Ruqayyah is a first-generation immigrant and practicing Muslim. Like many Muslim women, she chooses to wear a headscarf, or hijab, as a reflection of her beliefs.
“You don’t always get the best reactions when you’re making a statement about your religion especially when you’re wearing it on your head,” she says. “In the past, I almost felt like an outsider because everyone else looks physically different from you and you don’t feel like you fit in.”
In June of 2018, Ruqayyah was beginning an advertising internship in NYC. The beginning of June also marked the second half of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month during which Muslims are called upon to fast from sunrise to sundown. During orientation, Ruqayyah and the other interns toured agencies in the city. At one of them, Ruqayyah was listening to a talk from a staff member when she realized it was time for her to pray, as she does five times each day throughout the year. Stepping out, she asked an employee if she could have a small corner to pray in. But instead of giving her a corner, the woman she approached stopped what she was doing and helped her find a private room with a carpeted floor.
“The kindness of this gesture has stuck with me ever since,” says Ruqayyah. “I vividly remember a woman getting up from her work to go from the 9th floor to the 11th floor to find me a place to pray.”
At the next agency she toured, Ruqayyah spoke to the receptionist, who immediately offered her the agency’s relaxation room.
“I was really tired from fasting all day, and felt like I was inconveniencing him by asking. His response was really reassuring, and he told me I should never feel bad for asking for what I need.”
For Ruqayyah, it wasn’t just what the people at both agencies did — it was how they did it.
“It meant a lot that they didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or awkward. A lot of Muslims don’t pray during the work day because they don’t want to be looked at or judged. On the flip side, I’m grateful that they didn’t talk about how cool it was that I needed to pray — they were totally casual about it. Being accepted is great, but by making a big deal of it, you’re not making it normal.”
Since orientation, Ruqayyah shared her story on Twitter and was pleasantly surprised to see many advertising executives retweet her post.
“Diversity and inclusion can definitely be touchy issues, so I was glad to send a message that was heard both by Muslim and advertising professionals.”