Amirah works in the US Department of State as a Foreign Services Officer. She has worked in countries such as Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia as a U.S. Diplomat and has worked alongside political figures such as Hillary Clinton. In addition to her political work, she has been playing the violin and piano for over fifteen years and performs regularly with a symphony orchestra in Washington DC.
|1. Tell us a little about the work you do and your background.
I am a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. As a U.S. diplomat, my mission is to promote peace and prosperity around the world, protect American citizens, and advance U.S. foreign policy goals. I currently work in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor. Prior to this assignment, I spent three years in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs where I was responsible for engaging foreign media and coordinating public diplomacy efforts with our embassies across the region. I earned my M.A. in Middle East Studies from George Washington University, and graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in Global Studies and B.S. in Justice Studies.
|2. How did you become interested in the Foreign Service?
My family has always been committed to public service—as volunteers, teachers, and doctors—and they instilled in me the interest in incorporating public service into my own career. Three years ago, I got the opportunity to complete an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and had an amazing experience there. I didn’t know much about the Foreign Service before my internship, and by the end of it, I had learned a lot and gotten a great preview of a future career. I’ve also spent the past few years working in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, an experience which has further strengthened my conviction that this is the right path for me.
|3. You have done some work in some Arab countries like Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia. How do you feel the reception has been from people of these countries to Americans?
I feel like my background as an Arab-American and Muslim-American has in itself made me a sort of walking public diplomacy tool overseas. During my time working at the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca, for example, I volunteered at a summer camp for children, where I read stories and was able to speak directly to them in Arabic. They were so amazed to learn I was not just Arab and Muslim, but American as well. They had thought that all Americans were white, blonde, Christian, thought a certain way, dressed and acted a certain way, did not like or understand Muslims…Meeting me and hearing me talk about my life in the U.S. provided a living example that shattered stereotypes and misconceptions, and helped build bridges of understanding through dialogue. That’s a key part of what the Foreign Service is all about, and what I hope to accomplish during my career.
|4. How have you felt you have been received as a Muslim working in the US government?
I have always felt part of the team, and proud that I help represent the rich diversity of America. My personal background gives me a nuanced insight into the language, culture, worldview, and history of Islam. This insight allows me to offer an extra contribution to the work of the State Department, as the United States engages Muslims around the world in support of the new beginning that President Obama outlined in his landmark speech in Cairo.
|5. Do you often get asked questions about your religion? What is the most common question you get asked about Islam?
Answering questions about Islam is something I’ve done since elementary school (haha)! I am always happy to take the time to answer questions, and I make sure that people know they can approach me anytime if they are curious about something.
The most common topics people ask me about are women in Islam, jihad, and Ramadan.
|6. How do you feel being a Muslim woman has helped you in your career? Life in general?
I have always sought to be honest, hardworking and humble, to seek knowledge, volunteer, and be respectful and fair toward others. All of these are values celebrated in Islam, and they have helped guide me toward sound decisions in my academic and professional careers.
|7. What advice do you give to other Muslim women who are interested in going into government/political work?
Go for it! There are so many opportunities out there, and so many historic and modern role models of vibrant Muslim women leaders. You can be the next one.
|8. Have you met many other Muslim women also working in similar positions as you?
Yes–in fact, I meet them all the time! I have truly enjoyed getting to know and work with such amazing colleagues.
|9. Have you met any inspirational Muslim women through your work?
I have met so many impressive Muslim women through my work during the past few years. I will never forget, for example, the inspirational delegates I met at the 2010 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, which brought together Muslim entrepreneurs from around the world to share ideas and build partnerships. There were so many phenomenal Muslim women there, of all ages, who had overcome obstacles to lead innovative projects that had a lasting, positive impact on their local communities, and beyond. I admire those women, and hope I can someday become as accomplished as they are.
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