Against The Odds
My work explores female identity and accentuates the issues of women’s oppression in Muslim societies and the misinterpretation of true religious doctrine in the West. Throughout history, religion has been so often employed by men as a tool to exploit and oppress women. The use of sacred text in my work emphasises the rights of women well recorded in Islam. I invite you to look deeper into the rights and representation of Muslim women beyond stereotypes.
The use of layering and the blurring of images signify that they have intertwined identities apart from being Muslim women. Textiles and threads are a manifestation of the strength and resilience of women along with reference to women’s conventional skills and crafts. Deployment of cultural patterns based on grids is crucial as it not only shows the rigidness of repeated cultural behaviours but also suggests that variation to the existing patterns is possible without disturbing the social frame. I celebrate the successes and achievements of Muslim women around the globe in different fields who broke the social shackles to become role models to all women, especially to those with oppressed backgrounds. I asks the viewer to question prejudicial views of women of faith.
Asma Jahangir (1952-2018) was a Pakistani lawyer and leading human rights champion. She co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (NGO) in 1986 and courageously defended the most vulnerable women, children, religious minorities, and the poor of Pakistan, for more than three decades. For three decades she served as a general secretary and chairperson of her NGO and took up the issues of violence against women, honour killing, religious violence, blasphemy and abolishing capital punishment. She was also the first and so far, the only woman to be elected as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan in 2010. She received life threats from the conservative sects of the society for her courageous campaign to amend the discriminatory laws against women and religious minorities. As a pro-democracy activist, she relentlessly campaigned against martial law and for freedom of speech. She was publicly assaulted, put under house arrest and was planned to be killed by intelligence officers with far-right ideology. Despite all the allegations of traitors and being ladled as an American agent, she never ceased raising her voice for human rights nationally and internationally. She stood taller than her 5ft height and her bird-like delicate body contained the heart of a lion, an unflagging social conscience and indomitable will. Her services were finally recognised by Pakistanis when she was awarded the biggest civil award if the country after her death due to cardiac arrest in 2018. Her nomination for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 was international recognition of her struggle for democracy and human rights.
Ibtihaj Muhammad (born December 4, 1985) made headlines when she won a bronze medal in sabre fencing in Rio Olympics 2016 for Team USA wearing a hijab. She has a great sporting record to her credit, by winning the world championship in 2014, becoming a national champion twice (2009, 2017), 19 times winning a world cup medal and 5 times being a world medallist. She was featured in the list of 100 most influential women by Time Magazine in 2016. she has become an icon for Muslim girls both in the sports arena and the fashion industry. Mattel realised her popularity among American Muslims and in 2017, unveiled the first Hijab-Wearing Barbie to honour her. Sports brands like Nike appointed her “pro-hijab” face of the brand in 2017. She refused the discrimination in her sporting career to define her personality. She questions the marginalisation of Afro-American hijab-wearing Muslim women where their talent, hard work and ability is always questioned. She broke the social and cultural shackles for Muslim women to find their space in sports and excel to excellence without compromising on their values. She wows not that let not the limitations of the society define us as Muslim women. In view of the gap in the fashion industry for modest clothes for Muslim women, Ibtihaj launched her own clothing brand “Louella”, aiming for affordable, fashionable, and modest clothes. She released her memoir PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely Dream in 2018. Her storybook for children, The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family in 2019 was a New York Times Best Seller. With her successes, Ibtihaj has acquired a unique position to influence the generation of Americans. With a message of tolerance and kindness, she leads by example to bring a positive change. She also serves as a sports ambassador for the U.S Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative. She travels around the globe to create awareness of sports and education for women.
Halima Aden (1997-present) is a Somalia-American Super Model who sprung to the scene of fashion and modelling after becoming the first Hijabi Model and semi-finalist in Miss Minnesota USA. She was listed in BBC’s 100 women in 2021 and is a role model for many young Muslim girls. She is the first model to be featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit wearing Hijab and burkini. She knew that she has broken the boundaries both for the Muslim women to dream of a career in the fashion industry and for the industry by diversifying it and becoming more inclusive of Muslim women. She shared on her Instagram "women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings...can stand together and be celebrated. "She quit runway modelling when she was on the “top of her game”. Even though she made the hijab a no-negotiable part of her contract with Tommy Hilfiger, she felt that she was losing her identity as the size of the hijab will shrink with every shoot. She cited compromised beliefs and feeling like a “minority within a minority”, as a reason to quit. She was supported by industry-leading models for her decision. She became vocal about the problems in the industry for not accommodating the hijab-wearing models. She hit out at the industry for failing to diversify and for exploiting the young models. Halima has become a trailblazer both as a Hijabi model and the one who came back to the industry on her own terms without compromising on her values and identity. She reaffirmed that she does not need to endorse social norms to become a successful model. She wants to change the social stereotype of the west toward Muslim women. She rejects the perception of oppression associated with the Hijab. She understands her role, “it is crucial to walk the walk” as a role model too. Hence, she wants to continue the work in the industry in terms of “diversity” and “inclusion”. She takes pride in her identity and does not want to change herself to blend in but suggests, “Don’t change yourself, change the game”.
She became UNICEF ambassador for children’s rights in 2019 and continues working with UNO.
Galloping to the victory in your first horse race, this was Khadijah Mellah (born 2000) from Peckham London, who became Britain’s first female Hijab-wearing jockey in a competitive British horse race. She won the Magnolia Cup, a women’s charity race, despite being new to the sports and her success was featured in a TV documentary Riding the Dream, in 2019. Riding the Dreams was backed up by Great British Racing to promote sports. She is now an ambassador for the association and sport. She won Times Young Sportswoman of the year 2019. When she won the race, she was an A-Level student, now studying Mechanical engineering at Brighton University. Mellah wants to inspire other Muslim girls to pursue their dreams of both sports and professions without sacrificing their beliefs or values. She wants to change the stereotype around Muslim girls can’t follow their passions for sports and she admits that so far, her life has been proving “people wrong”. She aspires to be a role model for those who believe that their dreams do not fall in their comfort zone. Melah wants to keep a long term’s association with horse racing. She wants to deal with the stereotypes of gambling associated with the sport and the Hijab being a restriction for women to ride the horse. She knows that she has become a trailblazer, yet she modestly said, “if I can be a role model to even one girl, that is great”. She indeed is a great role model to learn that excellence in sports does not come at cost of a career and is irrelevant to background and culture. She takes pride in representing the Muslim community and expects that her success in the hijab will show her religion in a positive light instead of the misconception of the hijab as a symbol of oppression. She also wants to inspire Muslim girls to take courage and pursue their sports passion by wearing hijab. She also wants the people to appreciate the achievements of hijabi women and not only the fact that they wear hijab.