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Journalism major goes behind the veil to learn about Muslim religion

April 29, 2013

Brittany Morris, a junior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has been awarded a research scholarship from the Center for Religion and Conflict to travel to Kuwait to study the participation of Muslim women in civil society.

The Arizona native grew up with the lush landscape of Pinetop at her door before moving to Mesa. As a child, Morris enjoyed immersing herself in writing and reading books. Her mother, a die-hard Sun Devil fan, would frequently share stories about attending Arizona State University.

It’s only fitting that when it came time to select a college, she only applied to ASU and sought a career in journalism so she could one day report on current events.

It was with help of her cousin, a member of the United States Air Force, that she was able to discover a fascination with the Middle East. While on deployment to Kuwait and Iraq, he would send her local newspapers written in Arabic and Farsi. Morris then became “obsessed” with learning about the land and the Muslim culture.

“I started reading literature and nonfiction about the Middle East. I also began following the news surrounding the war and they way the news was covered. I became very passionate about becoming a journalist to debunk the crazy news,” she said.

While walking around campus, Morris noticed that many female students wore a veil or burqa to cover their face and head. She then asked her Arabic professor, Souad T. Ali, for some background information on the custom. From there her interest in the Muslim culture grew into a point of focus for her student research.

Morris began attending events held by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, where she found a common belief in the need for peace and understanding among different religious groups and cultures.

“I love the center. They aren’t afraid to cover hotbed topics throughout the world including aspects of Islam,” she said.

The relationship she began building with the center led to a fellowship to focus her research on the effect of veil bans for Muslim women. Morris traveled to France to collect firsthand accounts. She says that many of the women she spoke with who could not wear a veil under the new law were met with criticism, had been raped or knew women that were killed. They felt that wearing a veil would offer them protection and allow them to showcase their knowledge instead of their looks. Others felt that wearing a veil was a family tradition and a way to own their Muslim identity.

With the help of the Friends of the Center scholarship, Morris will soon travel to Kuwait on a study abroad trip offered through the School of International Languages and Cultures to examine the role of education in Muslim women’s empowerment. Students will also study Arabic and Islamic culture/literature. The opportunity brings together her prior research of women’s experiences and the impact of education.

The biggest lesson she has learned through her research is that opening one door may solve a problem, but it also brings forth many new questions to ponder. On the other hand, the unexpected outcomes keep her research interesting.

Morris is expected to graduate in May of 2014, but is already looking forward to applying to the skills she has learned in the classroom.

“I’m excited to be able put my skills and passion into helping women in the Middle East. I really love school but I’m ready to go out and save the world,” she said.

To save the world, Morris plans to travel to places such as India, Afghanistan and Kuwait spreading a message of peace. In the future she would like to become a K-12 teacher

“When I volunteered with Teach for America I was able to work with youngsters and I really enjoyed it. I’m also considering joining AmeriCorps,” she said.