Dalia Shehata: Cherishing My Heritage; Following My Heart

Dalia Shehata shares her journey as an American born Egyptian Muslim. She recounts the pride in her cultural heritage, and finding faith through love and gratitude.

My name is Dalia Shehata. I am a 23-year-old college graduate working as a Recruiter in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I am also Muslim.

Identity is something that I have always struggled with. While I am very proud of being an Egyptian Muslim, it has not always been easy. I used to find myself trying to downplay my culture and religion often in front on non-Muslims because I was afraid of the judgment that they may have.

I think something that is often overlooked when we look back on how September 11th 2001 changed the world, is how it would affect the Muslim children in the country. I knew nothing about Middle Eastern conflict as a 4th grader in Pennsylvania. I know that I can speak for a lot of young Muslims when I say that the current political climate has affected so many aspects of day-to-day life. Will the person I’m interviewing think my name is too Arab? Will I get frisked at the airport? Will my aunt in Hijab be assaulted? Although I believe the world is a scarier place with the fear mongering campaigns against the Muslim community, I also believe that it’s also allowed people who do not agree with those statements to step forward and have a voice.

My family is Egyptian. Both my parents were born in Cairo and came to the United States when they were young. I am so lucky to be born in this country but to also share such a rich heritage. I have traveled to Egypt to visit relatives and in the process really allowed myself to take pride in where I came from. My grandparents were the ones who made the decision to leave Egypt and come to America for better opportunities and flourishing education for their families. They are the bravest individuals I know.

When someone takes the initiative to start their life over in a new country, without knowledge of the customs or language, I truly believe that there is nothing more courageous. My grandparents instilled in me some very strong cultural traditions. It wasn’t until I became engaged to my husband that I realized how fun and special so many of the wedding traditions are.

The most important person in my life is my partner and husband, Ryan. When we met, I had no idea how much he would do to be with me. He learned about Islam and became a strong believer in the faith that I cherish. When he converted, he told me that we were meant to find one another, because he was meant to find Allah. The day we got married was the happiest day of my life.

My parents are also biggest influences in my life. I owe them so much of my success. They have taught me to always put good into the world. They taught me no matter what, to remain humble and to thank Allah. Gratitude has essentially become my way in life.

Of course, being born in America and being raised in a very “Americanized” way, there are some traditions that I can’t identify with. When we were in Egypt, during Ramadan and Eid, I was thrilled with how exciting these two holidays are in a Muslim country. There are people praying in the streets, children running around with lanterns and homemade candy, and a wonderful sense of community.

Unfortunately, I have never experienced Ramadan or Eid like that in this country. I might be an oddity to only have one Muslim friend outside of my family, despite being Muslim. However, like I said earlier, I have always struggled with my identity. There are times when I don’t relate to Americans at all, despite being one and often there are times when I feel like an outsider of my own heritage and religion. It’s a blessing and a curse to be different than everyone around you.

I believe my greatest accomplishment as of right now is my college degree. I worked incredibly hard on it and overcame so many obstacles in order to obtain it. It is something that I am proud of not just for myself but also for my family as it showcases all the hopes and dreams they had for me when they left Egypt to come to the United States.

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