How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?


Moustafa Bayoumi

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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Characters

Moustafa Bayoumi

The author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? is a journalist and professor of English at Brooklyn College whose research centers on the cultural discourses about Islam in the United States. In… read analysis of Moustafa Bayoumi


A 24-year-old Palestinian-American who appears briefly in the book’s introduction and penultimate chapter. He used to have a comfortable job working for commodities traders in New York and even managed to get his brother hired… read analysis of Sade


The first of Bayoumi’s seven main subjects, Rasha is a Syrian American in her early 20s who moved to Brooklyn with her family at an early age. During high school, just after September 11read analysis of Rasha


Bayoumi’s second (and only Christian) subject, who calls himself “the most far-off Arab you’ll find.” Born and raised in New York as the son of a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother, he is… read analysis of Sami


The focus of Bayoumi’s third chapter, a devout, hijabi high schooler who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and gets into a protracted argument with her high school’s administration over her role in student… read analysis of Yasmin
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The subject of Bayoumi’s fourth portrait, a Palestinian American college student who works at his family’s grocery store in a largely Caribbean neighborhood of Brooklyn. In high school, he is gregarious and popular, but… read analysis of Akram


The woman at the center of Bayoumi’s fifth chapter, an Iraqi American who grows up in Maryland, Brooklyn, and Colorado but, by the time of the book’s publication, lives with her husband in Virginia… read analysis of Lina


A young Palestinian Chilean American college graduate who cannot find a job, which frightens him because, without one, he will not be able to marry Nadine, the Palestinian girl on whom he has set… read analysis of Omar


The subject of Bayoumi’s final portrait, Rami is a devoutly religious Palestinian American teenager who has decided to dedicate his life to Islam. He wants to teach Muslims to live more virtuously and show… read analysis of Rami

Yasmin’s Father

He helps Yasmin appeal to the student affairs coordinator in an attempt fight the school policy that excludes her from serving in student government. The school administration derides him for supposedly trying to “control [his]… read analysis of Yasmin’s Father


Lina’s strict Iraqi mother, who is horrified at her rebelliousness and sends her back to Iraq for a summer and then again for a year. She worked at the Iraqi embassy and then a… read analysis of Maisa


An Iraqi Lina meets on the internet and falls in love with, even though they never end up as anything more than friends. About two years after they meet, the FBI informs Lina that Wisam… read analysis of Wisam


A towering, garrulous, brilliant, and devout 21-year-old Lebanese American who is close friends with Rami. After meeting at their college’s Muslim Student Association, Ezzat starts to grill Rami on his religious beliefs and guides… read analysis of Ezzat


A friend of Rami’s and a religious scholar who, despite his youth, is already a local celebrity in New York’s Muslim community. He dresses traditionally, which makes his parents worry for his safety, and… read analysis of Mohammad

The Student Affairs Coordinator

An administrator at Yasmin’s school who is responsible for overseeing student government. While he is polite and always listens respectfully to Yasmin’s arguments for why she should be allowed to serve on student government… read analysis of The Student Affairs Coordinator

Rasha’s mother

After raising her daughters with “the simple values of honesty, compassion, and the protection of [their] honor,” Rasha’s mother suddenly finds herself detained without charge alongside them in a New Jersey jail after Septemberread analysis of Rasha’s mother
Minor Characters
Lina’s husband and the older brother of her father’s second wife, who lives in Virginia. After their families set them up together, their relationship is tumultuous for many years, but they reconcile and marry in 2006.
Omar’s love interest and a fellow Palestinian student at Hunter College. Omar hopes to marry her in a traditional Palestinian ceremony, but their families will not allow the marriage until he finds a job.
One of Rasha’s two best friends, along with Nicky. She is from Ecuador and writes letters to Rasha in prison; they tearfully reunite after Rasha’s release.
Along with Gaby, one of Rasha’s two best friends, who is distraught to see Rasha detained and ecstatic to reunite with her after she is released. Nicky is from Azerbaijan.
Rasha’s older sister and cellmate for three months in detention.
Sami’s girlfriend, a Puerto Rican woman from New Jersey, whom he meets as a pen-pal while in the Army.