By Katherine Brzozowski
“If I can’t live for what I believe in, I am honestly ready to die for it,” said Needa Ali Al-Kadasi, referring to the three-day period in which she was jailed in Yemen and forced to stare down the barrel of gun, held by a man who told her she was only worth a bullet.
Members of the Bahá’ís faith and others in the UMD community met at Stamp Nov. 17 to listen to Al-Kadasi share her story as an interfaith dialogue, primarily touching on her commitment to community service in the face of adversity in the Middle East.
Amanda Behdin, a senior biochemistry major and treasurer of the Bahá’ís club, said that Al-Kadasi’s story spoke to how important it is to be accepting of others, even if their values don’t match up.
Al-Kadasi said her passion for service began in the United States as a high school student, where she went on an exchange program in Delaware and enjoyed the service work so much, she couldn’t stop. When she returned home to Yemen, she said, she taught young girls how to read and write, and volunteered at public schools to educate women for free.
Yemen is a male-dominated country where women are not heard, Al-Kadasi said, and as a woman, you belong to a father or husband; you are not an individual. Women must be accompanied by a male figure when going out, she said, and so her mother was scared for her to serve this way.
It wasn’t until Al-Kadasi joined British Council Global Change Makers that she discovered the Bahá’ís faith. While traveling to the UK and Jordan to learn about volunteering, she met a woman who challenged the beliefs she was raised with living in a traditional Muslim household.
She said she felt moved by the fact that Bahá’ís hearts “must burn with love and kindness for all who cross their path,” and that she learned Bahá’ís were encouraged to respond to hate with love, as well as identify as citizens of mankind.
Bahá’ís believe in one god, one religion and one human race.
“I’m a Hindu, I’m a Jew, I’m a Muslim, I’m all of that,” Al-Kadasi said about her new faith. “[Bahá’ís] don’t have to be either/or, we can be ‘one’.”
Al-Kadasi’s commitment to service, and teaching men and women to achieve unity and work toward world peace through Bahá’ís, eventually landed herself and 60 others in jail.
At one point, Al-Kadasi said a member of the Yemeni militia pointed a gun at her and told her that her worth was just a bullet, that she was not acting like a woman and that she needed to be scared and to cry.
Militia forced her family to sign a document that said they could jail Al-Kadasi’s family if she engaged in any more community service, she said. When she was released from jail, Al-Kadasi said her family was against her because she had brought so much shame to them. But even still, she could not stop serving.
In 2016, Al-Kadasi left her country and her family behind to go to school at Delaware State University and pursue a degree in political science. She continues to do community service there with junior youth groups, where she leads conversations that get young people thinking about peace and unity.
She still talks to her family, she said, but will never discuss with them her Bahá’ís faith.
Ibrahim Bundu, a junior economics major, said he considers UMD to be a diverse and unified community.
“I don’t feel uncomfortable sharing with anyone that I’m Muslim, and I don’t feel uncomfortable that I’m an African American whenever I walk around [on campus],” Bundu said. “But I know that doesn’t exist everywhere that we go.”
According to Bundu, students at UMD may be able to comprehend the Bahá’ís ideals of unity, but it won’t be easy. He said students will realize unity to its full extent as they continue to learn and grow, and as their cultures melt together.
Radiance Thalley, president of the Bahá’ís Club, said the idea of unity is fundamental in understanding mankind.
“If you really believe in the oneness of humanity, then there wouldn’t be such strong identities like ‘I am black,’ or ‘I am white’…because if one of us were hurt and oppressed, we all would feel hurt and oppressed,” Thalley said.
Although this is the last interfaith dialogue hosted by the Bahá’ís club this semester, Thalley said the club plans to hold monthly dialogues starting in January.