By Patrick Donachie
Hunter College student Faiza Masood, who lives in Middle Village, is one of the recipients of this year’s Marshall Scholarship, offered to a select number of students throughout the country. An Islamic Studies major, she hopes to offer a fresh and independent voice to intellectual conversations on her faith.
“It was such an extensive process and it took a lot of time,” Masood said in an interview about the famed scholarship, founded in 1953 in honor of the late Secretary of State George C. Marshall. “It was a miracle and I was so grateful.”
Masood is one of only two students in New York state to receive the scholarship this year, out of a nationwide group of 40 students. She is the first Hunter College student to be granted the honor. Masood intends to use the scholarship to earn a master’s degree studying Islamic law with an emphasis on gender studies and family law at the University of London or Oxford.
Masood said she knew she wanted to major in religion from her freshman year and was also interested in exploring different religions and her Muslim faith from different perspectives. She also learned Arabic to study advanced scholarship texts and studied abroad in Morocco and Jordan. She hopes to bring a unique perspective to Islamic scholarship.
“We need more female opinions within this field. I feel like I represent a Muslim and female voice within Islamic scholarship and that means a lot because there are very few Muslim women in this field,” she said. “If males are dominating the field, they’re not going to highlight women’s issues and family issues.”
Masood attended a small religious school in Queens with 10 students in her graduating class, according to Hunter College. Her parents emigrated from Pakistan, with her father working in candy stores for much of his life and her mother serving as a homemaker. Masood has three older sisters, including one named Hajara, who is also studying religion at Hunter College. Masood’s parents did not take a vacation so they could save money for their children’s education.
Masood credited several professors at Hunter College for helping her to prepare for the interview process in attaining a Marshall scholarship, including Barbara Sproul and Christopher Stone, as well as Professor Bert Breiner, who she said inspired her to go into the field of religious scholarship. She would eventually like to be a professor at a public university like Hunter College, part of the City University of New York system.
Masood said she emphasized the lack of available voices in Islamic scholarship in public institutions like Hunter during her Marshall scholarship interview. Many Ivy League schools, she said, have strong Islamic Studies programs, but often those programs and universities are unaffordable for many students. As a religion major, she wanted to offer people the opportunity to learn about her religion through the prism of faith.
“People are curious and want to learn about Islam. They ask questions about Islam to me, and I just wish there were more opportunities to learn, because unfortunately most people hear about Islam from the news or other media outlets,” she said. “That’s what’s motivating me in my studies — to be part of that dialogue.”
Masood will graduate from Hunter next year. In addition to her major, Masood has minored in Arabic Studies and Asian American Studies.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona