University News

Q&A: Amara Majeed ’19 talks Islamophobia, sexism

After ‘Good Morning America’ talk, Majeed discusses media depictions of Muslims, hijab

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2016

“I see the hijab as a feminist symbol as well as an expression of my faith,” Amara Majeed ’19 said. The Hijab Project, founded by Majeed, aims to raise awareness about the female Muslim experience.

Amara Majeed ’19 was interviewed by “Good Morning America” anchor Amy Robach last week for her #GirlPower series. A self-described feminist and Muslim activist, Majeed is the founder of the Hijab Project, a “social experiment” in which women were encouraged to wear a hijab  for a day in public and record their experiences.

Majeed is also known for her published works. In 2014, Majeed published a book, “The Foreigners,” that documents the lives of Muslims around the world. Last month, Majeed wrote a controversial open letter to Donald Trump in Seventeen magazine condemning his anti-Muslim rhetoric.

She sat down with The Herald Thursday to discuss Muslim feminism, Islamophobia and cyber bullying.

The Herald: What does the hijab mean to you, as a religious and political symbol?

I see the hijab as a feminist symbol as well as an expression of my faith. At 14, I noticed the disparities between the portrayals of males and females and began to understand the gender inequality present in our society. We as a society often propagate an incredibly flawed ideology that the worth of a woman lies in her beauty, her body and her sexuality. The hijab makes a statement. It says, “I don’t want to be sexualized. I don’t want to be objectified.”

Do you come from a family background that encourages wearing the hijab?

My parents never limited me in terms of my dress, and they were surprised that I chose to do this, but they supported me nonetheless. We aren’t strictly religious at all. When my mother used to wear the hijab in Sri Lanka, she wore it more casually than I do now. I don’t think she wore it in the U.S. before I did. We’ve never had a discourse about her decision to start wearing the hijab again after I started wearing it, because it felt like a very natural expression of the modest way in which she always chose to present herself. She says it’s how she feels most comfortable.

Do you see your work as breaking apart the dominant Western, white feminist framework to be more inclusive of people of Islamic heritage?

Yes, I do. I believe intersectionality is incredibly important. Muslim women who are Hijabis have to struggle with different forms of prejudice in addition to gender inequality. For example, white women who participated in The Hijab Project told me that the experiment made them aware of their white privilege, that suddenly they didn’t feel welcome at airports and universities in their own country.

I also feel like the first question people ask me nowadays because of the hijab is, “Are you married?” They used to ask me where I went to school first, and sometimes when people hear that I go to Brown University, their eyes bulge. They just don’t see that potential in me anymore now that I wear the hijab — they assume that I’m submissive and simpleminded, that I can’t speak English and that I’m less American and even less human.

Do you believe that the media plays a large part in this dehumanization of Muslims?

The media presents a picture where it seems like all we Muslims do is kill innocent people. It’s not a holistic view of the situation — a lot of the context is removed. The media blames Islam for terrorism, but terrorism is deeply entrenched in history and politics. The West, particularly the U.S., destabilized the Middle East for years. I don’t think we, as Americans, understand what this form of colonization did to Iraq and to the whole region. ISIS didn’t grow in a vacuum. When people are forgotten victims for so long, they become victimizers.

Blaming Islam ultimately hurts Muslims, like me, and helps ISIS. I imagine ISIS appeals to some people in the West because they prey on the alienation caused by Islamophobia.

In the past, in attempting to make that very argument about American intervention in the Middle East, (you have been censored by certain publications). Do you believe that the media only gives you a platform as long as you say what they want to hear?

The media is often concerned with representing our enemies as other and the U.S. as victims. It contributes to a narrative that idolizes and victimizes America while criminalizing Muslims. The only way I fit into this dichotomy is by being either the good Muslim or the apologetic Muslim who denounces the bad Muslims out there. I’m tired of being silenced. I feel like even well-intentioned platforms are taking away from my struggle as a Muslim American.

As a self-described Muslim activist, do people often expect you to feel responsible for everything done in the name of Islam?

Yes, definitely. A lot of people expect me to condemn ISIS. Of course I believe that they’re the scum of the earth, but people expect me to condemn them to publicly distance myself from their terrorism.

There’s a statistic that white Christian males were the greatest source of domestic terrorism in the United States in the past year. I don’t expect my white friends to apologize or protest their innocence. I shouldn’t be expected to apologize for something that has nothing to do with me.

Most of your work is distributed through social media, and you’ve been the subject of a lot of online abuse. How do you deal with people who level personal attacks at you below the line?

So many people have told me, “Go back where you belong,” “I hope you get AIDS,” “You’re a terrorist.” They also use a lot of gendered abuse, calling me a cunt and a whore. It doesn’t really bother me on a personal level anymore. What bothers me is that the fear-mongering and anti-Muslim rhetoric created by many media sources and politicians has made it routine.

