I grew up around Muslim girlfriends that were like sisters”

London-based photography collective and zine Muslim Sisterhood spotlight five female and non-binary Muslims from their community.

Zeinab Saleh, Sara Gulamali and Lamisa Khan are the three women behind London-based photography collective Muslim Sisterhood. What started out as a photo series capturing young Muslim women and non-binary Muslims in the city is now a fully fledged creative project that aims to highlight the positivity and creativity pulsating through the Muslim Sisterhood community. The success of the venture has led to them working with the likes of Nike, Converse, gal-dem and Matches Fashion.

Last month, Zeinab, Sara and Lamisa launched Muslim Sisterhood’s very first zine in collaboration with Between Borders (a magazine dedicated to celebrating the diversity of British identities) – the triumphant result of a GoFundMe campaign that saw them raise over £3,000 to cover the costs. The zine features the trio’s photography and texts around religion, relationships and rituals while spotlighting and celebrating the identities of those who – in the increasingly polarised and divisive climate that we live in – need a platform and a voice the most.

Here, Zeinab, Sara and Lamisa talk sisterhood, faith, childhood memories and cultural traditions with women and non-binary Muslims from their community. Rayaan, Areena, Aisyah, Rahma and Tasnim – over to you.

Rayaan Schutz

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Rayaan, but some people call me Nina. I’m 25, Somali and Swiss, and I was raised in Milan by Muslim parents. I moved to London seven years ago to study and ended up staying.

What do you do?

I’m a part-time teacher and part-time creative assistant at Bossy LDN – a small, all-female, creative agency that mainly works in music consultancy and events. I’ve been working with them for a year as a creative assistant, helping out with all sorts of things and learning a lot along the way.

What are your favourite places in London and Milan?

It’s an obvious one, but one of my favourite places in London is Hampstead Heath — I’ve always lived in West or in South, so discovering all that wilderness in London was amazing. My favourite places in Milan are probably all restaurants since my love for Italian food knows no bounds. 

What does sisterhood mean to you? 

Sisterhood means more and more to me as I get older. I feel nourished when I’m around people I love and relate to, who love me back without judgement. It’s rare to find something like that in life, and it’s important to cherish it when you do.

What about your faith?

I used to be scared that questioning my beliefs made me a bad Muslim, but studying theology really changed my relationship to God and introspectiveness. Now I’m more aware of the beautiful ways in which we can understand faith, and less apprehensive that my religion is in some way restricting me from seeing life in a certain way. 

Do you have a fond memory of growing up Muslim? 

I have really amazing memories of growing up Muslim, my parents were both pretty religious and festive, so I remember Eid being one of the best days of the year. I was also lucky to grow up around Muslim girlfriends that were like sisters, who understood and shared all of my struggles and challenges as a teenager. 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a younger you?

I would tell myself not to take things too personally, and not to hold people to the same standard as I hold myself. 

Areena Ang

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m an artist and an activist currently studying Fine Art at London’s Slade School of Fine Art. I’m based here, but I’m originally from Malaysia. I identify as genderfluid and use they/​them pronouns. 

How does your faith influence you?

For me, my faith massively informs my values, my outlook in life and how I carry out my activism. In Islam, there is a huge focus on kindness and giving back to our communities unconditionally, whether in the form of zakat (monetary) or community work. This has been really important in my institutional activism, as it’s shaped how I think about giving care on the daily, or infusing care into the education system. I was a lead representative of my department. It was really important for me to bring voices of marginalised students forward.

What’s the best thing about Malaysia?

The restaurants! The food is amazing and so tasty, I love the local restaurants. From the late-night mamaks”, to the fancy rooftop bars – there’s something for everyone.

What does Islam mean to you?

