‘ I did my best to respond to every request and every interview, because I felt it was my duty as an American and as a Muslim.’ —ASMA HASAN ’97
ASMA HASAN ’97 / DENVER
Faith Tradition: Muslim
n the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Asma Hasan ’97 was urgently awakened by her mother, who said the world was ending. Over the next hours, Hasan’s family had the same emotions that millions of other Americans were experiencing—disbelief, terror, grief. Added to the fear of terrorist violence was another worry: What if a fellow Muslim was responsible for the World Trade Center attacks? That fear was of course realized, and as the nation became suddenly aware of al-Qaida and Islam, Hasan’s phone started to ring. And ring. As the author of the 2000 book American Muslims: The New Generation, she found herself in great demand. Within days, she was featured on NPR’s Fresh Air, on Fox News, CNN, and other programs, always pointing to the fact that the vast majority of Muslims were nonviolent and that American Muslims were simply the neighbors next door. “I did my best to respond to every request and every interview, because I felt it was my duty as an American and as a Muslim,” she says. Hasan received so many requests for speaking engagements, interviews, and writing assignments that the newly graduated lawyer decided to postpone her start date at the ﬁrm where she had just been hired. And when she did begin to practice law, it was always with a signiﬁcant ﬁ side career as an author (two other books, Why I Am a Muslim and Red, White, and Muslim have been published) and a public voice for Islam. In 2008, she blogged about the presidential elections for Glamour magazine’s Glamocracy portal, and she has published op-ed pieces on Islam in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and www.forbes.com.
Hasan concedes she has experienced some opposition from conservative Muslims who are upset by her visibility as a professional woman who does not wear a headscarf, and from some non-Muslim Americans who are “very jingoistic and feel that Muslims are here to take over their country.” She sees these groups as “vocal minorities” and says that most readers respond well to her as a U.S.-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants, a patriotic American who calls herself a “Muslim feminist cowgirl.” In part, Hasan’s ability to speak about Islam in a relatable way to a non-Muslim audience was forged at Wellesley, where she served all four years as an al-Muslimat representative to the Multifaith Council. (“I kind of hogged that position!” she laughs. “I loved it.”) In the years since 2001, the U.S. State Department, seeing Hasan as an articulate and friendly spokesperson for both Islam and for the United States, has called upon her to serve as a representative in conversations with Muslim women in France and in Ethiopia, where she was in dialogue with members of Parliament. Despite their own positions, these female legislators were astonished and delighted to see that a fellow Muslim woman had written books and established herself as an attorney. Hasan has also done teleconferences and video conferences often to all-female audiences in Cameroon, Zambia, Senegal, India, the Vatican, and other nations. Representing her country and her religion is a “huge honor,” says Hasan, adding that she would like to do more work for the State Department in the future. “Muslim women all over the world are interested in leadership and looking for ideas.”
Wellesley magazine, fall 2013