Please welcome our new social media & communications intern, Eeba Ali!
TheHumanist.com: What is your educational and work background?
Right now, I am working on my undergraduate degree with an interest in educational policy and language. Before I started college, I had the opportunity to live in Egypt for about a year to learn Arabic. Gaining knowledge of a language that was not my own opened up a whole new world of places and people I could potentially learn from. The time I spent and the strangers I met as a foreign student navigating Cairo reinvigorated the way I go through life viewing humanity. I left Egypt with a lot of valuable life education and the desire to strengthen my language skills. I have been consistently studying languages ever since. Having a diverse educational background has greatly influenced my curiosity about how our minds learn and what our current educational system is doing to either work for or against our natural learning processes. All this has motivated my pursuit of a degree in education policy.
Aside from formal education, I consider myself a student of activism, as I started my journey early in community organizing as a teenager in Houston, Texas. My most recent and relevant work was as social media director for a small project dedicated to demystifying misconceptions about Muslim women.
TheHumanist.com: How did you first learn about humanism?
Humanism’s values are something I have carried with me all of my life, even if I did not have a word for it. I was initially introduced to the term “humanism” in my first philosophy class. I remember looking at the word spelled out on the board and immediately knew without a doubt that this word gave a home to my core beliefs.
TheHumanist.com: Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?
I grew up in a practicing Muslim family with roots that start in Chicago, Illinois, where I was exposed to many different understandings of Islam. Growing up with diversity in denominations, religion, and race fostered a childhood where I was taught to keep my mind pried open. I was raised on the firm belief that before I was to call myself anything, I was human first and that our differences in humanity exist so that we can learn from them to be more compassionate people. These beliefs have helped me navigate how I interpret faith without feeling like I have to compromise my higher reasoning and logic.
After 9/11 I was quick to learn that not everyone holds this regard for compassion, especially for Muslims and people of color. I remember not being able to return to school for a while because of racial threats. Members of my family were harassed as the political climate started to get worse. Since then, my community still echoes whispers of hate crimes that transpire and words of caution when going outside after any story associated with Islam runs in the mainstream media. Growing up accustomed to the implications of Islamophobia in my everyday life, I feel deeply about discrimination and the pain that it has caused communities like mine. My resistance is to transform the shame projected onto my community—to unapologetically use my freedom to express joy and show up as the fullest version of myself every day for the chance it might be a source of truth against the fear and hatred that threatens my community.
TheHumanist.com: What interested you most about interning for the American Humanist Association?
As an American minority, I have often felt uncomfortable when others assume my religious beliefs as a result of the dominating presence of religion in our public spaces. In school, when we were instructed to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, I was always uncomfortable for myself and for others who do not subscribe to organized religion. I always thought about kids who use different words for “God” or “amen” and the kids that didn’t believe in God at all. What was their nation under? Why does mentioning God in spaces feel more inclusive for some, while it makes others feel more alienated? When I interviewed for this position at the American Humanist Association and learned about their role in the Boycott the Pledge campaign, my interest for the cause was ignited. Dealing with my personal experiences of Islamophobia I found that a lot of hate-filled rhetoric is often rooted in an ethnonationalism that religion has often given a home to. I feel privileged to be working with the American Humanist Association to do my part in protecting our rights against religious discrimination.
TheHumanist.com: What book has influenced you the most?
Many books have influenced me, but if I were to pick one it would be a book gifted to me: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I was first introduced to the book when I found myself skipping lunch in high school at the library because of a newfound vegetarian diet. My closest friend, Amina, found me there and was coincidentally skipping lunch for the very same reason I was. I had made the change because of a documentary. Amina became a vegetarian because of this book written by an undercover American journalist assigned to a story at Chicago’s meat-packing plants. Upton Sinclair made the radical move to publish his findings as a work of fiction about a Lithuanian migrant named Jurgis in the early 1900s who finds himself trying to survive in the middle of Chicago’s ruthless meatpacking industry. The way Sinclair painted Chicago motivated Amina to make a homecoming trip to Chicago with me, where I had the chance to reevaluate my story as a daughter of a migrant and a first-generation American, growing up in the lower-middle-class version of Chicago. Amina let me borrow the book, but after she died unexpectedly, I was not able to bring myself to read it until recently. The opening quote was enough to make me fall in love; it reads:
Chicago and its saloons and its slums fade away—they are green meadows and sunlit rivers, mighty forests and snow-clad hills. They behold home landscapes and childhood scenes returning; old loves and friendships begin to waken, old joys and griefs to laugh and weep.
Shortly after I started college, my diet became less vegetarian, but since I picked up her copy of The Jungle I have been making changes to eat a more plant-based diet and put my money towards more ethically sourced foods.
TheHumanist.com: If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?
I would love to have dinner with my girl, Amina, to catch up. By tea time we could have a book club-type discussion on The Jungle. The other two people I would be delighted to share a dinner with would be one woman from each side of my ancestry. I would talk to them about life before their arrival in the United States and would ask them about the wonder or tribulations that brought them here.