Faces of Rhodes
Noor Eltayech ′14
Hometown: Cordova, TN
By Lydia Holmes ′14
During Noor Eltayech’s senior year of high school, her parents asked her to stay in Memphis because of their emphasis on family unity, “so it was an easy choice,” she says. Coming to Rhodes seemed like a natural fit for Noor. Her love of community service dovetailed perfectly with her Muslim faith when she was offered a job in the Bonner Interfaith office her first year. “I came to Rhodes and I’d always done community service in high school, but I expanded religiously when I came to Rhodes,” she says. After her first year, she applied to the Bonner program and became a Bonner Interfaith Coordinator.
Though she grew up with religion as an important part of her life, her new job was not easy at first. “I view religion as something very personal,” she says, “and I don’t like talking about it or doing anything to disrupt anyone’s peace. It was something that I had to get used to, because it was definitely out of my comfort zone.” Her discomfort faded fast as the college chaplain, Walt Tennyson, sent her to workshops to learn how to talk to people about religion and be a leader to people of other faiths. “I think it’s really helped me develop skills to understand what I believe in and what others believe and how to bridge the gaps,” she says.
As part of a religious minority on campus, Noor says that being Muslim has not been an issue. She was 13 years old when she asked her mother if she could wear the head scarf—the hijab, in Arabic—a Muslim tradition of modesty. She says of this transition, “I actually went up to my mom and said that I really wanted to start wearing the scarf. It was something that really empowered me. I really wanted people to see my thought and my intellect more than the details of physique.”
She says, “Rhodes is very accepting. I’m also very open, so people will come up and ask me questions that might seem offensive, but they’re really not. I would rather them ask me the weirdest question ever than to believe a notion that’s not even true.” She also has the opportunity to share her faith through her work in the interfaith office and her involvement in the Muslim Student Association (MSA).
As the president of MSA this year, Noor is focusing her work on creating an open forum for discussion among Muslim students. “I end up going to Walt a lot with issues, which is funny because he is a Christian chaplain,” she says, “I want something like that to be open to Muslim students.” Not only is she planning Friday activities, such as watching a Canadian comedy called “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” but she also plans to have days of reflection and discussion in gender groups to talk about issues that come up in the lives of the campus’ Muslim students. Among other issues, navigating a balance between religion and academia is typically discussed during MSA meetings. “I think the hardest thing for [Muslim] students is praying five times a day, because you are studying so much. You have to separate yourself from the hectic life and take a few minutes to remember the big picture and evaluate what you are doing,” she says.
Through her education in leadership and faith initiatives at Rhodes, Noor finds she has truly grown. “I am finally learning all of those skills that you are just handed when you first come to college but that you don’t grasp until two or three years into college.”