RELIGION
04/21/2017 11:24 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2018

If You Have This Name, You May Be Three Times Less Likely To Get A Job Interview

A new photo project features 15 people with the name, which is meant to be a blessing.

A few days after Riyadh Mohammed arrived in America in 2011, an acquaintance pulled him aside and told him, “You might be offended by what I say, but I’m giving you this advice to help you.’”

The advice given was this: Don’t use Mohammed in your legal name in the United States.

Mohammed is an Iraqi-American investigative journalist who came to the United States as a refugee. He had used the name “Riyadh Mohammed” as his byline since 2008, and was hesitant about changing it. 

But looking back years later, Mohammed says he wishes he had taken the friend’s advice. 

“If it was up to me, I would have never kept that name, because of all the complications,” Mohammed said. “It’s affected my dating life, my possibilities of finding an apartment, my career, everything.”

Riyadh Mohammed is an Iraqi-American journalist.
Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
Riyadh Mohammed is an Iraqi-American journalist.

The name Mohammed, which translates to “the most praised one,” is a popular name for Muslim families. It honors the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Parents give it to their children as a blessing, or to continue family tradition. It can be a first, last or middle name. The global spread of Islam has produced various spellings, like Mohammed and Muhammad. A number of famous people have the name ― from the boxing legend Muhammad Ali to the Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad.

But, due to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in Western countries, Mohammed is not always an easy name to live with.

In an effort to dispel some of the stigma around the name, Riyadh and 14 other Mohammeds from different walks of life are participating in a photo project. Titled, “I am Mohammed,” the project shares the stories of people of different ages, genders and nationalities who bear the prophet’s name.

The three curators of the exhibit ― Aanjalie Collure, a Sri Lankan-Canadian global health and human rights advocate, Jeffrey Ingold, a British-Canadian working in corporate PR, and Narmeen Haider, a Muslim Pakistani-American currently working in global health and development ― were all interested in tackling anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in the West. 

“Like many other Muslims in America, I was devastated after [President Donald Trump’s] election. It resurfaced all this anxiety I had about my family’s safety and security,” Haider told The Huffington Post. “With almost two decades of Islamophobic rhetoric in [America], people automatically think of the T word when they see a Muslim.” 

Safiyyah Mahomed is a medical student at the University of Toronto in Canada.
Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
Safiyyah Mahomed is a medical student at the University of Toronto in Canada.

Several academic studies and social experiments have helped shed light on what it’s like to apply for jobs with a Muslim-sounding name. As part of an experiment earlier this year, the BBC responded to 100 job opportunities with resumes from two fake candidates ― one named Adam Henton and the other named Mohammed Allam. Although the two candidates had the similar levels of skills and experience, Adam got 12 interviews, while Mohammed got four. 

The results suggested that a person with a Muslim-sounding name on his or her resume is three times less likely to be called for an interview. 

A 2015 report from the U.K. think tank Demos found that British Muslims are “less proportionately represented in the managerial and professional occupations than any other religious group,” and also “disproportionately likely to be unemployed and economically inactive.” The researchers attributed this to differences in demographics, educational attainment, socioeconomic characteristics, and other factors. But part of it was also due to “discrimination in recruitment processes.” The think tank recommended having larger employers move towards accepting anonymous resumes. 

In the United States, researchers have found that identifying as Muslim on resumes may lead to fewer job opportunities. In studies published in 2013 and 2014, researchers at the University of Connecticut sent out fake resumes for entry-level jobs posted on Career Builder, some of which included religious mentions. They found that the resumes that identified the applicant as Muslim in some way ― by suggesting the job seeker was part of a Muslim campus club, for example ― were much less likely than other religious groups to elicit a response from potential employers.

Abdulrahman Mohamed El-Sayed is <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/michigan/2017/02/25/el-sayed-michigan
Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
Abdulrahman Mohamed El-Sayed is campaigning to be Michigan's governor.

For Riyadh, stereotypes about people with the name “Mohammed” reflect a lack of understanding and education.

“There are a little more than 3 million American Muslims. And probably a lot of them with the name Muhammad. They can’t all be terrorists, or suspected of terrorism,” he said. “There must be a campaign in the education system, in the media, to explain [that] to Americans.”

The curators of the exhibit hope that sharing the stories of these Mohammeds will provide a counter-narrative to the Islamophobia prevalent in the United States.

“My hope is that through this exhibition, we can show that Muslims are just like other people – they have complicated lives, exciting careers, and everyday challenges,” Haider said.

Scroll down to view images and stories from “I am Mohammed.” The exhibit opens in New York City on Saturday. 

  • ANEESA MOHAMMED
    Mohammed is a first generation Canadian, born to Trinidadian and Kenyan immigrants. In her story, she discusses coming to ter
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Mohammed is a first generation Canadian, born to Trinidadian and Kenyan immigrants. In her story, she discusses coming to terms with her last name and learning to rise above the damage of everyday racism. 

