Seema Karim and her mother were once stopped on the street by a woman who, upon seeing that the two were wearing headscarves, or hijabs, asked them: "Why are you still wearing that? It's a free country!"
Karim and Muslims across the nation have become the targets of prejudice following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the stereotyping extends to campuses as well, said several Muslim students.
Karim, a senior majoring in biomedical science, is the president of the Sisters United Muslim Association (SUMA) at USF.
She said the Muslim community at USF is a close-knit one, and that it helps Muslims overcome prejudice and loneliness and help one another uphold their religion in a college environment.
Participation in two organizations, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and SUMA, engenders a strong solidarity among Muslims at USF, said Rana Elshamy, a sophomore engineering major.
"We all know each other," she said. "Even if we don't know someone and we see that she is covered (wearing a head scarf, or hijab), we'll say hi."
Yasir Abunamous, the vice president of MSA at USF, was born in Pakistan to Palestinian and Egyptian parents. He said Muslims are forced to weigh their morals against peer pressures. Islam, more than a religion, is a lifestyle, many Muslims said. Shireen Hijaz, a junior majoring in bio-medical sciences, said she feels it is her duty to model an Islamic lifestyle to her peers.
"Islam is a way of life and you're always representing it 24/7 and you have to keep having good morals. You have to keep a good representation of it," Hijaz said.