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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