Muslim, Woman: Disrupting a Narrow Image

By Alia Youssef

Colonial representations of Muslim women have circulated in literature and media time and time again, going at least as far back as pre-19th century Western imperialist up until the present day (see: Donald Trump’s Muslim ban). These representations depict Muslim women as voiceless, oppressed, demure, and helpless, essentially complete victims of their patriarchal societies -- not  to mention Arab, always.

This one-dimensional image is stamped repeatedly on the bodies of every single Muslim woman, all 850 million of us. At a time when the number of hate crimes against Muslim women has increased 42 per cent in the past three years (which I heard at a panel discussion last year) this perceived "sameness" serves to obscure who we are, and put us at risk. 

This is why I created The Sisters Project, a photo series of Canadian Muslim women. I want to counter the idea that Muslim women can be painted with one brush, to humanize Muslim women and and diversify the narratives about their everyday lives. The portraits show a kinesiology student considering medical school, an ESL teacher who eases immigrants into Canadian life, the program manager of Ecotrust working tirelessly to preserve the British Columbian rainforest, and more. These women make up the fabric of contemporary Canada.

This project subverts labels and false associations. It counters voicelessness and lack of agency. Most importantly, it shows women in control of their lives.