Muslim woman pilot makes local history

2008-02-01 00:00

“I have a dream — not a song to sing, but an aircraft to fly.” These were the words that echoed in the heart of Zeenat Rehaman (24) when she was a little girl.

Today she is the first qualified Indian Muslim female pilot and instructor in Pietermaritzburg and is currently based at the Virginia Airport in Durban.

In an interview with The Witness yesterday, Rehaman said her dream of becoming a pilot started at the age of eight.

After matriculating from Alexandra High School, Rehaman pursued a Bachelor of Science degree at Wits University because it was what her parents encouraged her to do, but her dream of flying persisted, and she decided in her second year to return to Pietermaritzburg to fulfill it.

“I told my dad to choose a flight school and I’d go there,” she said.

In February 2004, she was accepted, after meeting physical science and mathematics competency entrance requirements, into the Virginia Flight School based at that airport.

She said good hand and eye co-ordination, perseverance and discipline are crucial to being a pilot.

Rehaman qualified last year on Christmas Eve, when she obtained her official commercial/instrument rating licence.

Her most exciting moment was flying solo, when her instructor “out of the blue” jumped out of the aircraft and said to her: “You are going up on your own”.

“It was by far the best experience in my life. After I landed the aircraft my hands were trembling and I just sat there and gazed into space for a while,” she recalled.

Rehaman’s career aspirations include obtaining an airline transport licence, which will enable her to be affiliated with a particular airline.

Speaking candidly on the challenges that face her, particularly as a Muslim woman, Rehaman said: “People merely say that society has changed, but it has not. It’s especially challenging because of unaltered mindsets.”

For instance, she said there are members of her extended family who refuse to acknowledge her as a pilot and persist in referring to her as an air hostess.

But she has had the support of her parents and younger siblings, and of flight school instructors.

Asked for her philosophy of life, Rehaman said: “If you want something go and get it. Don’t allow people to stand in your way.”

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