Stern Spotlight: Dena Samad

Courtesy of Islamic Finance Group at NYU.

Written by Jennifer Kim

Armed with this encouragement and the knowledge that other prominent universities like Rutgers and Harvard had an Islamic finance minor and an Islamic finance program respectively, Dena felt confident they had substantial basis for a club that was much needed in Stern.

She knew she was onto something. Islamic finance is an industry worth over $2 trillion dollars, and students deserved to have a chance to learn about it. Rutgers Business School knew it. A university in Malaysia knew it. Harvard University knew it. Now, it was time to bring awareness of the Islamic finance industry to NYU Stern.

Dena Samad first learned about Islamic finance two years ago and was hooked ever since. She learned about the ties to Islamic fashion, about Sukuk (or Islamic) bonds, and about prominent figures in society who engage in Islamic finance, including the CEO of Edible Arrangements. When her friend Essma Bengabsia approached her about starting an Islamic Finance Group at NYU Stern, Dena, understanding the importance of diversifying the most popular subject on campus, jumped at the chance.

The two prepped for months on end. First, they found an advisor at the NYU Islamic Center. Through the help of his network, they received an outpouring of support from different members of society. Armed with this encouragement and the knowledge that other prominent universities like Rutgers and Harvard had an Islamic finance minor and an Islamic finance program respectively, Dena felt confident they had substantial basis for a club that was much needed in Stern.

Dena and Essma met with the Stern Undergraduate College leadership and after discussions, received approval for the club. Dena explained, “This subject was a core part of people’s identities, particularly people in a community that might be misrepresented and misheard.”

Dena added that she “had to make clear our intention is not to create a religious group. We are here for two purposes: to teach people about Islamic finance and to be a safe haven for those who want to learn. Stern prides itself on being a global educator. I’m sure multiple students here would end up going to the Middle East, China or Japan for business or leisure. Greeting people in these countries is different from the American way of greeting. For example, many Muslim women do not engage in handshakes. As one of our topics, we want to teach people how to navigate religious regions and to respect religious greetings. Being aware of religious and cultural beliefs is applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Creating this community with open dialogue and a welcoming environment is a cause with personal ties for Dena. “I’ve lived my whole life with this belief that being Muslim is bad, and that expressing my Muslim side is bad. Sometimes I feel that religious people aren’t as respected as those who are secular, especially in New York. For example, some people believe women who wear hijabs can’t be feminists. I don’t think a person’s hijab should deter them from anything, let alone from being a feminist. I’ve lived my past years being bullied and called a terrorist. This has led me to not openly acknowledging that I am a Muslim in front of others. But I do look Arab, so it’s hard to get away from this perception. College was when I realized that it’s my time for me to make my mark, and I couldn’t do this without embracing all parts of my identity. I didn’t want to leave NYU without leaving the school better than I found it. I want to build the bridge between my religious identity and my workplace, and I want to encourage others to do the same.”

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