Finding decent representation of Muslim women in mainstream media is hard. Finding female Muslims in media that are depicted solely by female Muslims themselves is next to impossible. Granted, they do exist, with the most well-known one being Marvel’ssuperheroine Kamala Khan in a comic series created by two American Muslim women.
However, the problem with creations like these is that they are inevitably subjected to pressures by the company, sales, readers or threats of cancellation. Thus, in order to find authentic characters and creators that are able to do their art with no holds barred, I turned to less mainstream mediums; namely, online comics and art by Muslim women creators on Instagram.
1. Huda Fahmy (@yesimhotinthis)
Huda Fahmy is an American-Muslim woman in her 30s from Houston and the self-taught artist behind her comic series titled Yes, I’m Hot In This. She describes it on her Instagram account as, “A webcomic about the musings of a slightly sweaty Muslim-American woman”. She started posting her art in March 2017 and just over a year later, has garnered around 170,000 followers.
Being a hijabi woman in America, Huda finds herself constantly being asked about her headscarf and is surrounded by misconceptions of it. In a Q&A series on her Instagram account, Huda revealed some of the questions she’s been asked, from “Does your husband force you to wear that?” to “Can you tell us your hair colour?”
She created her comic series to tackle such misunderstandings using humour. In an interview with HuffPost, Huda explained the title of her comic, saying that one common query she gets is whether she feels hot wearing her hijab. She said, “What do I care if they think I’m hot? I’m proud of my hijab. I’d wear it no matter what. But also, YES, I’M HOT. It’s 112 degrees out here, WE’RE ALL HOT.”
2. Areeba Siddique (@ohareeba)
Areeba Siddique is a blogger, Youtuber, activist and artist from Pakistan who does incredibly unique and vibrant illustrations depicting her life as a young Muslim woman and subverting stereotypes along the way. Areeba comes from a traditional religious family. When she first started using social media, she was hesitant to reveal too much about her religion online, feeling that her love for Islam wouldn’t come across as relatable in the largely white culture of the internet.
She said in an interview, “I was tired because I felt as though everything was very whitewashed. I found myself not being able to connect to anyone online… I mean, I come from a traditional household, so it was weird that I was spending hours online, but the person I was, wasn’t really me.” Her art shows that young Muslim women can be fun and cool people who you would love to hang out with.
3. Nasima Ahmed (@moosleemargh)
Nasima is a Bengali London-based illustrator in her 20s whose bold, striking art style conveys her frustration with stereotypes and her desire for Muslim women to get the representation they deserve. On her Tumblr page, she states, “I want Muslim girls to see my art and see themselves in it. My work is not catered to non-Muslims in order to show them how ‘normal’ and ‘just like you’ we are.”
Indeed, her illustrations feature a distinctive desi style that is quite heartening to see, usually along with a punchy, humorous slogan. Her daring and in-your-face way of drawing is subversive as Muslim women are largely thought to be quiet and submissive, particularly women wearing the hijab. Her aim is not just the representation of Muslim women but an active struggle against the sexism that pervades both the Muslim community and outside. As an added bonus, her illustrations are great fun!
4. Aqsa Naveed (@aqsasqa)
Another artist with a unique desi style, Pakistani-American Aqsa’s illustrations depict Muslim women drawn in an up close and personal manner, usually with the face taking up the whole picture. You cannot look away from her. This is clearly a statement to make the Muslim woman as visible as possible and it is quite successfully done, usually because it is accompanied by some pointed and subversive dialogue.
Her art is not just about Muslims but about desi culture itself and the sexism it entails. Thus, she features a variety of women, both hijabi and non-hijabi, wearing all kinds of clothes and being strong, angry, sad and humorous.
Speaking as a desi woman, I found the illustrations incredibly relatable and funny as they feature both strong feminist statements and moments from everyday life, such as Aqsa’s love for pizza and biryani. It’s already tough being an intersectional feminist activist but Aqsa makes sure to have fun while doing it.
5. Atika (@tikatoons)
Atika’s comic strips portray her identity as a Saudi Arabian woman and detail her daily life, with moments such as going to the cinema, shopping at Sephora or her first day at work. Her aim is to shatter stereotypes about abaya-clad Arabian women but her every day, casual comics show that, in the end, Saudi Arabian women are simply human beings living ordinary lives.
More importantly, they show that no woman owes the world any explanations or justifications about being able to live their lives. Atika’s comics about ignorant reactions towards her hijab or identity are just as important as her comics about craving pancakes or going to work. They are quietly inspirational in the way they show Muslim women going forward with their lives no matter how much the world tries to push them back.
6. Mvzlamic (@mvzlamic)
One of my personal favourites, Mvzlamic’s art features some of the most hilarious and entertaining things that I’ve ever come across. Hailing from London, Mvzlamic does short comic strips on Instagram portraying Muslim women and men who are subjected to and who subvert stereotypes.
Rather than doing overtly strong and bold art like the previous artists on this list, Mvzlamic relies on humour to convey her message. This is important as some of her comics are quite educational, dispelling common myths about Islam and the humorous style can help people pay attention and understand the lesson.
She stated in an interview, “My identity is the driving force behind my content; my experiences as a Muslim woman of colour fuel my thoughts. Every piece is about making Muslims, particularly women in our faith feel happier, safer, seen, heard, validated and humanized.” She also believes art is an important medium for activism in our increasingly visually-driven society, saying that, “To break false narratives, we must share ourselves with others, and that’s exactly what art allows us to do.”