Bengaluru: People’s reaction to her choice of profession is a constant source of entertainment for Saara Hameed Ahmed, India’s only Muslim woman pilot, and one among just 600 female pilots employed in the Indian aviation sector.
“People initially think I’m Christian and then gawk when I tell them my full name,” Saara Hameed (25) of Bengaluru says in a recent interview with Hindustan Times.
“I just love the look on people’s faces when they discover I am Muslim", she adds.
A commercial pilot working with Spice Jet airlines from 2010, Saara was one among the 70 pilots from Karnataka recruited by the Spice Jet airlines in 2010. She has 1200 flying hours in 18 months to her credit apart from a BBA degree.
Saara says she too has had to face the brunt of Islamophobia that gripped the world post 9/11. But each time she has managed to win people over with a combination of humour and tact.
In 2007, when she was just 18, Saara enrolled with a flying school in the US.
“Those days most Muslim students were being denied US Visas. When she got the Visa without any trouble I saw it as a final message from God,” says Hameed Ahmed, Saara's father.
Saara’s mother, Naseema Ahmed, says she never had any doubts about sending her to the US. Her proudest moment, she says, was when a group of Muslim girls surrounded Saarah at a wedding and started asking her for tips to become a pilot.
In another interview with KarnatakaMuslims.com Saara says, "Today, it is a matter of pride not only for my parents but the whole family. They just love to tell people that I am the first grand-daughter of the family who has become a pilot."
"However", she adds, "There was lot of criticism. Everyone criticized me and thought that I would not make it to what I dreamt of. When everyone underestimates you, that’s when Allah opens the doors for you and leads you on the right direction."
In reply to another question, she said, "I feel sad that many girls, especially Muslims, do not find a place in this filed or any other field for that matter. They are neither allowed to take up higher education nor pursue any profession of their choice. I feel parents should allow their daughters to get education. They should be encouraged to be confident."
At the same time, she has a message for Muslim girls.
"You should be happy and satisfied with doing what you really wish to do. Be grateful to Allah for whatever talent bestowed upon you and have the satisfaction of putting your talent to proper use without being intimidated by the people who oppose you in the name of religion, gender and false social values", she says.