“Hey, where are you from?”
“I’m from here.”
“What do you mean? Ottawa?”
“I live here, but was born in New Brunswick.”
“I guess, what I mean, is where are you really from?”
Ok, let’s stop right here. This is where I start to get irritable, this is where I start to feel the fire being fueled deep down. This is where I breathe in deeply and find that quiet space that controls my urge to yell at the top of my lungs. This is my first interaction with I would say 98% of people and after almost 14 years, I have to say it is downright irritating.
Let me back up a bit, I’m a Muslim woman (enter exhale- ahhhaaaaaa). I think you see where I am going right? I am a covered Muslim woman, I observe a funky, trendy, colourful, east meets west inspired modesty. Basically, what that means is that I cover my hair . This confuses people into thinking that I must be from a foreign, exotic, faraway place and they fixate on this until they have labelled me in their mind.
In other words, I am in a box. Imagine a big cardboard box, with sharp corners, smooth surfaces and a clearly defined top and bottom. Now, place me in there. That is what most people who speak to me for the first time do. It is suffocating in there, I can’t breathe in this box, I can’t move, I can’t be myself and let loose. Unfortunately, this box has been constructed by multiple groups, not just by the curious first impression group, the odd onlooker on the bus, or at the pool, but by the Muslim community as well. I am neither here nor there, nor East or West, I am a fusion of so many things and this box, this cardboard box, is much much much too small to contain me- my identity cannot be reduced to my covering.
OK, now that I have that out of the way, let us look at how identities can be deconstructed, reconstructed, challenged and reformed- enter social media.
The use of social media among Muslim women is quite the hot topic. So much so that theses are being written about the constructing of Muslim women’s identities on social media by bright young scholars such as Sumayya Daghar. Much of this interest was sparked after the creation of a video on YouTube by Habib Yazdi, called “Somewhere in America #Mipsterz”. “Mipsterz (short for Muslim Hipsters) are a group of primarily young Muslims in their 20s and 30s (and a subset of the Millenials) who have evolving views on religion, identity and culture.”(Wikipedia, Mipsterz). In short, they definitely do not fit into boxes.
You may ask yourself what the big deal may have been, this video is simply of covered Muslim women doing random, inoffensive things. But it sparked great debate in the social media world, opinions being voiced from all streams of the spectrum, mainly critiquing Muslim women trying to “fit in”. How interesting it is to assume that Muslim women, simply by means of dress do not “fit into” American society.
Reporter Hajer Naili, who is one of the featured Mipsterz in the video said, with reference to this assumption: “we do not try to fit into Western society. We are women who were born in the West,” she said. “I don’t try to fit into society, this who I am. And besides that, I’m a Muslim woman. So why wouldn’t it be compatible to express this double culture; this double identity. We are women with multifacets, and this is who we are.” (HuffingtonPost, 2013/12/05). The Mipster movement is alive through various channels on social media, they are on Facebook , have their Twitter hashtag #Mipsterz , a GoogleGroup and of course a Tumblr account and are pushing the boundaries of a pre-constructed Muslim identity, namely the Muslim woman identity in North America.
My question is- how would all of this be possible without the various social media channels? How could we engage in such a crucial dialogue- of what it means to be a woman of faith, yet be integrated, and challenge the social stereotype. It challenges the architecture of a faith that has the flexibility, the diversity within it’s core to birth an identity that is fluid, blossoming and fully integrated into all societies and contexts due to it’s eternal lasting power. Social media allows these women the opportunity to bust out of the box, to wear the different colours of their identities- be they artists, lawyers, engineers, Olympians, mothers, daughters, partners. It is time to pull a lesson out of controversy, engage social media in the cause of deconstruction of identities or rather its construction. If there is an urgent need for anything, surely it is dialogue.
How have you engaged in deconstructing pre-conceived identities of “others” through various social media channels? ?