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Mariyam aims to turn discrimination into a positive

Published:Saturday | April 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMShanna Kaye Monteith

Last week, Mariyam Tijani, a 25-year-old Muslim woman, shared how simple it was for her growing up in a Christian society.

But though she admits to having been comfortable during her tenure at the St Hugh's High School for Girls, Tijani told Family and Religion that she remembers an instance when she was made to know unkindness because of her beliefs.

"I've heard persons tell stories of being discriminated against, especially females, because of how we dress. personally, there's only one main occasion that stands out to me because when it happened, I didn't expect it since it was such a professional place, and I was actually placed at the location for experience by my university.

"But I had to take it in stride and accept that though it was unfair, that's how the world is, and I was determined to prove that I would complete my experience despite it," she said.

And though that might have been a sole occasion for her, Tijani says that discrimination against Muslims is a real issue at times.

"My friends have experienced it. I guess it depends on the circle you socialise in and the work you do, but most of them try to keep a positive attitude and try to educate the public that Muslims have been in Jamaica since the time of slavery and we are just regular people who contribute to society and, just like them, are trying to live our lives.

"And I hope they realise one day that rejecting a female because she wears the hijab (headscarf) or her belief differs from theirs is not acceptable. If they have concerns about it, they can ask questions. We don't mind (answering them)," she said, adding that knowledge is power.

Tijani told Family and Religion that she is now accustomed to the occasional stare when she walks by people.

"Or sometimes people try to joke around the whole bomb and terrorist issue with me, but as long as at the end of the day it doesn't hinder me, or I'm not denied service, I might occasionally joke back but use it as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions that people have about my religion, so I explain to them that I'm not a terrorist.

"I'm against terrorism and so is my religion. We don't agree with suicide bombing, and my religion clearly states that it's a sin. I find that they address you better when you correct them," she said, adding that that is the main reason she makes herself open to questioning.

She believes that educating others will make it easier on the next Muslim they meet.

In addition to educating those around her, Tijani says that just being herself is a method used to prevent discrimination.

"I've always been a Muslim. The first thing people notice about me is that I'm Muslim, so I try to carry myself in a way that's becoming of a Muslim and be true to myself, and others will see who I am and not just my religion. Being myself allows people to realise that Muslims are ordinary citizens who may have different beliefs," she said.