Ferial Masry, CSUN alumna and the first Saudi American woman to run for a political office in the U.S., spoke to students Thursday about being a Muslim Saudi woman in America and in American politics.
The lecture was organized by Nayereh Tohidi, director of the new Middle Eastern Studies minor and professor of gender and women’s studies, as part of her class gender, sexuality and Islam in the U.S.
Tohidi said in her class students are looking at the different aspects of Muslim lives in America, discussing family, food, culture, sexuality and their participation in politics.
“We are looking at what is the contribution of Muslims to American politics and I immediately thought of Ferial (Masry) to come and speak to the students about her experience and involvement in American politics,” Tohidi said.
Approximately 30 students attended the 5 p.m. lecture in Jerome Richfield 221.
Masry was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia to an influential, liberal family. During the lecture, Masry spoke of growing up in one of the holiest cities in the world and how that impacted her view of the world.
“As a little girl, I experienced the world in my city because every year people came from all over the world for a spiritual journey (Hajj),” said Masry of her hometown.
From Mecca, Masry moved to Egypt to go to school and then to London where she married her husband. She and her husband came to the United States when she was in her early 20s.
Masry studied to get her teaching credentials and a masters degree in school administration at CSUN and later became a high school teacher. Today she teaches American history and U.S. government at Cleveland High School in Reseda.
Masry’s political career began in the late 1990s when she decided to join the Democratic Party.
“I felt that our system lacked the understanding of the Middle East,” she said. “I felt that as an Arab, as a Muslim, and as a Saudi, I had to join and really try to change minds and try to educate people.”
In 2004, Masry ran for California State Assembly in the 37th district, but did not get elected. Since then she has run three more times, none of which resulted in her election. However, Masry maintains that she did not fail. In her eyes, she has gained international attention and become a role model for Muslim women in and outside of the US.
After her talk, Masry fielded questions from students, ranigng in topics from the hijab to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and how Americans’ perceptions of Muslims have changed since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Students reacted to Masry’s lecture with curiosity and admiration.
“I could tell she was really passionate about what she does. I was amazed that when she entered politics she was able to stay true to herself and where she came from,” said Soraya Barabi, senior women’s studies and psychology major.
Masry appealed to the students to get educated about and to become involved in the political system.
“If I could define Democracy in one word I would say responsibility,” she said. “We are responsible, you cannot give that responsibility to anyone. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”
Masry said she tries to take every opportunity she receives to speak. She hopes to ignite people’s passion for the political system.
“I’m not going to change the world,” she said. “But I try to change what I can.”