Growing up, I had two very conflicting beliefs taught to me by my parents as one of them is atheist and one of them is Muslim. Throughout my life, I’ve been oscillating between those two beliefs, particularly in my teenage years where I became a hardcore atheist. I found God again when I prayed for something really amazing in my life to happen, I believe that God gave me the strength to pursue it. For me, faith can be a guidance in life, I really feel like someone or something is looking out for me. 

What book changed your life?

I was really young when I picked up The Autobiography of Malcolm X and despite the fact that I do not agree with all of his ideas, it really taught me a lot about the foundations of understanding racial politics, the position of whiteness” in the world and the variations of how we can react/​resist it. I love the end of the book where he speaks about how he goes to Mecca and sees people from all different races and backgrounds join as one brotherhood” of solidarity. He then consolidates that he believes that white people are not the problem inherently, but the ideologies of whiteness and colonial thinking. It’s really interesting how he talks about this in the book, as his ideas of race and methodologies to accelerate the civil rights movement fluctuate so much in the book. 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a younger you?

Read. Read a lot. Read about everything. Stay informed so if people try to test you, they can’t catch you trippin’. Never lose sight of who you want to be, it will guide you to living your truth, even if you’re scared. Take time with yourself. People will try to knock you down your entire life because they’re threatened by what you are and who you may become, but keep getting back up. You’ve got something bigger ahead of you. You’ve got this bb. Remember that no one ever has it as good as you think they do. The people who tell it harsh love you the most. You don’t have to wear makeup if you don’t want to. 

Aisyah Octavia

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Aisyah Octavia, I’m 20 and I’m from Southeast London, ethnically from Indonesia. I do photography, video and graphic design as a hobby but now freelance as my main source of income. I go to uni to finesse the student finance and rinse the facilities. I buss bants quite a lot and enjoy making sure everyone around me is happy.

Do you have a fond memory of growing up Muslim?

In London the Indonesian community is very small so we can all fit in one building. During Ramadan, we would all eat together every week in the Indonesian embassy on Oxford Street which was fun because it felt like I was in the right place. We would all pray the same, pronounce things the same – it was just more comfortable to openly practice faith in that space.

What book changed your life?

Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far. This book taught me the importance of the team and how success is not a solo mission but the rise of the whole gang. Everyone helps each other out and highlights the importance of community – especially in the creative industry where everyone wants to be at the top.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a younger you?

The worst they can say is no” – so just ask! I use to be bare shy innit, but not now. I missed so many opportunities because I was shy. Sometimes I wonder where I could have been if I had the confidence I have now back then. A TV presenter maybe? I’m on it still.

What kind of change do you want to see in the creative industries?

More fucking female visual artists in the music video scene! The females in the industry that are respected tend to give off masculine energies (no makeup, tracksuits, baggy clothes) which makes them more respected than someone who comes in with make-up on, hair did, and wearing tight clothing. I went to a shoot once and they were like rah you’re doing the video? Do you know what you’re doing though like? You look bare young and daht”. AKA – I’m not a white middle-aged man so I must be stupid…

What’s your most-loved cultural tradition?

BATIK! In Indonesia every Friday the whole country wears Batik (to do Friday prayers) which is a type of Indonesian traditional pattern that we wear on special occasions (it comes in batik burka, headscarves, hats, suits everything!) It’s so cute because it really shows that you’re Indonesian. During my friends graduation, me and her family all wore batik to Southbank centre… we saw another family all wearing batik and ended up bussin convo with them cause they were Indonesian too. It’s just funny in this small London to speak to every Indonesian we come across. 

@raxmamoxamed

Rahma Mohamed

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

To put it simply. My Name is Rahma Mohamed and I am 22-year-old British Somali woman from London. I studied international history at London School of Economics and I will soon be starting a masters at Columbia University. I haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life. But I do know that I want to be able to help others experience the blessing and levels I have been able to reach. 

What’s your favourite place in London?

