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Speaking in Their Own Voices: Muslim Students Are Heard From


Oral Histories2

A student reading This is Where I Need to Be: Oral Histories of Muslim Youth in NYC.

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From Kosovar Albanians to new Latino converts, New York City has the most diverse Muslim community outside of Mecca during Hajj. This is Where I Need to Be: Oral Histories of Muslim Youth in NYC, a new anthology from TC’s Student Press Initiative, seeks to capture slices of that diversity, and it goes right to the source. The book’s 12 pieces were written 12 high-school-age Muslims, each of whom had interviewed a peer about what it’s like growing up (or becoming) Muslim in New York City.

With guidance from SPI director Erick Gordon, project advisor Kerry McKibbin, and teachers Nisrin Elamin, Ann Hawley and Amina Tawasil, the students learned the exhaustive interviewing, writing, editing, and publishing processes that goes into producing an SPI anthology. The result are produced sympathetic, nuanced portraits that range from from budding fashion designers to a new convert trying to make her Jewish family understand her views.

Says Gordon, “They endeavored to capture genuine pieces of everyday moments—some perfectly ordinary, some poignant, others aggravating—in the lives of fellow teenagers for whom ‘looking Muslim’ can scare up a suspicious gaze or a look of disdain.”

In one of the pieces, new convert Danielle Benson talks about how she learned to love the hijab -- a traditional head-covering of Muslims -- even before her conversion. “It feels wonderful to understand the principle of modesty,” she said. “When I went to Israel, I wore hijab for one day, and I had little kids screaming and running away from me in the bathroom.”

A student who asked to be known only as Hussein said he wanted to be a journalist when he grew up. “I love the

people who work for the BBC and Al Jezeera, who go to conflict zones and put themselves in dangerous situations just to report the news to everybody else. I think that is really honorable.”

The student authors said that not only did the project teach them new things about publishing, it also taught them about the variety found in the New York Islamic community. As one of the authors, Rahimah Ahmad, put it, “I’ve learned it wasn’t just about getting the stories; it was about hearing them too.”

The full text of “Where I Need to Be” can be viewed at

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