Muna: “I covered my hair, not my mind”

Muna, is a thirty-six year old small business owner from Syria. She was born in Latakia, a city on the Mediterranean. She is the youngest of five siblings, and the only girl. She herself has four children, three sons and one daughter. What it means for her to be a woman has been shaped by her religion, culture, and refugee status, but not in the ways that many would imagine.

She has been in Brazil for three years. Before coming, she had no notion of what it would be like to live in the country. “We heard that the economy was very strong (in Brazil) and that my husband could work in his profession. His degree (naval engineering) is international and he can work anywhere in the world. But we discovered later that it was very difficult for him because he didn’t speak Portuguese.”

Just a year ago, she was struggling to create a life for herself. In September 2015 she gave an interview to Revista Crescer and spoke of the need for help and expressed the desire to leave Brazil[1]. Now, at the end of 2016, her life has significantly changed.

Muna loved to cook in Syria. “The kitchen is very important for an Arabic family, all the family must eat together. There is an expectation of different food every day. It’s not like in Brazil; we don’t have this practical life. Our life is more formal, more traditional.” She learned to cook from her mother and soon after arriving in Brazil she began selling to friends at the mosque out of financial necessity. Her business achieved new levels of success when she presented her work to Adus, and they helped her set up the fanpage. She now has over 5000 fans and consistent orders for food. In addition to the economic stability the business has provided her family, it has created incredible new possibilities for her.

In the past year she catered a coffee break for UN Brasil[2], participated in the television show Corre e Costura[3], has given interviews to the LA Times[4] and other media outlets, conducted workshops at the Mercado Municipal[5] and with Migraflix, participated in the V Fórum Empreendedoras[6] and spoken at SEBRAE[7].

In reflecting on this recognition and the incredible journey she’s taken she states, “In Syria, I was a very normal woman. An educated girl, I had a family. I had children. I took care of my family, that’s all. Here in Brazil, it is different now.

Her advice for other women who would like to pursue their dreams of a small business is, “You must be very real and with have great self-confidence. The way that I grew up in my family helped me. Growing up with four men was good for (teaching) me to be strong. (A woman) must imagine (her)self as a very famous chef and make the best. I have luck but I also have my good personality. There are many women who work in Arabic food but haven’t found the same success. You always have to say to yourself, inside and outside, ‘I am very good, I am very beautiful, I am very strong, and I am very clever’. It is a magic medicine. (Insecurity) is a very big problem for women in the world.

Muna is proud of being a Muslim woman and looks forward to opportunities to teach others about the diversity and beauty of what that means. She always says, “I covered my hair, not my mind.” Many people ask her why she wears a scarf (hijab), which she started using at twenty years old, which is later than most women. In her family, she had the freedom to decide when she wanted to wear the scarf. “In my opinion, it is very good for me to be here, to give people a better idea of Islam and Muslims. We are Muslims but we are not like ISIS, we are not fundamentalists. Islam is not like that. Islam is a good way of life. It is a good way for women to live. I give many cooking courses, with Migraflix. It is not only to teach cooking; it is to teach culture. I always want to say: I’m a Muslim woman but I’m very beautiful, I use trousers, I don’t have problems to work. I’m not like that Muslim woman (that people imagine). Islam isn’t like that. Islam is like my life.

She understands that her daughter’s life will be very different from hers, and that is exciting and challenging. “It is a very sensitive thing because we are here in Brazil. Maybe she has more freedom than me. I don’t want her to grow up here in the same way that I did in Syria. The honor of any girl is not just in her body; her honor is in her mind and in her heart. We are Muslim but she has to make more of her mind, to be more free, and make her decisions alone and not with my restrictions.” She strives to raise her children with “Muslim manners and Brazilian personality. The Brazilian personality is more practical.

If you would like to order food from Muna the best way is to contact her through Whatsapp.

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[1] http://revistacrescer.globo.com/Refugiados-no-Brasil/noticia/2015/09/eu-nao-escolhi-vir-para-o-brasil-nao-ha-escolha.html

[2] https://www.facebook.com/munacozinhaarabe/photos/pcb.1675770456015314/1675770389348654/?type=3&theater

[3] http://sobretv.com.br/corre-e-costura-alexandre-herchcovitch-ajuda-casal-de-refugiados-a-se-vestirem-para-um-dia-especial-de-trabalho/

[4] http://graphics.latimes.com/syria-to-brazil/

[5] https://www.facebook.com/premioeducacaoalemdoprato/photos/a.599336083548031.1073741841.316944281787214/599336350214671/?type=3&theater

[6] https://www.facebook.com/RedeMulherEmpreendedora/photos/a.122465197829326.24208.121634567912389/1097231577019345/?type=3&theater

[7] https://www.facebook.com/munacozinhaarabe/photos/a.1640012226257804.1073741830.1621024374823256/1719239585001734/?type=3&theater

***Photo courtesy of Muna