By Imti Hassan
Students at Casco Bay High School, in Portland, spent the week after winter break participating in intensives, rather than regular classes. I chose to participate in the Muslim History Intensive, which was taught by two extraordinary teachers, Ms. Mallory Haar, and Mr. Stewart Croft.
As a Muslim myself, I’ve always wondered if there were any prominent Muslim activists in the U.S. that I was unaware of – or if Muslims were even in the U.S. in the 1800’s. My teachers started us off with the story of Abdul Rahman, a prince from the area we now call “ Guinea” who was captured in the late 1700’s, enslaved, and brought to the U.S. He became a prominent leader for other black slaves and eventually was released, along with his wife, through the efforts of the Sultan of Morocco and President John Quincy Adams. and allowed to return to his home country. Rahman tried to gather enough money to buy freedom for his ten children, but was only able to purchase freedom for two of them. During our intensive we also had conversations about Islam, learned about Malcolm X and read excerpts from his famous speeches, and looked into the Nation of Islam closely.
In Portland, we have many Muslim activists who are creating change. During our intensive, we were lucky enough to meet Pious Ali, the first Muslim City Councilor in Portland; Deqa Dhalac, the first Muslim City Councilor – and a woman! – in South Portland; and Maryan Isack, a nutrition activist who attends the University of Southern Maine. Ms. Isack’s goal is to make nutritious food more affordable. From these leaders we learned how their faith creates their identity and how their activism relates to their faith. The three changemakers gave us powerful insights on how to become stronger young leaders in our community.
Everyone in the Muslim History Intensive was excited to do research on Muslim activists. We each chose an activist to study. Some people chose Ilhan Omar, one of the first hijabi congresswomen, or Deen Squad, a Muslim duo that is promoting their halal music on Youtube, or Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first hijabi to participate in the Olympics. So many Muslims are creating change and becoming the ‘first’ in many ways. We had the ability to honor our subjects via art, poetry, writing, dance, or song. I chose to do a tribute to a Muslim female rapper named Mona Haydar by conducting a poem.
This intensive culminated with the screening of “Time for Ilhan”, a documentary on one of the first Muslim congresswomen in the U.S. We learned about her journey, her struggles, and her beliefs. We got the chance to see her fiery debates when she was running for Minnesota’s House of Representatives. It was an inspirational documentary which made me and my peers excited for the future, and for Omar’s next steps in creating change.
Our intensive had conversations about Islam, we learned about Malcolm X and read excerpts from his famous speeches, and looked into the Nation of Islam closely.
More Muslim history is needed in classrooms. I’ve learned more in the past week in my intensive about Muslim history than I’ve ever done in all of my 12 years in school. This is a wonderful opportunity that my teachers and my school have given me to learn more about my religion.
We were fortunate enough to be sponsored by two local Muslim businesses, Mini-Mogadishu and Babylon. We enjoyed the food they provided for lunches.
My name is Imti Hassan. I identify as a Somali -American, and I’m proud to be a Muslim woman. If I could define myself in three words, I would use compassionate, driven, and active. I’m a student and participate in my community as school president, Model United Nations Captain, a Youth Court Volunteer, and a local canvasser for politics. I am very thankful for my identity; my identity drives me. I believe all societies need diversity and inclusivity so they can flourish. Being involved in my community makes me excited because I love to work toward change. I truly hope to be a changemaker in my community.