Wembley. I know this is a whole area, but I really appreciate the diversity of the area. When I was in school, my teacher always would say this area is not a microcosm of the real world. But I don’t know why it can’t be. Growing up in such an ethnically diverse area where not one ethnic group dominates I was never really aware of me being minority”. Everyone respected everyonea culture and religious beliefs and nobody was made to feel different. Having not experienced what it’s like in the rest of London and the UK I have come to see that what my teacher said is true. I do pray that one day the rest of the UK can be just as accepting as Wembley. 

What does your faith mean to you?

Everything! I feel like my faith has been the main reason I am able to be where I am today. Islam has provided me with the opportunity to believe. Growing up in an economically deprived area of London the chances for an individual like me whose family just fled to the UK in the early 1990s to be have been blessed with the opportunity to study at LSE and now to be going to an ivy league university for her masters is completely unheard of. Typically, most of my peers were lucky enough to have finished their GCSEs. It’s not something that I believe reflects their lack of capability, but more something that’s telling of the environment we were raised in. For me, the teachings of Islam provided me with a way out. Islam teaches us to push ourselves to be the best versions that we can be and to never give up hope. Islam also teaches us to believe in our capability. This was something my parents would always remind me. Once you begin to believe in yourself everything becomes within reach. My faith pushed me to apply for positions I didn’t think I could get. It also helped me form a community of like-minded people to support me through my journey. With hard work and faith, you can truly make the unbelievable a reality. 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a younger you?

Do not let the feeling that you do not belong make you miss out on opportunities. Be yourself from the beginning. I feel like I suffered from impostor syndrome for a period in my life. It caused me to hold my tongue when I disagreed with what others were saying and made me not fully immerse myself into the opportunities that were presented to me, or show people who I truly was. I quickly realised I wasn’t happy and in order to make true friends I had to let them to like me for who I truly was and not for who I thought I needed to be. 

What’s your favourite Somali tradition?

It is not really a tradition, but I love the way Somali women are raised to be strong. Somali mothers raise their daughters to be independent. My mother would always tell me to make something of myself and never put myself in a predicament where I would have to rely on someone else. Somali women are truly the backbone of the Somali community and I admire the effort they put into making it possible for their children to succeed. I also love the sense of community that is always present among Somalis. We do not need to know one another but we are always willing to make sure we help each other any way we can. This tradition is something that I think is so beautiful. The sense of community is something taught within Islam so it could be a practice of faith passed down through tradition.

Tasnim Nahar

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I am a British Bangladeshi Muslim. My name Tasnim means fountain of paradise in Arabic (the supreme fountain in Muslim paradise), and Nahar is my mum’s first name. Both are very important things in my life. I am a facilities/​contractor administrator during the weekdays, and I work as a freelance make-up artist on the weekends. I love to travel. Period.

Tell us about your work as a MUA?

Being a make-up artist is always so dreamy, I live, breathe, eat, make-up, so, when I am working it doesn’t actually feel like I’m working. I love how everyone comes in different shapes, different tones, different features. God has created beautiful creations and as a make-up artist it’s not for me to change the beauty. My job is to enhance the beauty you already have.

What does your faith mean to you?

Everything. I am forever thankful for being brought up in the Muslim faith. I love the meaning of Islam.

What book changed your life?

I read Princess by Jean Sasson at the age of 12 and it really touched me – it opened my eyes to the hardship Muslim women face all across the world.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a younger you?

Don’t be scared to take the jump.

What kind of change do you want to see in the industry you work in?

I want Muslim women to have a bigger platform through which they can speak and express themselves. And I would like to see a variety of coloured models that I can relate to when I go to make colour swatches!

Who’s your fav Muslim icon? 

Dave Chappelle cause he once said, I don’t normally talk about my religion publicly because I don’t want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing. And I believe it is beautiful if you learn it the right way.” 

What are your favourite cultural traditions?

Mahr (dowry for the bride to keep – for herself). Washing post toilet – no toilet paper no problem! Wiping never cleans guys.


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