    “After [9/11] happened, there were times when I wanted to see what would happen if I just changed my last name. A lot of people don’t know right away who I am. I don’t have a lot of identifiers that some people do. But my name, as soon as they hear that, you can see all these assumptions growing in their mind.”
  • MOHAMMAD ALAWAWDEH
    Alawawdeh was born and raised in Jordan to a Palestinian father and a Jordanian mother. He discusses what it was like moving
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Alawawdeh was born and raised in Jordan to a Palestinian father and a Jordanian mother. He discusses what it was like moving from Jordan to Chicago as a teenager and shares his struggle with self-identity as a Palestinian-Jordanian-American.

    “My self identity has been the biggest challenge of my life...A lot of times I feel like I’m lost between being Jordanian and being Palestinian and not being able to identify [with] or be accepted by one group.”
  • MUHAMMAD LAMAN SAMO
    Samo is currently in his last year of Bachelors of Business at Szabist University in Karachi, Pakistan. Laman discusses his d
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Samo is currently in his last year of Bachelors of Business at Szabist University in Karachi, Pakistan. Laman discusses his drive to support his family and follow his dream of being an entrepreneur. 

    “There are a lot of people who will stay by your side when you’re happy. Half of the people you know will vanish when you’re going through issues. So pick and choose, keep the good ones close to you and value them.”
  • MOHAMMED KHUDAIRI
    Khudairi was born in Baghdad, Iraq. His family left the country and moved to Houston, Texas just as the Iran-Iraq war was sta
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Khudairi was born in Baghdad, Iraq. His family left the country and moved to Houston, Texas just as the Iran-Iraq war was starting in hopes to give him and his siblings a better shot at life. He is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the The Khudairi Group – a company that supports the United States government with reconstruction efforts in Iraq.  

    “I enjoyed a very American, suburban upbringing. I was on the football team in high school and eventually attended the University of Texas in Austin where I was the first president of the Kappa Alpha fraternity.”
  • SAFIYYAH MAHOMED
    Mahomed is currently a medical student&nbsp;at the University of Toronto in Canada. She discusses her mixed identity as a hal
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Mahomed is currently a medical student at the University of Toronto in Canada. She discusses her mixed identity as a half-Pakistani, half-Canadian – and the opportunities and challenges of belonging to two vastly different cultures. 

    “Trying to figure out who I am as a person and understand my identity has been difficult. You know trying to combine being mixed, with being Muslim, with being female has been hard. I don’t really feel like all of these labels or categories fit with who I am all the time.”  
  • MOHAMMAD HASHER
    Hasher is a model, actor, and track and fielder. He is currently finishing his senior year at Portage Northern High School in
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Hasher is a model, actor, and track and fielder. He is currently finishing his senior year at Portage Northern High School in Michigan. He went viral a couple months ago when he took his sister to a father-daughter dance and was voted best dad at the event.

    “We’re looked down upon in so many different aspects and there is not much to look down upon...I think it’s important to show that not all Muslims are the way people think they are.”
  • ABDULRAHMAN MOHAMED EL-SAYED
    El-Sayed discusses how his experience of growing up as an Egyptian-American changed after 9/11. He is <a href="http://www.det
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    El-Sayed discusses how his experience of growing up as an Egyptian-American changed after 9/11. He is currently campaigning to be Michigan's governor.

    “[My coach] He said listen: ‘you are going to be Abdul El-Sayed for the rest of your life. You can use it either as an excuse or motivation.’ For me, it’s been a motivation throughout my life.”
  • MOHAMED ABDULKADIR
    Abdulkadir was born and raised in Germany after his family fled Somalia during the Civil War. With a following of over 800,00
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Abdulkadir was born and raised in Germany after his family fled Somalia during the Civil War. With a following of over 800,000 people on Facebook, his hilarious memes are notorious for going viral. He discusses his social media fame – and the response he gets to his name. 

    “The problem was most of the mail I’m getting is that people attack me because my name is Mohamed and they tell me I’m a terrorist. They tell me how bad of a person I am just because I have this name, just because I have this religion.”
  • MUHAMMAD SAMI
    Sami is a Pakistani student and visionary. His dream is to ensure that every child in Pakistan has access to the education th
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Sami is a Pakistani student and visionary. His dream is to ensure that every child in Pakistan has access to the education they need to reach their full potential. Recently, he started The Green Revolution – an organization committed to mobilizing Pakistani youth for social change. 

    “When I started my education, I did not have the financial resources to get good education – we here prefer the British system. I wanted to do that, and I was the first person in my family to do it. This was only possible because of my mom. She taught in a school and gave tuitions so she could afford my education.”
  • RIYADH MOHAMMED
    Mohammed is an Iraqi-American who lived in Baghdad until 2011, when he was accepted as a refugee to the United States. He sta
    Courtesy of "I Am Mohammed"
    Mohammed is an Iraqi-American who lived in Baghdad until 2011, when he was accepted as a refugee to the United States. He started his career in journalism in 2008, shedding light on the ways corruption destroyed Iraq. He has since covered the Iraq war, rise of ISIS and other conflicts in the Middle East for CNBC, The New York Times and others. 

    “I remember in the first few days of my life in the US, I was given advice from an American business consultant. He told me, ‘You might be offended by what I say, but I’m giving you this advice to help you.’ His advice was to not put the name Mohammed as part of my legal name in the US.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story referred to Abdulrahman Mohamed El-Sayed as a mayoral candidate in Michigan. He is campaigning to be governor.

 
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