Story by Meshall Awan
Painting by Maverick Mudge
When you are a Muslim female, your voice is often stifled due to misogynistic perspectives and oppressive stereotypes prevalent in society. Twenty-one year old Aima–known on Instagram as NiqaBae Chronicles–stands against that set image. Aima uses her social media platforms to speak out for what she believes in; a woman’s right over her body, resisting patriarchy, and reclaiming a Niqabi woman’s narrative. Aima is an avid anime artist, a K-Pop fan, and says she identifies as an immigrant of Turtle Island. Her Instagram account is made up of an array of her illustrations, all revolving around the idea of female empowerment. Aima has written for Muslim Girl and Sister-Hood Magazine, and also creates YouTube videos where she talks about destigmatizing the taboo around various women’s topics.
Aima is not only an activist, feminist, and artist, she is also someone who inspires me whenever I come across her work. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aima—here’s how it went:
You are vocal about many issues that are seen as taboo in Muslim or South Asian communities. How do the people around you react to that?
I receive mixed reactions, because my audience is diverse. Men usually try to shame or patronize me for voicing my concerns around sexual predators. It’s the same when I say something along the lines of how cultural practices do not concern themselves with women’s rights. My female audience applauds my efforts to destigmatize the female body and a woman’s independence. My non-Muslim audience is shocked and curious to see what I’ll say next, because the things I am passionate about and fight for sound even more radical juxtaposed with my image.
I’ve seen many people say that feminism goes against what Islam stands for—what is your viewpoint on that ideology?
I believe those people don’t have a comprehensive understanding of Islam’s history in regards to women’s rights. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) who everyone likes to quote as a patriarchal ambassador was actually a feminist. He made sure that women knew their rights: such as the right to education, the right to work and to have an independent income from one’s spouse. Women even kept their last names after marriage and at times, proposed first. In a time when women were treated as property, the Prophet Muhammad and Islam contributed to supporting and empowering women.
I have the right to say no and choose how I practice my faith because there is no compulsion in religion and you aren’t considered more pious for wearing the hijab or niqab. The emphasis is on the right to choose. Feminism supports the equality of the sexes and the rights for women to do what they want with their bodies away from men’s unsolicited opinions and gaze.
Despite the attempt of diversity that is present in mainstream media, why do you think stereotypes against Muslim women are still present?
I believe that we as artists have a burden to justify our art as a narrative that truly represents Muslim women and that makes our work emotionally exhausting. I can only speak for myself, but my art is meant to open dialogues not only in the political spectrum but within our communities as well. Often, I find that most immigrant Muslimahs (Arabic word for Muslim women) shy away from honing their talents, because it isn’t a convenient mode of income nor seen as an actual career. Family support is a key indicator for some, in terms of deciding if they will continue with their passion. It makes you wonder how many Muslim youth had to bicker with their families to say, “Hey, I don’t want to be a doctor, but rather I want a career in the arts.” But, even more than that, Muslim women have their art disregarded or picked at, because it makes people uncomfortable with the idea that a Muslim woman can imagine and fantasize realities outside of oppression, war and trauma.
What are some of your frustrations with the representation of not just Muslim women,but women in general?
We see the niqab used in fashion to make a statement. So when the model takes it off she is liberated or for instance when Lady Gaga adorns a niqab, suddenly it’s okay to fetishize what the niqab is. The niqab is literally used as a muzzle against Muslims by those who have no clue about its history. This limits the conversation on what the niqab is and isn’t and becomes a means to justify the war on terror or the bans that surround it. Seeing the niqab in art gives me that control back. I still choose to wear niqab because that’s my choice and I can’t be oppressed by that choice when I’m consciously trying to wear it.
It’s easy for individuals to perceive or merge culture and religion as one. Where do you draw the line, or where do you believe the line should be drawn?
Culture is the patriarchy infused with celebrations and vibrant clothes. It’s spices that make my tastebuds dance in unison and a sense of silence that sweeps the neighborhood floors. Culture is the burning sensations of skin peeling off the walls, and the ignored flame keeping that home running for every milestone. Culture is not perfect because culture is fashioned into a fabric that tames our souls. Because, when you think about it, what profit can be made from woke women who’s wombs aren’t theirs anymore? I believe that when culture starts infringing on the rights of the minority and individuals, it has crossed the line. When it no longer shows respect and displays ignorant behavior endangering others, that’s when it’s clear a line has been crossed.
The argument of ‘My Body, My Choice’ is prevalent when it comes to feminism. In regards to that, what is feminism to you?
Dalia Mogahed said it best “If yours is a feminism trying to recreate me in your image you can keep it. That’s not dismantling patriarchy, that’s joining it.” There’s a reason why you don’t see a lot of women who are visibly Muslim tell other feminists their issues with men and the patriarchy. Because, the first thing you do is question the tenets of our religion instead of holding those men accountable. It makes the question arise, would one being an atheist make said individual less likely to get sexually assaulted?
Simply put, what empowers you?
What empowers me is when women are not in competition with each other but collaborate and foster sisterhood. In addition to that, it’s empowering when we help each other to unlearn the internalized phobias, misogyny and sexism. My Muslimah identity empowers me.
How do Muslim women get a seat at the table, and get a say in the important decisions made regarding them?
Don’t fight for a seat at a table. Don’t exhaust your energy on people who aren’t involved in the cause. Create a space and environment for yourself with like-minded individuals. Funnel that energy into positive creations that support you and represent you.
You can find Aima on Instagram (@niqabaechronicles), Twitter (@AimaNiqabae) and Youtube (@Niqabae Chronicles).
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