Navigating Space As A Black Muslim Woman

Identity: Navigating Spaces as a Black Muslim Woman

As-salamu Alaykum, my name is Amran, I’m Somali and currently live in London. I write a travel blog and I thought maybe it’s time to find a platform where I can write about challenges I have faced with finding myself, and TBMG seemed to be the perfect place.

I was born in the Netherlands and raised in a small town(≤5000) neighbouring Germany. This was where I learnt the true meaning of being a minority – you see coming to London was an absolute culture shock – the diversity was a breath of fresh air. However, being quite young at this point, it was quite daunting to navigate school in a foreign country and to communicate in a  language I did not understand. But at the same time, the move to the UK meant getting closer to the Deen, observing the hijab and immersing myself in Somali culture and having better family ties. However, for the majority of my school life, I was a total wall flower. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking out in fear of people picking up on my unusual accent, which is quite funny today because people always assume that I was born in London. It wasn’t until I began Sixth Form /College whereI made new friends and became more comfortable with who I am that I began to come out of my shell and slowly develop into the person I am today.

My days of university were filled with blossoming into the woman I am today. You see, going to university changed me. I used to be the girl who liked to blend in the background, who didn’t speak unless spoken to because she was self-conscious of the way she spoke. But even more so, I remember being one of the very few Muslim girls in my school. That changed when I started university, in a completely different part of London. Blending in the background didn’t get me very far, and I realised maybe it’s okay to do more than just study. So I took myself on a journey, being more outspoken, making friends with pretty much everyone, being part of societies and all that comes with going to university - within reason of course. I went from being a caterpillar to blossoming into a full blown butterfly - literally. 

But you see, I studied a science degree, something that is commonly associated with either moving on to doing medicine or becoming a teacher (common misconception). I didn’t see myself being a doctor in that sense much to my Dad’s disappointment, but my love for science and researching by this point was out of this world. 

After graduating, I returned to my old department, with a graduate job to support teaching and learning. Now, more than ever do I see how I stick out like a sore thumb in the working world – being a black Muslim woman in academiapretty much means I tick every box of the diversity quota.You see, the student cohort when I was studying was very diverse, but this was never represented in the faculty. We had maybe one black, female lecturer, one Middle-eastern lecturer, and that was pretty much it. It was even more apparent once I became  member of staff. I remember in my very first month of the role, a student came by to see a lecturer and we ran into each other at the door to our reception area and he said, ‘wow, it’s really nice to see a fellow Somali invading these spaces, it is important for us to be represented’. You see, that statement has stuck with me ever since. It got me thinking, where are the rest of us? Particularly since biomedical sciences, biological sciences etc. has a large percentage of female Muslim students. The apparent thing here is that as you go up in the hierarchy of education, less and less of Black and Ethnic Minorities are climbing these ladders. I am literally the only black, Muslimfemale in a department of 70+ staff, maybe one of two within the whole faculty. Can you imagine that?

I was lucky enough to be exposed to some opportunities to get to where I am today, and to have been mentored by someone I could very easily identify with. But I still found it hard to find more role models in STEM to connect with, so imagine how others, especially the younger generation feels – probably quite discouraged? This is where those of us who occupy spaces and have made it through to some extent, need to pave the way and lift others up. I don’t believe in denying someone the opportunity simply because I struggled with it myself. We have to give back and pave the way, if not us, then who?

Let’s also celebrate the contributions of those who led the way, innovated and created despite the challenges that they may have faced. Here’s to a future where a woman's religious identity, nor her race, is a barrier to career progression.

You can find me on Instagram @theworldofamran and for travel posts check out theworldofamran.wordpress.com

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