Muslimah Montage: Changing the Narrative

By Sabina Khan-Ibarra

When I was asked about my position on the Iraq war, I responded that I felt we were in Iraq needlessly.  After an awkward silence, the inquisitor, shamefaced, admitted he meant what I thought of the war as a Muslim, not as an American.

As a Muslim?

Well, my personal opinion as a Muslim, American, and human, in fact, was still the same- the war was needless.

I am a Pakhtun American woman.  I was in Redwood City, as a toddler, when Joe Montana’s passes resulted in Super Bowl wins and skies lit up with fireworks.

A boy from the neighborhood, Junior, used to throw rocks at my head when we walked to school everyday when I was in kindergarten.  One time, the rock was so big, I fell down and felt the blood  trickle down my forehead and into my eyelashes.  When his father asked me why, I didn’t tell him that Junior, and most of the kids who walked with us, made fun of my sister and I because of our names, because of how Mama dressed, and because they thought the language we spoke with our parents was ugly.

My parents speak Pakhto, not Urdu, yet still identify as Pakistani-Americans and not Afghan-Americans. I speak four languages fluently and understand six. My name was Shahzadee until I was seven years old because my parents couldn’t agree on a name in time for my birth. I was part of the Book Club and the Writing Club and even won Honorable Mention for my Young Author’s submission in the Fourth Grade. I read every Newberry Medal award book on the shelf of Ardenwood Elementary, sometimes twice.  I love Mary Anne from the Babysitters Club, because like me, she was quiet but strong. I was a Chinese jump rope champ, on the Double Dutch team that won every recess in the sixth grade, and made the school basketball team. I got into so many fights with kids who accused us of stealing their curtains to make our clothes, and won. I choreograph-danced to Indian music at wedding with my sisters. I love the smell of henna. I watched every episode of My So Called Life. I was homeschooled throughout high school and graduated at 16.

That is some of my story.

In September of 2013, I was working on a book and looking for leads to agents and publishers and found it difficult to find Muslim women writers online. In fact, it was difficult to find any well known Muslim women using Google and other search engines.  I decided I wanted to create a website where Muslim women of all backgrounds were more visible and easily accessible. I also saw it as an opportunity for Muslim women to finally tell their own truths and speak for themselves. A place where self identifying Muslim women could share their journeys, aspirations, and tell stories that women all over the world can relate to- stories of love, loss, hope, illness, dreams, and even violence.

Deonna Kelli Sayed, writer and friend, helped me brainstorm and create the mission statement and website. She even suggested some women to feature, including Jennifer. Her help was invaluable.

Muslimah Montage consists of profiles of well-known and established Muslim women within the Muslim community around the world. Established women meaning that these women were experts, leaders, or well established in their careers and/or what they do.  For each profile, I use a multi media platform, where I ask the women for a picture, video, links and answers to specific questions I give them.

The stories are all very different from one another. The stories are authentic and need to be told. And by giving these women a space to share their own personal stories, struggles, and dreams, the women are dispelling stereotypes. Muslim women are humanized and a commonalities are more apparent. People will realize that Muslim women are not a monolith but a very rich diverse, nuanced population. At least that is my hope.

By giving these women a platform, the website has taken on a personality of its own. Muslimah Montage, with all of its very different women featured, is changing the narrative of what it means to be a Muslim woman- because there is no one way to be a Muslim woman.

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Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a freelance writer and editor.  She regularly contributes to her blog, Ibrahim’s Tree which  she created after the loss of her infant son in 2011 and I Am the Poppy Flower, where she writes about little things that go on in her life. She created Muslimah Montage as a platform for women to share their stories and inspire others.

 

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