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Campaigning for Repeal: 'My hijab made me a target. My brown skin made me a target'

Now I see why so few other Muslim girls chose to voice opinions about the referendum, writes Somaya Mahmud.

Somaya Mahmud Student and activist

IN THE RUN up to the referendum, I knew in my heart of hearts I was setting myself up for a fall.

Friends, family and colleagues alike warned and praised me for being very vocal in my pro choice stance. I knew many girls like me feared speaking up and making themselves a target for the unspoken culture of racism.

Regardless, I chose to press on and remain loud voiced and at times, foul-mouthed with some of the more staunch supporters of the opposing side.

Earned the right to speak

Twenty years into life here, with an Irish passport, I believed I had earned this right to speak. To an overwhelming majority, I was seen as no different. My reasons for my vote was no less valid than their own. They loved me, as a friend and as a sister.

However, to some, that right will never be mine as I am not viewed and never will be viewed as Irish.

As I tirelessly wrote of stories of heartbreak and tragedy in the face of crisis pregnancies, I met people I came to know as my blood brothers and sisters. We were bound by tragedy and a common goal. We wanted to see suffering end. We faced a lot of the same obstacles, we were all called baby murderers and blasphemers.

However, standing in the face of the hurtful comments, we were able to stand strong and at times laugh. We have seen our side misrepresented and parodied. We have seen them shunned and abused. Our laughter, fury and tears felt at times, synchronised. Each individual knew to stand strong. We were an army.

Ireland is my home

In my eyes, I am just a 26-year-old girl going about life in my homeland. I am a hijabi Muslim girl who has grown up not knowing a home other than Dublin.

I am not white. I have gone to school and gone on to pay my taxes. I have treated my Irish passport with the protection and respect it deserves. I have availed of the thousands of resources made available by my country.

At times, Ireland surprised me with gifts I had never thought possible. It blessed me with a scholarship for third level education. It gave me a home. It gave me friends. It gave me a life.

A target

Sadly, life is rarely rose-tinted. Despite my love for Ireland and its people, things are not perfect and proceeded to worsen as the referendum grew nearer. My hijab made me a target. My brown skin made me a target.

Now I see why so few other Muslim girls chose to voice opinions about the referendum. As you’re reading this, I ask of you to think of your Muslim friends, how many expressed their stance? How many have felt safe enough to engage in live debates or to join the hundreds of canvassing groups across the country?

I can comfortably say that with all of the Muslim girls I have conversed with, many were supporters of the pro choice campaign. Yet, few chose to say speak aloud. They chose to whisper instead. They were afraid.

Campaigning

Strangers approached me saying that I have no right to vote on the Constitution. Due to my pro choice stance, I was asked to go to Egypt if I ever required an abortion and “visit your family and maybe make a holiday of it”.

I was told that I would never understand Irish culture. In a small part, I know that is true, I don’t understand a culture of cruelty and negligence. I don’t understand a culture that perpetuates it.

However, I know that that is not Ireland. I know the Irish culture is one that continues to fight for equality and compassion. Being Irish means a smile and a hello in the streets. It means helping those who are struggling, even if at your own expense. It means being unafraid to leave your home without fear of assault based on who you are or what you wear. It means kindness.

Human life

The Muslim community’s choice to overwhelmingly support the pro choice campaign is due to the importance of human life above all else. Potential human life will never equate to or exceed human life in value.

We have and will value lives above all else. For this reason, seeing lives ruined and people butchered, then being likened to the perpetrating monstrosities caused my stomach to sink.

Working with refugees, I have seen lives devastated and families ruined. I have seen pregnancies cause lives already in turmoil to rapidly escalate into tragedy. I have seen the suffering caused by people I been likened to. Yet I continued my attempts to help pick up the pieces of their victims’ lives.

I am not a terrorist. I voted for my clients’ rights, for they have none. In my eyes, I have done right by the women of Ireland, both national and non-national. I have chosen to loudly speak while others remained unable to whisper.

Somaya Mahmud is a student of the Pharmaceutical Sciences. She has also worked in the field of refugee assistance and support via a series of language translation and interpretation services. 

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About the author:

Somaya Mahmud  / Student and activist

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