It is safe to say that those who know me would describe me as a tough, assertive girl with a conviction that women are equal to men.
They would also say that I embrace my femininity and feel privileged to be a woman.
Although I grew up in Egypt, where women don't hold the same social status as men, I never felt less equal or less important as a girl.
This attitude and conviction I hold didn't develop when I moved to America. It was ingrained in me, and there are many reasons for it. The biggest, and I know this might be surprising, is Islam itself.
I grew up in a moderate-to-conservative Muslim family. I was naturally influenced by my mom, Shadia, and her six brothers, who all raised me and my sister. On the one hand, my mom has always been an elegant, sensitive and modest person, and on the other, she's always been tough, assertive and fair. Her brothers wouldn't dare mistreat her because she's a woman.
She has always been excellent at maintaining that balance, and I studied it carefully.
Growing up, I clashed a lot with my Uncle Beautiful, who was the most conservative and closest male figure to me. We mainly clashed over how he wanted me to dress.
But it was never about gender. In fact, he too instilled this sense of equality in me.
I wasn't even a teenager when Uncle Beautiful once saw me walking on the street, and I must have looked uncomfortable or afraid for some reason, because when I got home he said to me: When you walk, walk with confidence. When someone speaks to you, man or woman, look directly at them, make eye contact, be respectful and be modest, but speak clearly and assertively.
He never told me why. I have never forgotten his words. And I have to say that I was a little bit surprised with them.
You might wonder why a conservative Muslim man would instill in me these values.
I wondered, too.
It all became clearer this past weekend. I spent it attending an AlMaghrib Institute seminar about women in Islam. I always knew that when it came to women, Islam was ahead of its time. Khadija, the prophet Muhammad's first wife, was 15 years older than him. She sought him out, and she was the one who asked him to marry her.
When Imam Waleed Basyouni, the seminar's instructor, addressed the status of women during the prophet and his companions' time, it blew my mind, especially when I compared it with the present day.
Not only were women back then allowed to vote, own property, operate businesses, seek knowledge and education, speak publicly, work, and support their husbands and families, but they also served in the army.
All that happened more than 1,400 years ago.
The kind of injustice done today to women in so-called Muslim countries is unfathomable and foreign to me and to Islam itself.
The prophet Muhammad never laid a hand on a woman. He warned men of mistreating women and told them that the worst among them are those who are not good and kind to the women in their lives.
The fact is, if these so-called Muslim rulers and followers would educate themselves about their own religion, they'd be ashamed of how they're treating women.
But there's also another important point that can't be dismissed. For much of history, women, even in the West, didn't always have the same rights as men.
And I also think it's not about religion. Men who oppress and mistreat women come from all sorts of backgrounds and hold various religious beliefs. The kind of man who would oppress or beat a woman doesn't need a religion or a culture to justify it. He is simply not a man.
Now when I reminisce about what Uncle Beautiful taught me, I understand.
MONA SHADIA is a reporter for the Huntington Beach Independent. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter: @MonaShadia.