| A five year old girl is sitting, her head bent over a piece of wood, concentrating on a verse from the Qur'an at five o’clock in the morning. When the strict, old Imam with his long stick calls her name, his hands relax; he knows Basma* is one of his best students. She recites three verses with perfect Arabic pronunciation; she has memorized one fourth of the Qur’an by age fourteen.
Three years earlier Basma read sura 24 “Nur” which means “light,” verse 31: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty … that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty.”
The girl decided to wear the hijab against the will of her family. “I didn’t want to disobey my elders, but I also wanted to wear the hijab!” The hijab represents modesty, peace and submission to God. It reminds Basma to be conscious of her purpose in life; it keeps her grounded, and protects her.
The driving force behind Basma’s success is her belief in Allah – religion is her anchor. Basma grew up with her mother and five younger brothers in a tent among 200,000 refugees from Western Sahara in the biggest refugee camp in Algeria. Her parents, both educated and liberal, divorced when she was four. Basma left the camp on a quest for education at the tender age of eight, traveling four days and nights by bus to reach the Algerian boarding school. The organization Summer Vacation for Peace repeatedly enabled her to stay with host families in Italy, Spain and France. At fifteen Basma took the entrance examinations for the United World College in Norway and was awarded a full scholarship.
Today, she attends a liberal arts College in the United States. Basma’s childhood in the refugee camp left an indelible mark on her and is the foundation for her religious passion, her desire to see a free Western Saharan nation, and her determination and sense of obligation to excel.
Having been independent from an early age on, Basma always maintained strong ties with her family. Although, according to Basma, “religion did not play that big a role at home,” prayer became the only possible way to stay connected with relatives in the camp.
Since she perceives the Western Saharan society as being “more liberal, because they have been nomads for so long,” she is careful to keep religious purity.
For Basma politics have never been theoretical; she was born in exile after her mother and grandmother fled through the desert to Algeria. The moral codex of her religion determines how Basma evaluates politics. A facebook note reflects her thoughts on Western Sahara’s fate: “What was taken by force can only be gained by force.”
Although she has never set foot on Western Saharan soil, Basma is passionate about its future. She told her friends Western Sahara would be a free nation by 2006; because that date proved to be overly ambitious, she keeps on postponing the date year by year “I know, finally Western Sahara will be free! Although I have never been there I want to go back working as a doctor.”
Many times, Basma has been a cultural and religious ambassador. In Norway “people stopped me and asked me why I was jogging if I was wearing a burka … I had to explain to them, that a burka is not the same as the hijab and that girls wearing the hijab can run, travel alone, become educated, and successful. They can do everything,” says Basma.
She never compromises when it comes to religion. Basma sailed to the Caribbean with Professor Pyle’s crew in January 2007. One time a crew member ran into her as she kneeled on the deck facing Mecca: “I was on guard that night. He was very surprised that I would not interrupt my prayer,” remembers Senia.
Basma separates her religious and personal life from her life as a student.
“Religion is part of her identity, but it is personal, she doesn’t make a statement,” says her Spanish Professor Esther Castro-Cuenca.
She aspires to speak eight languages fluently before the age of 30, and travel to India, South Africa, and Latin America. The nineteen-year-old first-year is fluent in Hassania, classical Arabic, English, French, and Spanish and is a biology major and pre-med student.
“Basma is demanding to herself and wants to be perfect,” says Esther who describes her as incredibly hard working student.
“Basma always finds a way of enjoying what she does… She is very inspirational. From her we can see that we can achieve everything just by practice and patience,” says Long Tuong her roommate from Vietnam.
When Basma needs to let off steam she goes running around upper lake or prays. “I felt really close to God since I was small. People don’t always have solutions but God will help me find one,” says Basma with a smile. “I know God loves me.”
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Marcia C. Schenck
I am a junior studying International Relations, History, and African Studies in the United States, Mount Holyoke College. I was born and raised in Germany and South Africa.
I love learning more about South Africa. I volunteered at a local NGO and interned with the Department of Social Services and Poverty Alleviation last summer. This summer I spent in Geneva at the International Labor Organization. I am passionate about travelling, reading, and writing.
| Sep 25th, 2008
its good particepation
| Sep 26th, 2008
i like this one....where is Basma now?
GREAT EXAMPLE OF DEVOTION SYEDA FATEMA KHATUN
| Oct 2nd, 2008
Basma appears to be a great example of devotion to her faith.She is equally dedicated to her mundane duties and aspirations.Mix of such diverse aspects is rare but her case is a great example to appreciate and follow.
GOOD JOB Hafiidhaturrahmah
| Oct 4th, 2008
thx for sharing Marcia...I learn sumthing today frm Basma
thanks ouzani zohir
| Oct 31st, 2008
its good subject and good particepation
Thanks Abdul Ahad
| Nov 13th, 2008
thnx for sharing such a inspirational journey.
| Nov 9th, 2010
Great piece. I wonder how is Basma doing.
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