Behind the Veil: Muslim Women Can and Will Speak Their Truth
by: Michelle Zuluaga
As women, we are constantly evolving and breaking new barriers as they arise. We have consistently adapted to society’s changes throughout history and exceeded the expectations placed on our gender. While our shared experience as women unites us on all fronts, our differences in cultural background, appearance, and even religion are the unique strengths that make us diverse. Today, on March 27th, we celebrate the strong Muslim women who have broken barriers and redefined expectations. So without further ado, happy Muslim Women’s Day!
Author and entrepreneur, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder and CEO of MuslimGirl.com, a site where Muslim women can create media stories and host honest conversations that accurately represent their culture. In her recent interview with Allure Magazine, she talks about the start of MuslimGirl.com and its solution to a problem. The site was born out of the bedroom of a young Amani, following the events of 9/11. During this time, various media outlets went to wage a war against all Muslims. The term “Muslim woman” bared a heavy connotation amongst those unfamiliar with the culture. In various forms of media, these women were portrayed as helpless, subservient, and chained to strict religious standards that stripped them of an independent personality.
Ready to take action, Amani herself likes to popularly say, “I reacted in the way that any typical millennial would, which is I went online.” Out of the pervading issue of basic misrepresentation and stereotyping came the necessary solution to take back the narrative of Muslim women. Today, the site has garnered a community of women who can see themselves honestly represented in each other through the stories they have been able to share on the site. It is proudly the biggest platform for English-speaking Muslim women, making Amani not only a founder, but a proud homeowner to women that feel like they have finally found their tribe.
Muslim Women’s Day was born out of a dire need to encourage those who have felt targeted by social and political biases. It is a day for celebration and support from allies and, this year, the holiday observes its third annual occurrence. Furthermore, commemorating Muslim women also means to acknowledge their diverse appearances. There is no one way a Muslim woman is meant to look. She is more than her hijab, a traditional veil worn by women. She is not solely a pale woman - she is a range of shades which includes all melanated skin tones. She is not the stereotyped version of a Muslim Arab woman you may see in the media. She is a strong Muslim woman who wants stereotypes and ignorance towards her community to end. Individuals like Amani and her website MuslimGirl.com have made tremendous strides in rebranding the image of Muslim women in media and tearing down generalizations in order to shed a new light on the stories of Islam and Muslim women alike.
When redefining what it means to be a Muslim woman, EveryStylishGirl had the opportunity to talk to model and feminist, Leanna Braun, about her experience converting to Islam just one year ago. Leanna was raised as a Christian and had a rough upbringing where, by the age of 19, she was surviving on her own with two kids. As a result, Leanna always felt disconnected from the concept of family. Her curiosity towards Islam grew as she did more research into the culture of the religion and the Quran. After taking her shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, before Ramadan last year, she instantly felt accepted into a culture ready to shower her with the support she had never known before.
Leanna, who is now experiencing what it is to be a Muslim woman, detailed how Muslim women are full of love and unapologetically united in their faith. To Leanna, being a Muslim woman means to be full of pride. It means to take strong ownership of not only your narrative, but the narrative of other Muslim women; she explains that this is what fulfillment feels like. Moreover, she is a trailblazer in her career and visually redefines the media’s perception of how Muslim women “should” look. Leanna says, “People look at Muslim girls and think they can’t have the same beauty standards as other girls do - they have to be wrapped up.” The reality is that Muslim women are free to be exactly who they are and should be treated equally. When answering how we can best support Muslim women going forward, Leanna says the most important action is to always keep an open mind, “We must expand our minds as individuals about religion and open our mindsets about what Muslims should look like - don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure.”
It’s time for us to propel the shift in narrative. Muslim women have been generalized into one homogeneous category for far too long. This Muslim Women’s Day, support your fellow Muslim sisters in not just celebrating them but standing by their side as well. It is our job as women to support diversity by educating ourselves on difficult topics, such as religion. It is important to give Muslim women the platform to share their truth in their own words and to give them the microphone to tell their story for once. To our fellow diverse Muslim women, we see you and stand by you; your stories are valid and worthy of being heard.