Hajer Al-Faham, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, is an Iraqi refugee who came to the U.S. as a young child in the early 1990s. “In school, whenever we learned about Muslims or Arabs, it was in the context of a political crisis or political violence,” she says. “But these were not the experiences I had in my faith community or my cultural community. These stereotyped images and simplistic stories drew me to academia.”
Al-Faham studies the intersecting politics of race, immigration, and religion, with an emphasis on Muslim and Arab populations. Her data-driven research investigates how people respond to discrimination: Does being part of an unpopular group mobilize people to engage more in politics, or cause them withdraw from the political sphere? For her first published research project, Al-Faham found that Muslim American women experienced a form of gendered racialization—such as discrimination based on religious dress—that affected their day-to-day lives in powerful ways.
She is determined to advance research that lawmakers can apply in designing policies that are “sensitive and respectful” to Muslims and will better integrate them into American society instead of causing “heightened marginalization.”
Al-Faham, who received the 2017 Muslim Women's Justice Award through the Islamic Scholarship Fund, considers engaging young people to be just as valuable as producing data to guide fair policy development. As a teaching assistant for a constitutional law course, she pushes her students to challenge their own perspectives.
“I don’t want to shape anything they say in class, so I don’t tell them I’m Muslim until the end of the semester. My hope is that they then think of me the next time they think about Muslims, rather than the stereotypes they see on TV.”