Dalia Elsayed is a 24-year old Egyptian American Muslim residing in New York City. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Work at Fordham University. Her passion for helping others translates into her career and as she says “social work allows me to connect with the community and make a difference in someone’s life. As social workers we see what others sometimes miss. We develop a relationship with people and can help change their lives for the better. Helping someone in need is one of the most rewarding experiences in life for me personally and it is also what Islam teaches us. Who I am as a Muslim and my values translate into my work which is why I chose to pursue social work.”
As a Muslim woman who doesn’t wear hijab, are people surprised to find out you are Muslim because you don’t fit the common stereotype?
On a daily basis, I encounter shocking reactions when I reveal that part of my identity to people. And questions usually follow regarding my choice to have my hair uncovered and to dress in a way that sometimes is not particularly popular in the Muslim community. I believe that being a Muslim mostly depends on what I do with the teachings of my religion in regards to implementation and action towards myself, my family, my friends, my community and society as a whole.
Mental health is sometimes seen as a taboo within the Muslim community, why do you think that is?
Living in New York causes many of its residents to internalize many individualistic traits that allow a person to succeed far in life but lacking social and interpersonal relationships. Growing up in the Arab American community in Bay ridge, I noticed the lack of empathy among peers, neighbors, and even family members in the community. Being raised on having empathy and compassion towards others pushed me to pursue Psychology in college. Islam teaches the importance of mental health but it is when culture and religion mix that important issues such as mental health become lost in the process. Things such as image, reputation and status become huge factors in regards to mental health and how it is dealt with in the community. Most of the time, however, issues concerning mental health are dealt with in a very poor and judgmental way. This is why I chose to do Psychology and Social Work, to change the way the community sees mental health and make sure everyone gets the help they need without feeling judged or alienated.
Do you have any role models in your life? What lessons has that person taught you?
I believe role models should not be limited to one or two people. I meet role models every day; whether it is my family, colleagues, community members and random strangers in the street. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a unique experience that has influenced and inspired them to be the person they are today. These stories are my life lessons and with each lesson I learn, I develop and grow more every day.
You picked the following ayat (verses) for the project “Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is Most Honorable, Who taught (to write) by the pen.” – Qur’an Chapter 96 / Verses 1-4. What effect have they had in your life?
These ayat mean a lot to me because God started his first revelation down to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) by telling him to educate himself and be aware of who created him. The first word God mentioned to the prophet was “read”. That in itself says so much about our religion and what our religion consists of. We, as Muslims should never follow blindly. We always have to read more, learn more, and educate ourselves physically, mentally, academically, spiritually, and emotionally. Striving to learn, influencing others in a positive way and being grateful for what we have are the three components of how I live my life.
Reading is fundamental in Islam and I love how the verses you picked clearly reflect this, what advice would you give to someone who knows nothing about Islam but is interested in learning more about it?
Islam is a simple religion. It is built upon the foundation of peace, empathy, compassion, faith, and justice for all. If the teachings of Islam are taken out of context, it could be easily misunderstood. But once you delve into its core, you will discover that Islam encompasses more elements such as mercy, love, humility, forgiveness, righteousness, being humble and humane rather than hatred, ignorance and violence; things that the media constantly portrays about Islam.