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A Muslim leader from South Jersey connects communities and builds bridges

Kevin Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Religious News

“Making friends in Houston, Atlanta, and Rome, Georgia, taught me the distinction between media and people,” said Ejaz. “This hyped-up divide we have really shouldn’t be there.”

It was also in the South, while an Atlanta high school student working as a summer volunteer with the AmeriCorps Vista program, that Ejaz had a formative experience.

She was assisting in classes provided to refugees from Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted by years of conflict between government and rebel forces in the Darfur region in the early 2000s.

“We were working with a brother and sister who were 5 and 7 and very scared when they got here,” Ejaz recalled.

“But after two months they were different kids. Their father would come in to the classroom early and sit in a chair in the corner just to watch them play with other kids. Just to watch them play. I realized that I was helping do something important.”

Ejaz became a U.S. citizen in 2008 and believes it is essential that Muslims and other Americans connect with each other as Americans across boundaries of race, ethnicity, geography, and faith. In recognition of her efforts, Camden County awarded her a MLK Freedom Medal in 2018. The medals are presented to county residents whose community service reflects the goals of the late Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Ejaz is herself a reminder that Muslims are a diverse and far from monolithic group; she is comfortable in traditional dress as well as Western attire, and is a woman of faith who knows how to navigate in the secular world. And her gregarious personality makes it difficult to imagine her as a shy Camden County College student who sat in the back of classrooms so as not to be noticed.

“I didn’t have the confidence to speak up,” said Ejaz, whose manner is as direct as her laugh is mellifluous. “But I had great professors. I learned a lot.”

Later, while earning a B.A. in history at Rowan University, Ejaz struggled to write papers (”my grammar was not good”) and asked history professor Corinne Blake for help.

“She worked very hard to master the conventions of writing, and she ended up doing quite well,” said Blake, now associate dean of Rowan’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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