In the great words of Nelson Mandela, education really is one of the most powerful tools we can use in order to make a difference and change the world.
In a world where Muslims globally face the repercussions of Islamophobia and racism, it feels empowering to know that Muslim women (who bear the brunt of this the most) are not bowing down in the face of disadvantage. From the incredible actions, perseverance and resilience of Malala Yousafzai to the young Palestinian girl who sacrifices her safety to simply travel to school, Muslim women truly value the worth of education.
Speaking in a more local context, it has been reported that not only are young Muslim girls outperforming Muslim boys academically, but that they are also more motivated to gain degrees in British universities. On the whole, the number of British Muslims holding a Level 4 qualification or above (i.e. a degree or above) has increased around 4% from 2001 to 2011 (from 20.6% to 24%); it is only reasonable to assume that this number is higher given the time frame in which this data comes from.
From personal experience, whilst university was something that was encouraged within my family, the emotional encouragement would have been better aided with practical advice and support.
I think this is great and I strongly encourage young Muslims to consider their options within Higher Education. From personal experience, whilst university was something that was encouraged within my family, the emotional encouragement would have been better aided with practical advice and support. It may be that young British Muslims are the pioneers within their families to attend university, bringing with them even more ambivalence as to how to navigate through these foreign spaces. As a result, the social capital that comes with being White and middle-class is another aspect within society that Muslims have the disadvantage of not always possessing.
It has also been found that young Muslims face the most barriers to social mobility (i.e. moving up the social ladder), and again, Muslim women feel the effect of this the most by having been identified as the most economically disadvantaged group in British society alongside facing a broken social mobility promise. As such, even when Muslim women hold degree qualifications, this does not always translate into success in the employment market. Nevertheless, this shouldn't be something that discourages young Muslims to enter into Higher Education. In fact, it should encourage Muslim women to persevere even more in the face of such adversity, which we have seen.
I would then advice not to let the multiplicity of barriers you face act as a blockade “ be it from societal structures that work to disadvantage those from non-traditional backgrounds, to cultural expectations which limit or dictate your options as a woman.
I have been fortunate enough to graduate with a first-class undergraduate degree and now, alongside working full-time in a Higher Education institution, am now undertaking Masters study. If you had told me this just a few years ago, I would not have believed it. I had little self-confidence and, as previously mentioned, navigating into Higher Education was poorly executed “ I had no role models, familial experience to grow from or real tailored support. However, when I started to engage more as a student, I wondered why no-one else looked like me? This ignited my own passion into ensuring that Higher Education becomes more representative and serves the needs of a diverse student population.
For young Muslim women wanting to enter/entering Higher Education, I would then advice not to let the multiplicity of barriers you face act as a blockade “ be it from societal structures that work to disadvantage those from non-traditional backgrounds, to cultural expectations which limit or dictate your options as a woman. Once integrated into your university, take part in opportunities that raise awareness of Muslim women and enlighten your peers to Muslim-specific issues.
Overall, the increased representation of Muslims and Muslim women can and will only serve to better normalise the perception of Islam not only within Higher Education, but society in general. I can honestly say that pursuing Higher Education has been the most empowering tool for me to make a difference, but to make that change you have to see that difference too!
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