Posted December 12, 2017
Nayrus Ibrahim’s first memories are of the civil war in Somalia. “I didn’t know another world existed beyond where I lived. People were getting killed, that didn’t bother me. The gun (shots) everyday non-stop, that didn’t bother me because that’s like everyday life,” she said. “You would see people wounded and being dragged across the street to get them help. That was the kind of life.” Ibrahim was born in Kenya, moved to Somalia and then back to Kenya at the age of six before immigrating to Eden Prairie, Minn. when she was 11. When she began school, she couldn’t speak English and was at a preschool level. Despite this, Ibrahim graduated high school with the rest of her class just seven years later at age 18. Now, she is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls studying marketing communications.
“It’s a really great campus, I just wish it was more diverse than it is right now,” Ibrahim said.
Living in bigger cities her whole life, she envisioned UWRF to be more diverse but was disappointed when she realized there weren’t as many non-white students as she expected. She has been able to make connections with other students like her through programs that support minority students like the Pathways and Aspire programs. “I knew the Muslim community was going to be pretty low here but I thought there would be more black people here, more Mexican, more of darker races,” she said. “That’s just something that I came to realize is there’s not much darker skinned people here. Don’t get me wrong, I get along with everyone but in my mind I thought there would be more darker skinned people here.”
When Ibrahim made the decision to go to college, her family wasn’t totally behind her at first. “My culture, they’re not supportive of anything. That’s just a fact. If you want to do something, you have to be the adult one and convince them and stand for your own opinion and say ‘I will do this no matter what.’ If you fail, you prove them right. If you didn’t fail, you prove them wrong. That’s just how it is,” she said. “I’m not the type of person that proves people wrong I just do what I want. Whether my family likes it or not that’s their problem.”
To earn money, Ibrahim works in the University Center at Erbert and Gerbert’s making sub sandwiches. She has experience doing office work and applied for many jobs on campus but settled for the food service job. She came to UWRF with a vision for herself. “(There was a) part of me that wanted to make something out of myself,” she said. “I wanted to get money that I earned, I wanted to live in a house that I owned, I wanted to own a car that I owned and I also didn’t want government help because most of my ethnicity is into government help because we came from a country in a war and we’re still trying to adjust from it.”
Ibrahim, right, works out regularly in the Falcon Center. Sometimes she attends group classes such as boot camp or runs on the treadmill by herself. “It’s kind of my personal goal. I gained weight over my high school years,” she said. “It’s my way of trying to get back to how I used to feel and getting my self esteem back.”
In between work, classes and other activities, Ibrahim makes time to pray twice a day. “Sometimes I miss prayer but I ask God for forgiveness,” she said. Before she can begin, she performs wudu.
Wudu is the act of cleaning oneself before prayer. Ibrahim uses the sink in her dorm bathroom to wash her hands, mouth, nose, each hand three times, ears, hairline, legs and feet.
Nayrus puts on a hijab and a skirt before beginning prayer. She wears a hijab most of the time when she is on campus. “We as Muslims required to do it but based on culture some people don’t do it. It actually confuses some people,” she said. “I was forced to wear it since I was seven years old but as I got older it was my choice.”
She has a designated area in her dorm room that she uses to pray with a rug called a salli. She and her roommate decided to find different roommates after it became uncomfortable between the two of them. “It’s not a big deal, we’re just too different. There’s some religious tensions going on,” she said. “I’ve moved around a lot in my life and I’m used to different people and she’s not.”
Despite her desire for more diversity at UWRF, Ibrahim feels welcome here. “Everybody’s been so welcoming, so nice,” she said. “I haven’t noticed anybody judging me for my religion and even if they did, I’m the last person to notice because I always look for the best in people.” She wants to become a leader and help to make the campus more diverse. She recently became the secretary of the Feminist Club and plans to run for president of the Black Student Union next year and run for a position in Student Senate in the spring.
Ibrahim has made a few other Muslim friends on campus in her dorm. “We don’t talk religion,” she said. “We’re just cool. We see each other. We study sometimes together because we have similar classes because of Pathways.” Other friendships she had made through the Pathways and Aspire programs. Ibrahim laughs with her friend Stella Folly, also a freshman, and another friend at a basketball game in Page Arena, Dec. 10, 2017.
The Pathways Program is a support program for first-year students who are non-native English speakers. Pathways is designed to be a two-semester program where elective courses such as General Psychology are taken alongside a correlating English as a Second Language course. Director of Pathways Diane Jacobson, left, leads the ESL course that corresponds with Ibrahim’s General Psychology course. Jacobson covers the same material and vocabulary as the professor teaching the psychology course.
Ibrahim laughs with others during an Aspire event in the University Center Dec. 11. The Aspire Program is designated for students of color, low income and first generation college students. Incoming students are mentored by upperclassmen to help them get through their first year on campus. Nayrus hasn’t met her mentor but she still feels like the program has helped her. “They do have fun events. They have really nice events and they have great involvement. So I really don’t feel like I needed a mentor to begin with,” she said.
Ibrahim spent the past summer learning Arabic in order to memorize the Quran before she graduates. After she graduates, she plans to attend graduate school. “After that, wherever God takes me,” she said. “I just want to better myself as a human in my education and my religion and just make myself happy. I don’t care about anyone else.”
The article may be found online at https://uwrfjournalism.org/2017/uw-river-falls-is-another-world-for-a-muslim-female-student-from-somalia/.