Editor’s note: Be sure to check out the Instagram page associated with The Sister’s Project, chock full of the captivating stories of Muslim women from all walks of life, across Canada. There is no one, authentic, correct way to be a Muslim women, and the stories Alia has chosen to tell depict just this: A beautiful symphony of the diversity that is our ummah.
A year ago, Alia Youssef flooded Getty images with photos showcasing the lives of Muslim women from all walks of life. The Sister’s Project, started by Alia Youssef, explores Muslim women shopping, working out, relaxing, drawing, etc. The images are bright, fun, and anything but political and negative. That’s because, in starting The Sister’s Project, Alia Youssef hoped to combat stereotypical images of Muslim women, that are more akin to “invisible representation.” This meant taking the perceived narratives of Canadian Muslim women, and replacing them with the reality on the ground.
The project itself consists of 160 photographs of Muslim Women taken across Canada, with 16 of these photos finding a home at the Ryerson Image Centre.
Inspired by her own personal experience as a Muslim woman living in a world with limited representation, Alia began The Sister’s Project as a part of her thesis project for her BFA in Photography at Ryerson University.
These representations depict a voiceless, oppressed, demure, helpless woman who is a victim to her patriarchal religion. This image always portrays a sad-looking veiled woman who is deemed in need of ‘saving.’
“I grew up being ashamed of my identity, my background and my religion, all because of the connotations that came with it,” Youssef writes in her online artist statement. “From before I was born to the haunting reality of Trump’s Muslim ban, certain perpetual representations circulate in media and literature time and time again. These representations depict a voiceless, oppressed, demure, helpless woman who is a victim to her patriarchal religion. This image always portrays a sad-looking veiled woman who is deemed in need of ‘saving,'” revealed Alia. She continued, “I knew this wasn’t my reality, and it certainly wasn’t the reality of my mother, my sisters, or the women around me.”
Alia works beautifully with over 85 Muslim women to capture the diversity of Muslim women. Rather than the typical Muslim women looking either happy or angry, Alia’s photos present women looking shy, contempt, stoic, uncomfortable. Because Muslim women are not just one of two emotions! We are a beautifully complex and diverse gamut of emotions, professions, existing in our own individual realities and comprehension of what it means to be a Muslim woman, and we deserve to be seen as such. That is precisely the powerful message that made Alia’s project necessary.
What other media outlets, so-called “social justice activists,” have done to the representation of Muslim women has been nothing but further validate the victim stereotype. And on the other end of the spectrum, those who are trying to break the negative victimized stereotypes, have adopted this narrative of trying to insist, “Look, I am just like everyone else”.
Well the truth is, no one is just like everyone else. We are all beautifully different. There is no need to slap on generic smiles, and work extra hard for the sake of trying to prove that we are not oppressed, unhappy women. Just as Alia Youssef’s photography series shows, Muslim women are real people, individuals with beautifully diverse emotions and understandings of how to be a Muslim woman in this space and time.
The Sister’s Project’s mission of increasing accurate representation is a sentiment that will continue to propel society forward in a positive manner. With one photo, one article, one comment accurately depicting our diversity and complexities, together we can move one step closer towards inclusion and acceptance. And isn’t it about time we are afforded this basic human right?
Edited by Manal Moazzam.