Hijabs and Hip Hop: Video Challenges Stereotypes

Views of women skateboarding in heels, hanging out on a fire escape, high-fiving a crosswalk hand signal, posing on railroad tracks, interspersed with a fencing match, hand stands and an attempt to walk a skateboard ramp. Some of these might be par for the course in pockets of Brooklyn and other hipster hubs but put together, these clips make up a video meant to portray something considerably groundbreaking.

Skateboarding with heels (Image from "Somewhere in America" video)

Skateboarding with heels (Image from “Somewhere in America” video)

In addition to jewelry, sunglasses, and trendy shirts and leggings – and even a fencing uniform – these women don a head veil in the form of a hijab or turban, an indication of their Muslim faith. The video is what a Women’s eNews article by correspondent Hajer Naili calls an “antidote to prevailing western stereotypes of Muslim, veiled women as inactive, passive, uniform in their appearance, and hidden.”

On an afternoon in December 2012, Naili set aside her notepad and pen and joined other Muslim models from the Underwraps  Agency – which calls itself the world’s first Muslim modeling agency – for the video shoot in Prospect Park. Their shots are compiled with others from across the country and set to Jay-Z’s “Somewhere in America” as the soundtrack.

Under the direction of Brooklyn-based Habib Yazdi and Abbas Rattani, the video, which was released on November 30, depicts veiled Muslim women in the U.S. in a light rarely seen in the mainstream media – they’re confident, out in the open, hanging out and having fun like anyone else.  Through the seeming clash of images – Muslim women with a hipster vibe – Yazdi wants to turn the tables on how Muslim women are portrayed and seen in this country.

Fencers, with American olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad on right (Image from "Somewhere in America" video)

Fencers, with American olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad on right (Image from “Somewhere in America” video)

With its lack of narration, its trendy look and dynamic hip hop soundtrack, the Yazdi and Rattani adopt a commercial approach meant to popularize the image of veiled Muslim women as “bold, powerful, young, rebellious, and fashionable women,” Yazdi said. “We want to give people a different experience of what they tend to see and hear about Muslim women. You see how easy it is to manipulate images to create an idea, so for us it was like, why don’t we do the same thing? Why don’t we do our commercial and manipulate the images in our favor?”

If this kind of media were more widespread, the director thinks it could help change perceptions about Islam and women.

“Imagine if these images of Muslin women we have in the video are more prevalent, it becomes cool, it becomes hip, it becomes something that you are exposed to,” said Yazdi. “If you see this and it is presented in such a fun and cool capacity, everyone is going to respond to that.”

Naili does not wear the hijab anymore – in the video, she wears a turban – but she remains well aware of the need to combat the oft-reinforced images of a submissive Muslim woman hidden under a covering with little say of her own.

To combat the reductive stereotypes, we need more media that reflects our multi-faceted identities as Muslim women. It might not be every day that you witness veiled Muslim women wearing heels and skateboarding. But if you are ready to perceive us, you will come across plenty of active, funky, joyful, confident Muslim women who are also wearing the veil.

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