Life of a Muslimah Student in Engineering
Assalaammu’alaikum w.r. w.b.
Have you ever wondered about the ease and struggles faced by Muslimah engineering students? Well, let me bring you through a few of my experiences and things to look out for if you are keen in joining this specific field.
Many would have known of the stereotypes of women in engineering, such as doing tough labour and influenced by the male cultural norms. However, things are always more than what meets the eye. As a female engineering student for almost 5 years now, I do agree that many would have those kinds of perceptions because there are large machineries that we must operate and learn about and the attitudes of many that we must deal with.
I would personally think that it is not tough labour that we are doing because most of us are learning more of the theory behind how machines work. Most certainly, there are times when we must carry parts of a machine during assembly of our product such as when working on our final year projects but that is very much voluntary. We can always ask for help from our male friends and technicians or those who are more able to carry those items.
What is more concerning is that usually, due to the male-dominating nature of the field, from my experience, my non-muslim male friends think that it is alright to tap me on the shoulder or my hand and ask for a high-five or a fist bump very casually. Of course, the main reason is because they may not know that it is unlawful to do so in Islam. So, I would respond in two ways. The first one is to say “no, it’s alright” in a calm manner straight away and then explain that it is not permissible in Islam. The second one is to say the same words, then when I see that their reaction is “ohh, right! I forgot sorry!” then I would say “it’s fine (laughs)” then I would make something like an air high-five gesture, and they would do the same.
In the first scenario, my intention is to help spread the word that it is not permissible so that they would understand and will try not to do the same again in the future. Furthermore, it is a form of da’wah in Islam. In the second scenario, since they have already known that it is not permissible, I wanted to not make them think of the mistake that they have done too much and in turn become uncomfortable.
The second problem that I usually face as a Muslimah myself is that whenever I enter workshops, technicians tend to pay extra attention to the way I dress. I understand that they are really concerned about safety especially when it comes to wearing loose clothes. What I would do is to roll up my sleeves but still have my tight hand socks that covers my arm. I would not recommend loose sleeves because they are very easily caught in machines. As for my hijab, I would pin the front part to my shirt so that it does not fly everywhere. Of course, I would not be wearing too loose pants nor too tight ones during those sessions as well. In this way, I assure the technicians that it is alright to still dress modestly while working with machines.
Lastly, I would like to touch on the societal impacts on not just students, but the Muslimah engineers’ community at large. There were times when I was questioned about the course I am studying, and my relatives and friends reply with frowns and disbelief on their faces. I am often thrown with questions such as “Are you serious?”, “Are you really interested in it?” and “Did anyone force you into choosing that?”. I am cool with those questions because after all, I am chasing my dream and that engineering is very much of my interest.
However, imagine the image that is portrayed upon us. What we need is endless support and faith that we can succeed despite the limitations. The questions rose due to the ignorance of what we really do as engineers. The stigma that they have whereby females, especially Muslims, should not venture into these fields because it is a man’s job or because we will be inter-mingling with males, has got to go. What I feel is that they need to understand that Islam can be practiced anywhere and at any time. It is up to an individual himself/herself to keep to the permissible practices and uphold the values of Islam everywhere he/she goes. If things seem to move towards the disobedience of the deen, then it is alright to voice out your opinion and inform people that it is not permissible in Islam.
Overall, my take on the issues faced by Muslimah engineers, especially since I have experienced some of them myself, is that bravery to speak up and explain what is not permissible in Islamic context is better than keeping quiet. Most definitely, I do not disregard the fact that male Muslim engineers must play their part in speaking up if they see something wrong too. The reason is because if we are not the ones spreading the word, then who else? People will get even more confused if we do not explain to them the rationale behind our actions. Additionally, I feel that in every field, it is our responsibility to maintain the image of Islam by upholding the values of the deen and act accordingly. I would like to end by sharing this principle that I stand by since I was young. “When everyone around you gets afraid to do what's right, you be the 'FIRST'”.