South Senior Bhaiji advocates for social justice for all people

Singing along to

Singing along to "The Spark" by Afrojack, senior Saarah Bhaiji shows her Titan spirit in the 2016 GBs lip dub. Bhaiji is an advocate for human rights and social justice for all people. Photo courtesy of GBSTV

Madaket Chiarieri and Mia Merchant

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Nelson Mandela ended apartheid in South Africa. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the way to equal rights in America. South senior Saarah Bhaiji isn’t looking to change the world, she just wants to be treated like an equal in her home town.

According to Bhaiji, in middle school, she was judged constantly for being a practicing Muslim. People criticized her based on the headscarf she wore to school everyday.

“When Osama Bin Laden died, people said, ‘I’m sorry your dad died,’” Bhaiji said. “There was horrible stuff that I had to go through in middle school and that’s what made me so strong.”

However, Bhaiji didn’t have to go through these hardships alone. According to Bhaiji, her family and friends have supported her throughout middle school and into high school in her mission to achieve social justice.

Matthew Bertke, Bhaiji’s French teacher, discussed the terrorist attacks in Paris with his students.

[I want them to] understand the difference between the crazy few that taint an image [of Islam] and the peaceful majority that live around us every day,” Bertke said. “[I want to achieve] a comprehension that this is not Islam, this is something else, and that violence and hatred gets us nowhere in this world and we should all just love and respect each other.”

Today, according to Bhaiji, she is heavily involved in spreading social justice to ensure that no one has to go through what she experienced in middle school. She works with Black Lives Matter, a national organization working to achieve freedom and justice for all black people, and attends protesting rallies and marches. Bhaiji is also a part of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), which holds dinners to talk about social activism and how rights can be achieved in society for Muslims.

According to Bhaiji, her first protest was a memorable one. She and her group with the CIOGC rode a bus to downtown Chicago to attend the rally. Bhaiji said that at the rally, the leaders spoke about people who had lost their lives. Then, the march to achieve justice for black lives began.

“What really caught my attention was that there were police officers watching the march, which was amazing,” Bhaiji said. “There are people that believe that we should punish all policemen for what they do…and I was taken aback.”

According to Bhaiji, she was recently stopped by the police for making a wrong turn on the road and the the police officers related her mistake to her religion, telling her to take off her headscarf. She wondered if she would’ve received the same response if she hadn’t had her headscarf on.

“I feel like I can’t make any mistakes on the road or they will take it out on my religion,” Bhaiji said. “[Also, my neighbors] still haven’t gotten used to that fact that I’m a Muslim and that Muslims are not what the media shows.”

According to Bhaiji, she along with her sister Aasiyah Bhaiji, a freshman at South, spoke about social justice in an article written in February of 2016 for the Chicago Tribune. In the article, the sisters talked about standing up against stereotypes and suspicions about Muslim people and terrorism. Saarah hopes to achieve social justice for all people around her by participating in protests and rallies and bringing light to this prevalent issue.

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