WASHINGTON – Becoming a role model for Muslim women worldwide, Rumana Ahmed is the only hijabi employee in six US Muslims who work in the white house, expressing enthusiasm to serve their country.
“First of all, I couldn’t believe I was in this building. I was a little over-conscious of how people might be looking at me,” Ahmed, who works as an advisor to US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, told Al Arabiya about joining work in the White House.
However, “people were so nice, they looked at me just like they looked at every single other person. Ben, my boss, has given me exciting opportunities to be in front of the president. Every time I’m there, I keep wondering if I’m standing out as being a hijabi.”
Ahmed is the most senior Muslim working for Rhodes.
She joined politics in 2008 after she saw the then-candidate Barack Obama talk about hope and change.
She was first hired as an intern in July 2009 in the office of presidential correspondence, and later promoted as staff in the office of public engagement.
There, she worked on the Champions of Change program, which she said “was really about lifting everyday Americans, whether it was the work they were doing in their communities for gun-violence prevention, or healthcare enrolment. But it also brought people together to have them share resources.”
Through her work at the White House, she connected people passionate about various causes.
“It was really exciting because I got to lift up voices and convene people, like in iftars and the president’s roundtable last year,” she said.
“One thing that, looking back, I never really realized was that even though you’re a young person, I think a question that people ask is, ‘do people take you seriously for being young, for being Muslim American?’”
Being the only hijabi woman in the White House was a great experience for Ahmed.
“I actually felt empowered being a hijabi, because I think people came to me to ask for my perspective and valued my perspective, because they knew that I brought a different perspective,” Ahmed, who is born to Bangladeshi parents, said.
Meeting her favorite actor Adam Scott, she discovered other benefits for hijab.
“He asked me about my background, my experience working here and covering my hair, and he said: ‘I want my daughter to grow up to be you’,” she recalled.
Ahmed says her position at the White House is a symbol of the administration’s support for diversity, which includes Muslims.
During an official trip to a conference in Morocco, she discovered the hope she offers when a young Palestinian participant approached her in disbelief that the White House could employ a covered Muslim woman.
Rhodes told Al Arabiya English that Ahmed “is a great American success story, and a terrific representative of our country and its values. I rely on her every day, and she supports our work on everything from our support for global entrepreneurship to our engagement with the Muslim community; from the rebalance to Asia, to our normalization with Cuba.”
She “deeply values her country and her faith, and shows by way of example that those two things aren’t in conflict, but instead complimentary.
“Moreover, she’s always mindful of the example that she sets for others, particularly young Muslims who wonder about their place in America.”