By Courtney Fowler, Editor-in-Chief 

UMF sophomore and pre-med major Mana Abdi (Photo courtesy of Mana Abdi)

UMF sophomore and pre-med major Mana Abdi (Photo courtesy of Mana Abdi)

There is no denying the simplicity and charm that our small town of Farmington exudes. It is a place full of spunky character, friendly people and beautiful landscapes. However, what many people tend to overlook in Farmington, including myself, is the amazing opportunity we hold to learn about cultures different than our own. Recently, sophomore and pre-med major Mana Abdi opened my eyes to the beautiful Somali culture and more importantly, what it means to be a female Muslim in our small town in Maine.

Before moving to the United States at the age of 11, Abdi lived a life of pure innocence and happiness in her home country of Somalia. With her rich culture and family in tow, she moved to Kansas in 2007, and three years later, settled in Lewiston, Maine. Through all of the changes, Abdi maintained her easy-going spirit, bright smile and most notably, has developed a passion for sharing her culture and love for the hijab.

“I am proud of being a female Muslim,” said Abdi, eyes shining bright with an unwavering passion in her voice. “A hijab is not a limitation, it is simply a piece of cloth. Instead of staring, people should come talk to me and take the opportunity to learn.”

During the short amount of time I spent with her, it was no question that Abdi is a proud advocate for her religion and for offering others the chance to gain knowledge about a subject that may be unfamiliar to them.

“The hijab, and all of the multiple ways that its meanings are felt and experienced, is something that engages Mana at many levels,” said anthropology professor Gaelyn Aguilar. Aguiler met Abdi last fall while at a UMF Diversity Lab. “As someone who wears the hijab, Mana clearly wants to be an active part in the conversations that unfold in her various communities; UMF being one of them”

“I used to feel the stares and judgments all the time, especially being a female athlete in high school,” said Abdi. “I run cross country and people thought that just because I wore a hijab, I couldn’t run. The stares are still there, and sometimes I can feel left out, but I rub it off now.”

Though seemingly casual about the issue, Abdi’s remark was a sad reminder that assumptions based on simple religious traditions are still occurring in our community today. While it would be easy for her to succumb to the negative comments and awkward glances, Abdi has used this as a reason to speak of the hijab and freely express her culture.

In fact, in encouraging others to gain knowledge and open their minds to a new religion, Abdi was recently part of the World Hijab Day event on campus, a chance for students of any religious background to wear the hijab. With pride in her voice, Abdi not only spoke to the success of the annual event, but shared her excitement in knowing she had the opportunity to enlighten people with an Islamic tradition.

“This event happens every February 1, now, in over 140 countries,” she said, “ it is a nice way to convey that Muslims are not the only ones wearing the hijab and gives an opportunity for people to experiment how to wear them.”

Although I regrettably did not attend the event myself, I can say that simply speaking with Abdi was a remarkably eye-opening experience, something I believe everyone should make a point to do. Humbled, kind, and insightful, Abdi brings wisdom and passion to her advocacy and inspires those around her to open their hearts and minds.

“The event was great, but I don’t want to waste money on a large event when people can just come up and talk to me,” said Abdi. “As many students here are education majors, they should see it as a responsibility to learn about a culture – one day kids in their classrooms may ask questions about the hijab. I want to help them answer those questions correctly.”