“The person with the most selfies at dawn prayers gets a prize”

“The person with the most selfies at dawn prayers gets a prize”

Series: A room of one's own

28-02-2023 · Interview

Chaymae Affani (21, German/Moroccan), a third-year student of Digital Society, lives in a 15 m2 room on Capucijnenstraat. She spends 485 euros per month on rent.

It’s the first thing you notice when you enter Chaymae Affani’s room. The rug, the throw blanket on the bed, the curtains, the small table, the MacBook, the keyboard and the mouse – they’re all pink. Affani is even wearing a pink dress today. She looks around. “I hadn’t really noticed it until now”, she laughs. Why pink? “No particular reason, I just think it’s a pretty colour.”

Ethical hacking

The stereotype of a tech-savvy person is a man with unkempt hair, small glasses, wrinkled clothes, and a room filled with empty pizza boxes and other rubbish. In other words, the exact opposite of Affani, who is wearing a headscarf and a wide dress that falls to her ankles. But looks can be deceiving. She wants to become an ethical hacker, someone who tries to break in to the digital environment of companies and organisations to help them improve their security. “In many ways, the internet is still unexplored territory. There are so many ways to steal data. Large companies are exploiting us in broad daylight. We deserve personal data protection. That’s why ethical hacking is so important. I’m currently watching a TV show about a hacker, Mr. Robot. It’s about someone who works as a cyber security expert by day and hacks corrupt, powerful people by night.”

Her degree programme, Digital Society, mainly focuses on the ethical and philosophical aspects of the digital world, but she also likes to learn about the more technical side. “I’m considering getting a bachelor’s degree in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence after this.” A second degree comes with a hefty price tag, but it’s worth it to her. “I’ll work hard for it. I’ve always been interested in the internet and artificial intelligence.” She voluntarily does the digital security at MSA Nour, an association for Muslim students in Maastricht. She is also serving as its secretary this year. “I’m taking an online course for ethical hacking.”

Muslim student association

Her religion is also displayed in her room; there’s a prayer rug on the floor, and several books about Islam on the windowsill. “Religion is the most important thing in my life.” Affani prays five times per day, reads the Qur’an “about five times per week”, only eats halal meat, doesn’t drink and is “constantly seeking Islamic knowledge”. This means she looks for the meaning behind Islamic texts and practices in books, on the internet or in conversations with others. “It’s my way of rediscovering the religion my parents passed on to me.”

She has those conversations with other MSA Nour members, for example. They motivate each other, says Affani. “We have a group chat where we send pictures of ourselves at dawn prayers to show each other that we got out of bed for them. The person with the most selfies at the end of the month gets a prize.”

Prayer is very important to her. “Allah asks us to pray, and His will is what matters most. Prayer makes me grateful for small, taken-for-granted things. The fact that I can breathe, for example – I’m so grateful He gave me that.” She sees praying as a conversation with Allah, she says. “No matter what’s going on in my life, He always listens to me.”

A kind word or a smile

Affani is not just the secretary of the association, but also the head of its charity committee. “I spend about eight to twenty hours per week on association work, depending on the week.” They currently have 92 members. The vast majority – “about eighty” – are UM students, but other students (HBO and MBO) are very welcome to join.

One of the activities MSA Nour is currently planning is to “hand out motivational notes” from stands at university library entrances, says Affani. “In Islam, saying a kind word or giving someone a smile is seen as a form of charity.” What will the notes say? “Things like ‘Don’t give up’ or ‘With hardship comes ease’.” They are also about to launch a fundraising campaign together with other Muslim student associations across the Netherlands. “We’ll raise money for education in Somalia, for children who have no money to buy books, for example.”

Company logo

On the pink table sits a pink crate with balls of yarn. Crocheting is one of her favourite hobbies. Purses are her favourite to make. She takes an almost finished one out of the crate; she just needs to finish the handles. “I crochet in the evenings when I’m watching a film or series. Or during breaks. I’m in the process of starting my own craft business.” She already has stickers with her company logo; she shows them off proudly. She’s not just doing it to earn some extra money, but also because it’s sustainable, she says. “That’s important to me. I buy most of my clothes from vintage shops. Sneakers, too.” She gets to her feet and goes to her shoe collection, pulling out two pairs of brightly coloured Nike Dunks. “I’m not a real sneakerhead, but I do love it when I get my hands on shoes like these.”

Author: Yuri Meesen

Photo: Ellen Oosterhof

Categories: People
Tags: student room,aroomofone'sown,msa nour,instagram

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