Nike Pro Hijab, 2017. Copyrights: Nike

Muslim women: the wave of the future.

Muslim women are the new cultural world leaders through soft power, through fashion, pop culture and art.

The Muslim world has been suffering from significant shortcomings, such as ineffective communication between citizens and their leaders and stagnation in the development of many Muslim-majority countries. Limited freedom of speech and a regressive approach towards fighting extremism and gender inequality are all too common. This attitude has to change. Leadership has to evolve in order to build trust, and must be be self-critical, in order to promote human rights, accountability and to show the world that Islam stands for peace and spiritual growth, rather than tyranny and stagnation.

The ego is not often discussed when we speak of world peace, but many of the world’s problems stem from selfishness and inability to connect with others in an empathetic way. This is why some Muslim youth leave their families and countries. They seem to have no sense of identity, nor a firm spiritual base to root them and keep them from joining death cults. They hijack Islam out of vindication, because their identity is in limbo. Those who abuse their positions of authority dubiously lure them astray with smart marketing tools -filled with propaganda and blood-thirsty fantasies- to places far away from home, their identities, a future and the core teachings of their faith. 

In a globalized world where matters of identity are complex, Muslim leaders should be using their collective power to tackle issues of connecting with youth in a more effective way. Due to ineffective communication by Muslim leaders, the responsibility to deal with this phenomena is exported to societies where these modern day problems with identity, religious interpretation and extremism have more room to fester and grow.

With the rise of a new wave of nationalism, extremism and terrorism, minority groups and women suffer the most. In America, the Black Lives Matter movement exists because young black lives are still in danger. Freedom of speech, the environment, human and women’s rights are under threat by the military-industrial complex that profits from pushing young men and women into war. All the while, global leaders are oblivious to this reality, distracted by their political tactics.

Post 9/11 Generation

16 years after 9/11, Muslim youth are shaped by the conditions that nurtured them, be it in Muslim majority countries or as the children of immigrants or refugees in the rest of the world. This generation, which journalist Rachel Aspden calls ‘Generation Revolution’ is dancing between tradition, spirituality and global change.

Muslim youth are in search of a moral compass and intellectual/spiritual guidance. They are a generation raised by Hollywood, Netflix, Youtube and are constantly in dialogue with their online tribes via social media. They are a generation of young Muslims who base their identity on fashion, make up and phone brand names... and religion. They are caught up in having to base their choices on their gender, traditional roles at home, modern life outside, consumerism and their religion somewhere hidden in the back of their minds.

Muslim youth need direction, they need sounding boards, they need stories that they can relate to and they need platforms, open spaces and art to reflect, to criticize and to grow intellectually, emotionally and artistically. Pop culture has always been working in favor of a younger generation trying and pushing forward, -to outgrow, question and reclaim traditional authority. One of the primary victors of the post 9/11 are Muslim women: we have witnessed leaps and bounds in their representation in mass media, and this positive aspect must be emphasized.

BENI, by Nadir Nahdi, 2016, The A to Z of Beni.

The "Hollywood Muslim"

While Hollywood is still attached to negative stereotyping of the “Muslim male Villain or comedian” or the “Oppressed or exotic hidden erotic Muslima” stereotypes, more positive representations are coming to the fore in social media. Record labels, mainstream entertainment companies and art scenes also seem weary of pushing ‘openly’ Muslim artists, although the mainstream acceptance of pop star Zayin Malik is changing that given. But while we all embrace Zayin, (Muslim) Record labels are still weary of pushing female Muslim artists for no valid reason other than misogyny and the ongoing discussion about whether it is permissible for a woman to make, sing or perform music. This doesn’t mean that there are no Muslim female artists out there; In the world music scene, international film industry and in Muslim majority countries there are plenty of women active, but on a global stage and especially in the  West, their representation is minimal for the obvious political reasons and their participation remains minimal.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

The safest and most free creative space for Muslim women seems to be social media. The savviness of Muslim women in combining their online presence with fashion, beauty and entrepreneurship is a catalyst for positive representation. Larger brands and marketing agencies have found a way to engage with young Muslim consumers via online influencers and the modest fashion industry, pushed and developed by Muslim women. 

Nike MENA campaign, 2017: What will they say about you?

By: Rajae El Mouhandiz, September 30, 2017,
An essay for The Muslim 500,
The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center,
Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center.