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Rasheedat's story

Photo of Rasheedat Olarinoye

"Literally, my religion is my liberation"

My faith is my identity. As a Muslim woman I cover my head and I use a head scarf, so visibly I am a Muslim woman and I feel like it is my main identity. When people see me they probably see my hijab first, so it means a lot in that sense. For me it’s been a very personal journey as well. It’s been a journey of self-discovery.

Maybe it’s being in university, or because of the age I am at the moment, but right now I have a lot of questions and a lot of doubts, but the more questions I have and the more I get my answers, the more my faith grows. People think of religion and they think of something that is constant, but it’s constantly evolving. Your personal journey with a religion is always moving. I didn’t used to cover my hair, I started when I got to uni, so for me it’s been constantly trying different things.

Personally, I started covering my hair because I wanted to follow what I needed to do, kind of like how I pray 5 times daily and fasting and things like that. I was born into the religion, even though my mum is a Christian. I always wanted to cover my hair for so long but I was always told ‘yeah, you’re allowed to do the religion, but not to that level’. For me it was a personal victory; I think everyone in my family knew that if I went away to uni I was going to start wearing it, but I think they didn’t expect me to properly cover up straight away. Maybe they expected me to try something like a turban or wraps, but I just went straight in! I was like, ‘I’m free!’ For a lot of people, when they think of uni and freedom they think of other stuff, but for me it was really about dressing more modestly, using the hijab, and doing things a bit more religiously.

Literally, my religion is my liberation. A lot of things I don’t normally do a lot of people assume is because of my religion, but actually I just don’t drink because I would never. I just wouldn’t do that. But yes, it’s Islamic as well. A lot of self-discovery happened for me at uni; I’m learning more about my religion and I’m understanding it more. Like people will walk up to me and ask me to tell them about being Muslim and I’m like ‘I don’t know myself, but I will find out and I’ll get back to you!’ That’s something that Essex brings, like there’s a lot of diversity and people get to ask questions.

The Islamic Society do an event called Discover Islam Week. We have a stall on the squares where people can try hijabs on and people that have questions can just walk up to us and can just have that free access. We also have a day where we invite non-Muslims to come and see where we pray and we show them how we pray, then there’s free food at the end of it. It’s quite interesting. One of the girls I lived with last year, she got back into Islam last year. So she came to our stall and tried on a hijab and she never took it off. It was nice, because sometimes you stand there in the cold and you think ‘why am I doing this’, but even for people that just have questions, we can chat with them and it’s friendly. Like they ask ‘why do you put it on? Is it not too tight? Aren’t you boiling?’ so it gives them a chance to try it and see for themselves.

Another thing we do is charity week, which is around the last week of October, and as a university we choose a charity to donate to. Last year we did it for Little Hearts, which is a charity for less privileged countries to perform heart operations on children. So for that whole week we stayed on the squares and we got members to donate. At the end of the week there’s a big charity dinner and auction. I know last year a cake was auctioned for like £1400. What the Islamic Society does is it provides the members an opportunity to give back. A lot of people want to donate, a lot of people have money to give, so we provide the platform.

For me, the Islamic Society was the foundation that I needed. I remember when I first got here, I was living in South Courts and I dropped off my bags and I went in search of the Islamic Society. I was already stalking them on Facebook and all that so I knew about their multi-faith chaplaincy room, so I went in search of that. The first people that I developed a friendship with were people from the Islamic Society family basically. Even now, when I go home I want to take off my clothes and chill, but we have a lot of restrictions, so where I live, the people I live are Muslims as well. So it was literally the foundation for my whole 3 years. Even right now, every day of Ramadan, I break my fast on campus. The Islamic Society caters for that. They provide food every day, so for me as a student having exams, I can break my fast on campus and then take the safety bus and go home. 

I’m a very impulsive person; things that I want to do, I just do them. So I set up a non-profit organisation when I was in first year and it’s still running. 
The organisation that I set up is to provide a platform for Nigerian youths to come across volunteering opportunities for them to just give back to their community and to develop their skills.
I won £300 through this pitch event that Essex Start-ups did, so that was the money we used to register the organisation as a non-profit, because that was quite expensive. Then a lot of it was just word of mouth. In the first year, we were able to reach out to about 1000 people. What I noticed was, it was easy to set up a new non-profit, but there were thousands of amazing non-profits that weren’t getting enough volunteers, so we were just bridging that gap to make it possible for people to volunteer. So my team and I will reach out to organisations, get them to sign up, then teach them ways to reach out to volunteers, then we publicise on social media. 

I think my wanting to volunteer is a lot about me as a person, but then I think it’s about my religion to some extent as well, because we actually are told to give back. One of the things we have to do is to give Sadaqah regularly (the act of charity given out of compassion love, friendship, religious duty, or generosity). Sadaqah could literally just be you smiling at someone. Then there’s something called Zakat, which is a certain percentage of your earnings you need to give back to the less privileged. There’s a lot of that in the preachings that you learn. Even back home before I came here, the mosque that I was a part of, we had a youth programme and we were doing a lot of that sort of thing, so I guess that’s where I had that background knowledge from.

It’s not something I live by, it’s more like a prayer, and it basically says that God knows what’s in my heart. I’m not your typical religious person. I don’t just sit down and pray, I don’t know how to. I’ll do the normal Rakat, but other people can sit down and say what they want, I always struggle, I’d rather pray for other people, so I just keep saying ‘you know what I want. You know my goals in terms of things I’m aiming for, so I trust you to come through on them.’ That’s something I do regularly, when I’m stuck on what to say in prayer, I say that regularly. 


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