— As told by Nada Mousa
Meet Alia Youssef, the women who brought us “The Sisters Project” — a collection of powerful photos depicting the lived experiences and identities of Muslim women. Since the age of 15, Alia’s passion for photography, combined with her commitment to social justice, allowed her to produce progressive artwork aimed at deconstructing traditional narratives surrounding Muslim women.
In one of her earliest art projects, Alia painted two images: The first one showcasing a woman sitting across from a mirror watching her smile reflect back at her, and the other, an image of a woman whose mouth is concealed with dark paint. Alia titled the former “The Way I See Me” and the latter “The Way They See Me.” At this time in her life, Alia’s devotion to presenting the real lives of Muslim women grew and propelled her to take on photography professionally through an academic program at Ryerson University in Canada.
It wasn’t until her last year of undergrad, that Alia brought to life “The Sisters Project.” What started off as a thesis project for her undergrad career turned into a dynamic, progressive movement. Through her photos, Alia captures women at their most authentic selves. With camera in hand, Alia traveled throughout Canada on a mission to showcase Muslim women illuminated by their truth.
The inspiration behind “The Sister’s Project” sprouted in the hallowed halls of Ryerson University. Sitting in on a “Women in Islam” class. Alia began discussing the prevailing negative narratives surrounding Muslim Women. Mass media only portrays the side of Muslim women which validate Islamophobic perspectives that “justify” the ongoing war efforts in the Middle East.
Images of Muslim women in war torn homes, carrying bloodied children prevail over those pictures depicting the diverse spectrum of being a Muslim women. The need to showcase the struggles of Muslim women should always be present in the efforts of activists everywhere. However, there is a bigger gap in showcasing the success stories and positive narratives surrounding the lives of Muslim women. Alia recognized that disparity and started “The Sister’s Project” to fill it.
Alia Youssef’s work is integral in ensuring that Muslim women are seen for who they are, and not for what is projected upon them by a patriarchal, Islamophobic society. Muslim women are NOT canvases for people to paint their insecurities, fear, and hate on to! Alia’s photos show that Muslim women are teachers, scientists, photographers, cops, equestrians, yoga instructors, and the works! As our world becomes ever more divided and negative, the efforts by those like Alia Youssef are needed, if not required, to guarantee an inclusive future for the next generation of powerful, unique Muslim women. The majority of Muslim women who grew up in this generation have faced traumatic experiences as they worked to undo the molds they were forced into. Future generations should not have to endure that suffering. Alia Youssef’s art and activism has taken a huge step forward in securing a healthy future for Muslim women!
You can check out Alia’s beautiful photos displayed on her website.