— This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

16 Comments

  1. Fantastic interview! Amara does take a courageous stand in the light of current anti-Islamic sentiment in the US. However, I also admire the brave women who have decided not to wear the Hijabi often at great personal risk to themselves from their families and communities. In the end, it is the women themselves who must decide and people of good will should support their decisions. In terms of the argument that it prevents “objectification” and reinforces “modesty”, I am not so sure that using this feminist trope is persuasive as a similar argument could also be used for a more conservative-doctrinal purpose that oppresses women.

    • Your post makes about 50/50 sense and is somewhat misguided. I’m guessing you must not write from the United States but a nation, which welcomes islamic sharia with open arms. Am I correct?

      islam is the only “religion” that under the guise of doctrine reduces women to property and almost non-human entities subject to the whims of men and risking death in such enclaves as “no go zones” of Sweden.

      This young lady did not take a courageous stand but one that was dictated by years of being brainwashed into submission. I fear for girls raised in sharia or semi-sharia households. Do you?

      38 comments with a private profile. I smell a troll 😝

  2. The reasoning put forward by Hezbollah in Lebanon recently align with the Iran clerics
    claim women not dressing properly cause earthquakes and are responsible for the
    inappropriate behavior men subject them to including rape.

    These statements reinforce the reality the burka is not a freely worn garment given the clear stigma Muslim women, who do not wear the burka or even the veil, are subject to in Muslim communities.

    If it is such a free choice how is it Muslim men are not covered in a ton of black fabric or cotton veils to cover their masculinity? Are Muslim men not sexual beings?

    The burka is as much a political statement as a naked woman walking in the streets to advocate public nudity as a right which should be accepted by the rest of society. One of subservience to men’s dogma not independence.

    Nudism is a cultural and political movement advocating and defending social nudity in private and in public. It may also refer to a lifestyle based on personal, family and/or social nudism.

    Society in general has decided public nudism can be very confronting, inappropriate, and even regarded as obscene by some. Although nudism is often practiced in a person’s home or garden, either alone or with members of the family public and in restricted venues public nudity is a behavior which society in general have deemed should be restricted and subject to judicial penalty.

    The burka is much more of an obscenity than nudity. For where nudism seeks to expand the societal bounds and diminish prejudice the burka politically advocates a denigrating , subservient role in society for women.

    The burka reinforces the notion women are not only to blame for men’s behavior towards them in regards sexual assaults but also women’s aspirations should be necessarily be different and subservient to a man’s definition of what a woman’s life should be.

    The public wearing of the burka is a categorical political act which seeks to advance the notion of the acceptance of the subservience and restriction of women’s opportunities in life relative to men which is absolutely obscene and must therefore be subject to judicial
    penalty.

    Everything we do is political. A woman deciding to wear shorts given human history is a political statement in itself. For it can be deemed as simply a relatively freely decided fashion statement.

    The Burka is an antitheist of this and very much a political statement of subjugation and in no way can be regarded as a fashion statement or a modern principle. No matter how many times and subtle colorful variations get dragged down the catwalk.

  3. Here’s another example of the failure of our university system. The loonies are running the funny farm.

    http://dailynexus.com/2016-02-17/ucsb-students-faculty-discuss-isis-and-refugees/

  4. Islamophobia huh? If you’re yelling insults at a woman with a hijab, you might be an Islamophobe. If you criticize aspects of the Muslim faith, you are NOT Islamophobic. A phobia is an irrational fear, after all.

  5. Valerie Langberg '14 says:

    I am appalled and disgusted at the comments on this article and I sincerely hope they are not coming from members of the Brown community. What the hell, people?

  6. I see the hijab as a feminist symbol as well as an
    expression of my faith. At 14, I noticed the disparities between the
    portrayals of males and females and began to understand the gender
    inequality present in our society. We as a society often propagate an
    incredibly flawed ideology that the worth of a woman lies in her beauty,
    her body and her sexuality. The hijab makes a statement. It says, “I
    don’t want to be sexualized. I don’t want to be objectified.”

    *************************
    I notice she has no problem wearing make-up.
    *************************
    Muzlims are the world champions at rationalization.
    *************************
    When I read the title of the article, I had a faint twinge of hope. Maybe women will lean Izlam into the civilized world. Nope. Not a chance. She merely blended the current flavor of PC apologists with the double standard of Izlam.
    **************************
    Muzlims may be the folks who finally prove to the rest of the world that the individual can never be free.
    ***************************
    Little girl, what you have done here is to perpetuate sexism in Islam. Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll receive tons of accolades for all of the PC talking points you’ve included.

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