Muslims are constantly in the media but rarely for good reason. Muslims are often called terrorists or accused of oppressing women. They are rarely spoken of as regular people going about their daily lives.
For whatever reason, Islam is not held to the same standard as other religions. A Catholic nun’s habit is seen as modest, but a Muslim woman wearing a hijab is seen as oppressed. Kosher meals are an understood part of Judaism, but Muslim people are backward for not eating pork. Not drinking alcohol is a common practice among some Christian denominations as well as in Islam, yet only Muslims are being forced to consume alcohol in China.
It does not end there. People say the very foundation of Islam is oppressive, yet they respond with ideas that strip away freedom of choice. European countries have decided to ban all face coverings, mainly targeting burqas and niqabs. China has deemed Islam a contagious illness of the mind and set up camps to “re-educate” Muslims by forcing them to eat pork.
The Muslim community itself is divided among those who wear a hijab or who do not; who are from Islamic nations and who are not; who are ready and willing to acknowledge its problems and who deny any issues.
As a non-hijab wearing, Nigerian-American Muslim woman, I struggle to find where I fit into the Muslim community. I follow Facebook pages like Muslim Girl and watch shows like “The Bold Type” desperately looking for someone to whom I can relate, for something in the media about Muslims that is not related to death, terror or oppression. I know that I am not alone.
Blair Imani and Ani Zonneveld have shared similar struggles. As a convert to Islam and a queer, light-skinned Black Muslim woman, Blair did not fit into any of the traditional Muslim circles. As an immigrant, non-Arab, non-hijab wearing Muslim woman, Ani too could not find community.
But they were not defeated by their differences or struggles. Blair decided to establish Equality for Her, a nonprofit educational platform for women and non-binary people, and write a book highlighting narratives of women who paved the way for more women to be themselves. Ani decided to form her own community and start Muslims for Progressive Values, a nonprofit, grassroots human rights organization that embodies and advocates for social justice, women’s rights, LGBTQ inclusion, freedom of expression and freedom of and from belief globally.
I am so inspired by Ani and Blair. They have helped me realize no one can define or critique the degree to which I am Muslim. They have shown me all that matters are my personal relationship with Allah and staying true to myself. They have taught me the best way to get closer to Allah is to get to know myself better. Their commitment to staying true to who they are and their openness with their struggles is truly noteworthy.
Minority Muslims in the Media was an idea that was created with the intention of curating a space for discourse around women in Islam and for voices like Ani and Blair’s. The event was inspired by Adena from “The Bold Type”. Even though she’s a fictional character, I am forever grateful to her. Her existence led me on a path of self-discovery that has helped me critically evaluate my religion and myself.