During a time when the majority of the government is made of White male faces and Trump’s administration makes it increasingly difficult for non-White, non-Christians to succeed in the United States, here are three Muslim women of color that serve as a breath of fresh air. These Muslim women are direct challenges to the establishment that you need to know:
1. Ibtihaj Muhammad
Muhammad is an Olympic fencer who is most known for being the first Muslim American to wear a hijab while competing on behalf of the United States in the Olympics. Muhammad has taken on a new role and become the icon for many young Muslim women by presenting the world with the first Hijabi barbie modeled after herself. Muhammad said, “Today I am proud to know that little girls wearing a hijab and, just as powerful, those who don’t, can play with Barbie in a headscarf.”
2. Afaf Nasher
Nasher is the current Executive Director of CAIR-NY and has been making noise against injustice for years. However, recently she has become a pivotal voice for the Muslim community speaking out more and more against the Muslim Ban and other legislative injustices committed against Muslims as well as other communities.
3. Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour, activist and former head of the Arab American Association of New York, hit mainstream headlines by being one of five women who spearheaded the Women’s March after Donald Trump’s election. Sarsour does not believe that everyone has to agree but instead, that everyone believing in the same things is a sign of failure. “So, if your expectations are to show up to a movement believing that we’re all going to believe the same things, then the movement has already failed,” she says.
These three women have stood up in a political climate where being Muslim might as well be a crime, and being Muslim women of color standing up against justice and equality is no easier.
I’m not Muslim, but I think this is good to know about. You go, ladies!
I know, right? 😉
The media hardly acknowledge Muslim women unless they make a huge noise and the camera catches a photo of them. A huge number of Muslim women are doing an extra ordinary effort in every community but unfortunately they are not recognised, mainly because they work hard without expecting recognition. Director of AWMWC in the UK.
We’re working to change that day by day.
The website Haute HIjab, on its blog, does profiles of Muslim women who are achieving in less-flashy fields. They have a “hijabi of the month” section.
Iqbal Tamimi, thank you for pointing this out. While it’s so important to acknowledge these women who are achieving on a very public stage, there are so many whose “quieter” efforts are not so rewarded by attention. To be fair, I’m sure the women discussed in this article aren’t doing what they do because they expect recognition for it, but they get lots of attention at least in part because they are active in such flashy, easy-to-publicize contexts (great photo-ops!). It must be so frustrating to be working hard in one’s community, but to never see those efforts rewarded or even really mentioned. I love Ibtihaj Muhammad and she completely deserves her recognition, but there are so many of us who are achieving great things who will never be showcased the way she is.
What’s your take on the whole “first hijabi to” thing? I mean the attention given to Muslim women whose achievements are deemed noteworthy not because of the women’s dedication and commitment (no matter how considerable that is), but primarily because of their hijabs? On the one hand, I think we should celebrate whenever a WOC and/or hijabi achieves in activities typically seen as not open to them. On the other hand, are we kind of fetishizing these women, and reducing all their achievements to their hijabs? Again, Ibtihaj Muhammad is awesome; we can’t and shouldn’t ignore her skin color and religion in the conversation about her general awesomeness (and I know some places have been — not MG thank goodness).
I do not like the idea of twinning between women’s achievements and their looks. Hard working women deserve all the recognition regardless of their choice of clothes.
I think the media celebrates some women wearing hijab for political reasons as the media is the soft steering tool of the public opinion. There are thousands of brave, intelligent hijab wearing women who are living in the Middle East, doing the impossible to serve their communities yet they are never mentioned or recognised. I do hail Ibtihaj and her a likes but I believe that such celebration of Western media of her success is an outcome of necessity, to show the civilised face of a nation that is accused of discrimination and who has a history of aggression against other nations. Tell me now with total honesty, how likely it is for a woman wearing hijab to be employed as a TV presenter in the USA if she is competing on the position with other women who have golden hair and wear fashionable revealing clothes!?
Hmm, no, I think you have a point. I struggle with this in my own life (not that I achieve anything like Ibtihaj or the various community organisers!) I definitely have the sense of being the “token hijabi” sometimes. I went to a conference once that dealt with youth and equality, and I was the only woman in hijab there. I showed up in the MAJORITY of the photos taken, despite the fact that I was there only as a guest, not as a presenter or organizer. I did literally nothing to make the conference happen… I have no doubt that I appeared so often on film because I made the organisers look open-minded/diverse.
As for TV presenters, I honestly have no idea, but I take your point! I know of one… I think… and all I know about her is that she wears hijab. To be fair I don’t have a TV (by choice), so I don’t have that specific awareness, but certainly Muslim women who achieve in other very public kinds of ways are often the token hijabi in their field. I’m sure you’ve noticed how often university-recruiting materials have a “look how diverse we are!” thing going on… again, maybe they think they’re trying to celebrate diversity, but if the actual campus is 99% white, straight, and European, then the campus brochures and whatnot are tokenizing at best… they also, I think, mislead students that campus may be more diverse, open-minded, and anti-racist than it actually is; and I think this misleading is sometimes deliberate.
Just wondering, have you ever read the author Deepa Kumar? I think you might like her book “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire”.
Thanks for your comments, I was excited to come back on and read them!
Oh, I just remembered that the “hijabi TV presenter” I was thinking of is actually someone who WANTS to be a TV presenter. Points to you – you were right!
Thank you for your interesting discussion. I want to point out that what I have said earlier is from my 25+ years of experience in the media field, TV, radio, print, press, blogging and photography and having lived in different countries besides my research results. I hope you have the time to read some of my work on equality in general. Try for example this paper. I am sure you will be shocked with the findings.
I followed you on Disqus; I will check out some of your other comments as well! Thanks for the article link. It looks very interesting. I just started it and came across this quote, which I think could be applied to so many other fields:
“The fact that more women are entering the media professions more than ever before does not necessarily mean it is a result of a radical transformation of media content or policies, even when we can see the mark made by individual media women, on certain types of output ”
It made me think of the ways we celebrate when numbers of women in any given profession increase, without really examining what the working conditions and available positions are for those women. For example, we have more women in business/corporate roles these days, but they face so many more challenges and outright discrimination than their male counterparts; simply looking at the increase in numbers and from there positing a more diverse, equitable workplace is a mistake. You’re quite right that more women in a field doesn’t entail a “radical transformation”, no matter how incredible those individual women are. I think this links to what we’re saying about Ibtihaj Muhammad: she rocks, and I have no criticism of her personally, but her success in sport does not mean sports in general are welcoming to WoC and/or hijabis…
Anyways, I will go read the rest of your article. Thanks again!
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