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How one lawyer is making education more accessible for students


With the pandemic, there are new problems to solve. It has truly shown different ways in which our policy systems are broken and the need for reform. One of the main issues include how the need for scholarships has magnified. This is particularly true for marginalized communities who may be at a disadvantage.

Salman Ravala, Esq., an attorney in New York City, saw the need for funding students to pursue their education long before the pandemic. He is the Founder of Dollar-A-Day Scholarship Fund and a member of the Board of Trustees at Scholarship America. Ravala leads a variety of access to justice and access to higher education initiatives around the United States and globally. In between being recently appointed as a Life Fellow of the New York Bar Foundation and teaching at New York Law School, Ravala is a strong advocate and supporter of making college accessible and affordable to all students in the United States and around the world, particularly those from underrepresented groups. Currently, Ravala's involvement with the Advisory Council at Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF) has led to two Muslim students to pursue their dreams.

Mobeen Farooq Chaudhry is attending University of Chicago. Chaudhry is interested in the intersection of law, technology, and civil society. Prior to entering law school, he worked as a data strategist at Google, and holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Illinois Chicago, where his research focused on the impact of mass media on women's attitudes towards domestic violence in Pakistan. Previously, Chaudhry was a regular volunteer at the community center Ta'leef Chicago and looks forward to becoming more involved in civic engagement and volunteer groups with the new school year. He plans to take part in the Pro Bono Service Initiative, which is a pledge to commit at least fifty hours participating in one of the legal clinics on campus that allows students to work on real cases across a wide variety of fields, including environmental, criminal, housing, immigration, and other areas of law.

For Chaudhry, ISF has been invaluable.

"ISF goes out of their way to connect students with alumni and resources to help them find mentorship and make opportunities available that would be difficult to know about or come by otherwise," Chaudhry says.

After being selected as an ISF scholarship recipient, Chaudhry was approached about opportunities and offered connections with industry professionals to help students build a network.

"It's incredibly uplifting and encouraging to be a student and knowing that there's an entire team dedicated to helping you be successful in whatever career path you've chosen," Chaudhry adds.

ISF has been important for Muslims because of the faith's ethical tradition. Many students try their best to avoid interest-bearing loans as that can be cost-prohibitive and also in line with what Islam outlines. Thus, for students like Chaudhry, ISF is not only important for each year's single cohort, but for the institution that it builds and expands over time of people committed to putting their faith in practice through their work, advocating on behalf of Muslims and Islam, and advocating and helping the world at large.

Similarly, Masooma Haider, who originally hails from Chicago, is also an ISF awardee. She will be starting Harvard Law School this fall. Haider graduated from University of Illinois Chicago with dual degrees in political science and biology. Before law school, Masooma also completed her master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Social Sciences Division, where she wrote a thesis on Muslim American identity formation and a new wave of Muslim American civic participation. Her pursuit of a career in law and policy reflects her commitment to fighting against the discrimination of Muslims and other minorities in the U.S, especially in the context of policies that unjustly securitize Muslim Americans. Her other professional interests include civil and human rights, minority studies, health equity, fair Muslim media representation, and social & racial justice reform. Haider aspires to become a trailblazer for her community.

"By pursuing a legal degree, I hope I can open the door to others, especially Muslim women, to pursue a non-traditional career path as well, and I aim to lead by example. I aim to work in a public interest legal position and would like my work to be directly associated with alleviating the obstacles and issues facing the Muslim American as well as other immigrant and minority communities," Haider says.

For Haider, becoming a lawyer and entering this field of work is tied to her life's goals of giving back to her community. In Chicago, she served as president of her high school Muslim Student Association along with editor-in-chief and president of her college social justice/global affairs publication OneWorld Journal. Haider mentors youth in the Muslim Americans along their educational and career paths. She also makes it a point to regularly attend mosque events and gatherings and be an active member of the community so that she is tuned into and aware of what issues are affecting the community and where help is most needed.

ISF has helped Haider tremendously. She knows of individuals who deferred or decided against law school because they could not afford the costs.

"The existence of a scholarship specifically for Muslim American students (and women) pursuing non-traditional paths like myself, who have a unique set of disadvantages that unfortunately are not often acknowledged or known, is an incredible boon for our community. Pursuing a non-traditional path itself was not easy, and having a scholarship that recognizes and supports that is amazing," Haider says.

In the future, Haider hopes ISF will help her and the future generation to live in this country with a sense of belonging. As a Muslim, she feels proud of the work ISF is doing because it aligns with the Islamic value that considers the whole community as one entity. Haider mentions a prophetic saying which she uses as a guiding principle in her work: "A believer is the brother of another believer, like a single body. If any part of him suffers, he will feel its pain in his entire body; and their souls are also made of one soul."

As a Muslim, for Haider and her community, it's essential to give back and uplift. It's not enough to "not kick the ladder out from under myself," She thinks it's important to "build the ladder, hold the ladder, and indeed give a hand to those below."

Ravala and others are continuously at the forefront to build this ladder to ensure that organizations like ISF embody values and principles that promote education that is accessible and affordable for students like Haider and Chaudhry. Doing so has embedded a sense of giving back to the community.

“Service to others is the bedrock of a true professional’s work. As a lawyer, I am committed to promoting greater representation of underrepresented and marginalized communities in the legal profession, and ensuring that access to legal education is seen as an access to justice issue,” Ravala says.

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I write about culture, politics, parenting, religion, and health. My work has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Vox and Prism Reports among others.

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