Köpfe der Zukunft: Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Frauen und Motorsport? Für Yasmin Abdel-Magied kein Traum, sondern tägliche Realität. In unserem Interview spricht sie über die Liebe zu lauten Motoren und schönen Autos. Das Gespräch ist in englischer Sprache verfasst.

KISMET: You have a passion for cars which is not usual and ordinary. Not for women and even less for muslim women. How did you become involved with that?

Yassmin Abdel-Magied: To be honest my love for motorsport only really began when I was in middle school at about 13 years old. I saw a film where a kid was a go kart racer and fell in love with the idea and then began to read more and more about cars, machines, F1 and racing. I remember taking out all the F1 history books from the library and trying to remember all the names of the greats… and realised the beauty of it all!

KISMET: So you´re the first female, Muslim, formula one racing driver. How do the reactions from your surrounding field look like? Are peoples surprised when they hear of your passion?

Oh I am not there yet! But it is definitely a dream I would love to achieve. The reactions have been quite varied – but the level of response and reaction has been really incredible. I have had many people wish me luck and unequivocal support, and I have had others tell me that this isn’t really the place for women, let alone Muslims. I think it actually brings up a lot of other issues that lie beneath the surface as well in terms of gender equality in such a sport and what people think Muslim females can or can’t do. My father is of the opinion that it is better for me to pursue the technical/engineering aspect, while my mother simply said to me – “if you really really want this and you won’t be doing anything that is Islamically incorrect then go for it.” So there has been every extreme and everything in between, but I just do what I do.

KISMET: You were born in Khartoum, raised up in Brisbane, you´ve visited islamic and christian schools and now you´re studying mechanical engineering at the Brisbane university. Did you go through the phase of the lost identity like most people having migration background?

I think everyone that migrates to a different country and grows up in a society that is different to the one they are brought up in will always face an identity challenge, and I am no exception. Alhamdulilah though, having my parents and family around me, as well as having a strong foundation of faith from my Islamic school days helped me immensely. I think it was most difficult during high school, as that is an age where we are all trying to figure out who we are and where we stand in this world, but I found my purpose in life early on Alhamdulilah, and that was to help people, and to have an impact on everyone I meet inshallah. One way I do that is by embracing my more uncommon passions, like cars, and showing people that Muslims aren’t all that different! I think I have grown to enjoy my differences as something to be proud of and to be embraced.

KISMET: Tell me about Youth Without Borders? (When did it start, do you have a team, how was it at the beginning, what are your activities etc.)

YWB actually started as an idea at the end of 2007. It was the four days before my QCST exams (the final exams for year 12, that sets our high school graduating results), and I had been selected to attend a conference called the ‘Asia Pacific Cities Summit’. It was a fantastic experience and as part of the Youth component, 100 young people from around the Asia Pacific came together to talk about change in our region. Something I noticed throughout the four days though, was the although there were many extremely passionate and capable youth in our region, they still competed for funds, still had conflicting interests…even though they were all working on similar issues, trying to help the same people. It led me to think “wouldn’t it be great if there were an organisation whose pure focus is to bring these people and organisations together to work on projects?”. That is essentially how YWB was born. I pitched the idea on a boat trip during the conference and got mixed reception…but I decided to do it anyway. Now here I am! We have a strategic board of three, a management committee of 10 and a membership in Australia of 70 and around the Asia Pacific of about 150. Projects we do range from organising mobile libraries in Indonesia to setting up football teams for marginalised kids in Brisbane, and we are always looking for new places to expand and grow!

KISMET: „Shinpads and Hijabs“ is the soccer team coached by you. Are sports important in your life? What do you want to achieve with this project?

Sports are actually an extremely important part of my life. From being an extremely avid football fan (the biggest one in my family actually), to boxing for the last three years and also cycling, running and going to the gym on a regular basis, I find the importance of healthy living and staying fit imperative for everyone, regardless of gender, religion or race. Shinpads and hijabs is an extraordinary project started by Football United and partnering with YWB – essentially teaching young Muslim girls to play football. We train them at the school and have brought in national champion female soccer players from around the country to show these girls how it is done. Not only do these girls now have an increased sense of confidence in their ability, as well as an increased level of fitness, we have provided these girls with an opportunity they may have never previously been able to access. Some are considering taking up soccer as a full time extracurricular sport and joining and league, and now many parents are more comfortable with their girls playing organised sport more competitively. I am a great believer in sport being one of the great equalisers and football is definitely the world game and a passion for many, so it is great to see it bring change and open the eyes of so many Muslim girls here in Brisbane.

KISMET: Yassmin you´re dedicated to empowering youth in Australia and around the world. What can you do for youth all around the world?

What can I do? That’s a pretty big question I guess! Anything the world needs me to do I guess. I am reluctant to ‘talk for the Muslim Youth’ because we are so varied and all face various issues, but I am dedicated to the concept of empowerment and will work for it wherever in the world I am. For now, that happens to be Australia, but who knows where that might lead me to inshallah. Make no mistake though, I am willing to give it my all!

KISMET: What do you want people to know about Islam and Muslim women?

I guess there are a few things that people should understand – however I will preface this by saying that I am no expert on these matters! In terms of Islam; Islam is an extremely varied and multicultural religion and there are so many

KISMET: Last year you were awarded the Young Queenslander of the Year. How did you feel?

Subhanallah it was amazing! It was so unexpected and I felt extremely humbled and indebted to everyone who has helped me along the way, especially my parents – without whom, I would not be here! It has also given me the amazing opportunity to reach out to so many more people and to learn so much more! Definitely something that I feel blessed to receive and I hope that I can use it to its full potential inshallah.

KISMET: What do you want to reach exactly with your work? Do you have a certain message?

There are a number of things I want to achieve in my life inshallah… nothing so concrete as yet but I want to have a positive impact inshallah on every person I meet; essentially live a life that is worthwhile and that leaves a legacy. I also want to impress this upon everyone I talk to as well; don’t underestimate the impact you can have on someone else’s life. My hope is that inshallah by living, I have made others’ lives better.

KISMET: Yassmin do you think being part of the integration process of muslim youth in Brisbane. Can you change the picture of the oppressed, poor, muslim woman represented in the media through your participation and emancipation? Are you breaking stereotypes?

I would like to think that I am inshallah! In fact, I take pride in doing things in the most unexpected way, and being a mechanical engineering, football loving, F1 aspiring boxer – as well as a female Muslim, does a pretty good job of breaking stereotypes you might say. But also just being open to questions — being able to have conversations about Islam and politics but also the rugby and the cricket – shows people that it I am just another Australian youth and they have nothing to fear. I believe that ignorance is the cause of most prejudice as people fear what they do not know, so if I can help remove that ignorance, then we can inshallah remove any prejudice and fear. I do think we are extremely lucky though in Australia, the system has supported me this far =)

KISMET: How do you see your future and the future of the integration debate around the western society?

To be honest I am not exactly sure. I know it is going to be difficult at times, but also I believe people are ultimately good and are willing to learn, so hopefully we can work with that.

KISMET: Last but not least you´re planning to build your own vehicle? Is this true?

Yes I am! I am saving up for a really good set of tools at the moment, but am searching for a corvette stingray that I can work it. It will probably take a fair few years, but I will love it! In the meantime I might just settle for a regular datsun, but from my previous experience I will also need a ‘daily driving’ car; ones that are being worked on aren’t always completely reliable!

Interviewd by Nermin Ismail.(Picture: DR)

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