Photographer Celebrates Muslim Women in iCOVER

A professional boxer, a cross-country  truck driver and mechanic, an American soldier, a surfer and tri-athlete, and a court judge were a few of the plethora of hijabie’s featured in Sadaf Syed’s photo documentary book: iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim American covered girl.

The 36-year-old photographer, Syed, who currently resides in Chicago, was invited to the Ramadan iftar at the White House on Aug.13. A little over 100 leaders from different communities were invited, Syed said.

"It was an amazing feeling, alhamdulilah [praise God], to be amongst such strong Americans: Muslims, Christians, Jewish people and President Obama. He came to all of us and one-by-one shook our hands and shared a few words.”

Syed, originally from California and currently resides in Chicago, started working on her self-published book back in 2006.

“Generally Muslims and Islam have plenty of media attention, but sometimes the biase media attention we get causes negative impressions on people,” she said.

“By using the same media that does not overall give realistic day-to-day life of Muslim women in Islam is the reason I wanted to use that same medium and celebrate Muslim women in Islam,” Syed said. “Islam honors and respects Muslim women. America is my country and I wanted to use my freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”

The limited edition book was released in July 2009 and the second, final edition debuted at the Islamic Society of North America convention in Chicago in July 2010.

The coffee table book has 150 pages and is filled with photographs and descriptions of Muslim women donning the hijab. The hijabies ranged from the typical mother and wife to the not so average 58-year-old cross-country truck driver hijabie.

"She's a grandmother, from Pakistan, in hijab, and she's driving a big old truck on the free way and shes doing that to support the family. That's so powerful. You hardly see a woman in America driving a truck like that. More power to her," Syed said.

She said she believes women of all color, race and religion can relate to the photos.

“In the end of the day we are women. We are united. We are mothers, daughters, co-workers; we are sisters, we should be united through sisterhood. These are human stories of women that I want when people to see the photos to see themselves.”

She hopes people will be reminded that Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) wives fought in battles and that Muslim women were capable of accomplishing just about anything. She said she focused on hijabies because sometimes people have negative assumptions.

“They are American covered girls. Those are unfortunately misjudged,” she said. “The majority of them want to wear it and they’re respecting and honoring God because they know it’s for God and for our own respect and for our own honor.”

Syed said iCOVER celebrates and honors Muslim women in America.

“We’re not cookie cutters. We’re not all made to look-alike. It’s good we look different.”

Syed said her book was overdue and much needed in today’s society.

“These [negative media] images are not doing justice to the beauty of Islam-- a beautiful religion. A religion made up by different cultures, different races, and different backgrounds. That’s what Islam is,” she said. “What you hear about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are not representing Islam truthfully. They’re images that brainwash people. That’s what inspired me as a photographer: to be a photographer that touches people’s hearts in a humanized way.”

Syed traveled to several states and met many inspiring women while working on this project. She wondered why these women were not featured in the main stream media.

“That’s an American story. I’m proud to be an America and that’s why I did that book, as a Muslim-American, because I want people to know that America is made out of different religions,” she said. We’re definitely part of America, we are America, and we make America, so why not show these pictures? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Overall, the whole experience was overwhelming and inspiring.

"I shared a lot of tears, hugs, and emotions. I wish I had a video camera with me to film a documentary of women in Islam."

iCOVER is sold at www.sadafsyed.com for $49.99 and ships worldwide.



                                Aya Khalil
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Aya A. Khalil is a freelance journalist and doing her M.A. in Education at College of Charleston.