Amber Chaudhry, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, shares about her life and the ‘network of empowered Muslim women’ she knows. Here, she is pictured in the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland. (Photo by Sarah Collins/PublicSource)

It was the winter of 1998. I was 6. I don’t have a particularly vivid memory of that year but I can remember one morning of the first grade exceptionally well. I had stepped off the school bus and trotted into school, my mind filled with memories from the day before, like my mom’s warm smile as she chided me to move away from the furniture with my henna-soaked hands.

It was the morning after the Muslim celebration of the end of Ramadan — Eid-al-Fitr. I rushed into my classroom waving my tiny palms at my friends. Some of them stared with interest and others recoiled. “Ewwww, Amber drew all over her hand with marker.”

The next day I was dragging my feet to school, avoiding eye contact with friends on the way to my desk, still sensitive and weary from the day before. Unexpectedly, my teacher ushered me to the front of the classroom and had me sit in a chair. She told me she had a special role for me in today’s class. She proceeded with a smile and called the rest of my classmates around my chair. She pulled out a tube of henna and asked me to draw a design on her hand. She asked the other girls in class to come up and take turns having henna painted onto their hands. Pretty soon, girls started pushing past one another to have our teacher draw a butterfly or puppy on their own palms. We all ended the day smiling, as my friends asked me what designs we would paint on our palms next Eid.

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