A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Behind the byline

START intern’s article on women and Islam goes viral

It wasn’t a choice for Asma Shah to contribute to the larger societal dialogue on the role of women in Islam; it was an innate need to speak a truth she knew but wasn’t seeing anywhere else in print. She had long pondered others’ interpretations, and misinterpretations, about what it meant to be a Muslim woman.

“As a hijab-wearing woman, one of the most aggravating, uneducated comments I hear is that the Islamic rules in general are oppressive towards women,” Shah said.

The uneducated comments fueled her to reflect on her experiences and lessons from the Quran to write a brief – and buzzworthy – article, “5 rights Islam Gave Women before Western Feminism Did.” Since it’s posting in August on Odyssey Online, where she is a content contributor, it’s been viewed nearly 90,000 times and shared half that much.

“This experience taught me that even though I'm young, if I have something worthwhile to share, I should do everything in my power to put it out there,” she said. “There are so many platforms and technologies now that allow for voices to be heard. I’m glad that mine can be one of them.”

Shah writes on a variety of topics ranging from feminism and Islam to the life of college students, a subject she also has firsthand knowledge of. At the University of Maryland, Shah is studying criminology and criminal justice.

Her interest in criminal justice, specifically law enforcement, stems from a desire to understand – and combat – those that commit violence in the name of religion.

“It is personal for me because I am Muslim and I could never fathom why anyone would use my religion as a reason to kill people,” Shah said.

With a dual degree in computer science, Shah hopes to take her law enforcement work beyond the streets, fighting crime through advanced techniques that employ digital automation and maximize cyber security. She has studied hackers, phishing, ransom wear, and firewalls on her own time. This semester, she is advancing her skills in Java and other programming languages to improve with digital automation tasks.

“I’m seeking opportunities that allow me to merge digital skills, criminal justice, programming, algorithms, and law,” she said. “Typically these types of skills are used in isolation, but in the interdisciplinary field of counterterrorism, they all work together.”

Such is the case on her current project at START where she is interning with the Narratives/Counter-narratives project. She conducts research on religious, as well as political and cultural, argumentation for and against violent terrorism.

Shah has also recently completed an internship with the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) and gained an even greater appreciation for law enforcement when her car was broken into. She reported the incident to MCPD and as it turned out, her internship supervisor was assigned the case, and Shah got a firsthand look at the criminal justice process from the initial break-in to the arrest.

Though she’s already had some success as a published author, Shah plans to pursue a career in law enforcement. Her creative endeavors, she said, aid in that pursuit because they help her better organize herself and provide a needed outlet. For instance, she began playing piano as a hobby six years ago.

“More than anything, it has helped me understand how to choose a goal, concentrate, achieve it, and learn a new skill,” Shah said.