TORONTO – Twin hijabi Muslim sisters are set to compete against each other in one of the country’s most prestigious science competitions, fulfilling their passion for science as well as clearing misconceptions about Muslim women.
“We don’t see it as we’re competing against each other, but that we’re helping each other out,” Faiyza Alam told CTV News Channel.
“We’re seeing it as an opportunity that we both get to enjoy.”
Faiyza and Aqsa Alam will be participating in the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition, which kicks off in Toronto on Wednesday.
Deemed as one of the country’s most prestigious science competitions, the contest sees students pursue real-world research projects with the help of a mentor.
Past research projects at the competition have focused on several different areas of research, including diseases, agriculture and the environment.
Participating in the competition, the 18-year-old twin sisters will compete against other students as well as against each other.
“We always do our projects together, regardless of if we’re in class or on opposite sides during a presentation,” Aqsa said.
“We always feel like we’re supporting each other, and if one twin happens to win it’s an accomplishment for both of us.”
Their love for science will be reflected in their projects with Faiyza’s project combining her passion for biology and engineering.
“I’m creating a device that can stretch cells using light,” she said, noting it could have potential applications in diagnostic medicine.
On the other hand, her twin sister, Aqsa, will be focusing on examining the effects of putting saffron on the white blood cells found in mice.
“We got some quite promising results,” she said, noting that saffron has long been used for its medicinal qualities.
“Most people would consider it a common kitchen spice, but it actually has a lot of amazing properties – anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory.”
The success of the twin sisters offered a drive for other girls to pursue a career in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math).
“We realized we enjoyed (science),” Faiyza Alam said. “If other girls don’t enjoy it, that really is up to them. Perhaps they enjoy other subjects; perhaps they don’t know yet what they enjoy.
“But I say encourage them to keep learning.”
Her sister agrees, adding that it is always important to stay curious.
“Its origin is in curiosity and learning,” Aqsa Alam said.
“I find if people enter the science field with the intention of being a doctor or an engineer, it doesn’t push them as much as a genuine interest in the subject does.”
Muslims represent 3.2% of Canada’s total population.
Muslims are the fastest growing religious community in Canada, according to the country’s statistical agency, Statistics Canada.
Canada’s Muslim population increased by 82 percent over the past decade – from about 579,000 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2011.