Bayan Abdallat is a sports fanatic, who has made it her goal to attend as many University of Oklahoma sporting events as possible before she graduates in December.
She enjoys planning soccer tournaments for her friends and cheering for the Sooners, the Green Bay Packers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Like the rest of the Thunder Nation, she’s still a little heartbroken over Kevin Durant’s departure. Abdallat is counting down the days until the regular season starts.
She is active in campus organizations and activities. Last year, Abdallat, who is half Jordanian and half American, was crowned the first runner-up and the crowd favorite in the Mr. and Miss International OU pageant after impressing the audience with her sense of humor and her artistic talent.
In between work as a substitute teacher and school and job shadowing, Abdallat, 21, is preparing for her next step in life: Physical therapy school. She aspires to become a pediatric physical therapist and dreams of working at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, where she volunteers.
Abdallat also is a Muslim woman, who proudly wears a headscarf.
Oftentimes, that’s the first thing people notice about her.
Instead of accepting what they read or see on television about Islam, Abdallat encouraged people who aren’t familiar with the faith to meet someone who is Muslim. Those who take Abdallat’s advice might be surprised to discover they have many things in common with the Muslims they meet.
“For those who have yet to make friends with a Muslim, I want to be that Muslim friend,” Abdallat said. “I’m your fellow Okie, OU student and crazed sports fan. Instead of all the hate and prejudice going on in the world, we need a little more love and compassion.”
Lately, the political climate has made Abdallat a little more anxious about going out than usual. Watching the news or political rallies and seeing the hate that exists in the world is heartbreaking, she said.
She thinks the apprehension some people have toward Islam and Muslims is partly due to a fear of the unknown. Islam is about peace, love and compassion, Abdallat said, but many people still have misconceptions about the faith.
Those who don’t know much about Islam usually have never met a Muslim or taken time to get to know one, she said.
As for Abdallat, about 90 percent of her wardrobe is sports-related. She still has the first Thunder shirt her mom bought her when the team came to Oklahoma City, and her collection has grown extensively since then. Abdallat has similar interests to the rest of her classmates, but she bears the extra responsibility of being a visible Muslim.
Wherever she goes, Abdallat always tries to represent herself in the best way possible so that if she is the first Muslim someone encounters, she will make a good impression.
“It’s little things that I’m just always, always conscious about,” she said. “Not to put on a show but to just show people that we’re all human.”
During a recent Friday afternoon, Abdallat picked up a pink lid belonging to a plastic tea kettle from amid a cluster of toys scattered across Addilan Stewart’s hospital bed on the ninth floor of The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center.
“Is this a hat?” Abdallat asked as she reached over and placed the lid on top of the 2-year-old’s wavy, golden locks.
The lid balanced there momentarily, and the little girl smiled. Then she shook her head, causing the lid to tumble back onto the bed.
Later on, they found a more practical use for the tea set: Hosting a tea party for Minnie Mouse. Abdallat noted that Minnie was wearing pink, just like Addie, who had on a pink T-shirt that said “best little sister,” and pink casts on both of her legs.
As Addie lifted a polka- dot tea cup up to Minnie’s mouth, Abdallat cried out a warning. “It’s hot!” she said, waving her hand in front of the cup to fan the make-believe tea.
The highlight of Abdallat’s week is the time she spends volunteering with patients at the hospital.
“I like getting their minds off whatever they’re going through,” she said.
Abdallat said she is proud of Oklahoma because she has visited other states where people aren’t as accepting of Muslims.
“Aside from a few instances, I’ve received nothing but love and support from people,” she said. “ … That’s what I love about the Oklahoma hospitality.”
This summer, Abdallat was on her way to Walmart when a man drove by in a truck and yelled, “Christ is coming back!” Abdallat didn’t realize he was talking to her until after the man passed by, but she wishes she had so she could have responded.
“I would have said, ‘Yes, I know. We believe that, too,’” Abdallat said.
In February 2015, the Ninja Turtles theme song blared during the talent portion of the Mr. and Miss International OU pageant. Abdallat drew a ninja turtle, an iconic American cartoon, with an Arabic dish in his hand. She called it a “ninja turtle chef.”
She finished as first runner-up in what was one of her favorite experiences at OU. It allowed her to share more about her culture, faith and identity with a broad audience.
Abdallat got to ride in a convertible during OU’s homecoming parade that year. A mention of her sports obsession during her introduction at the parade solicited some chuckles from the crowd. Children waved at her, and when Abdallat, wearing a tiara, waved back, one mother made sure that her daughter saw.
That moment touched Abdallat.
On most days, people stare at her and she worries about whether they dislike her just because she’s Muslim. On that day, little girls watched her in admiration.
“It was nice, especially with my scarf, just (for) people to be able to see past that,” she said.