Cooking with Sadaf Syed of iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl

I recently had the great pleasure of meeting with the very lovely, down-to-earth and talented young photographer, Sadaf Syed, a Chicago-based woman who literally wrote the book on how Muslim women in America wear the hijab (head covering). I sat down for coffee then later made no-cook appetizers with her and her kids to talk about the beautiful photodocumentary she created, iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl which is a fascinating visual exposé of Muslim women living in America– and their stories of strength, courage and everyday struggles.

Sadaf graduated from Cal State University at Fullerton with a B.S. in Communication and an emphasis on photojournalism. She started taking photos at L.A. runways of Pakistani fashion designers, holding true to her love of the fusion between east and west and an appreciation for both cultures. A guest instructor at the university encouraged her to create her own unique concept within this area of photography, and so she did.

After marriage, she moved to Chicago where she began to take wedding photos for a small business, working behind the scenes on candid moments of these events. Once she had a portfolio, she showed it to the boss who hired her as a photojournalist and began to build a clientele of her own.

products and process of making no-cook Rice Paper Mango and Shrimp Rolls

She wanted to do photos that would touch people’s hearts and also wanted to do something to teach people about religion.  After years of developing the concept for her book and traveling the country to hear the stories of Muslim women,  she published iCOVER (2009).

She told me the process was rewarding for her and found the women to be ‘beautiful because they have their own ethnicities, balanced lives and are truly American; they are educating and inspiring others that everything can be done.’

Daniyal and Gia ready to eat Rice Paper Shrimp and Mango Rolls they made

She says the book is not a tutorial on how to cover, neither is it telling women whether or not to wear the hijab, but it’s to emphasize the muhajjiba (one who wears the hijab, or headscarf) because their stories are not always told.

That got us into a lengthy conversation on what it means to cover, what it means to embrace differences in one another and to feel comfortable with who we are. I found it interesting that she perceived the hijabs (or simply long and wide scarves) from H & M ‘make us feel like we’re being welcomed and that we’re all American’.

looks like the kids thoroughly enjoyed cooking and eating

Sadaf Syed is a gentle soul with an observant eye and enough creativity of mind to put all her ideas to print, masha’allah.

I love how she helped tie up our conversation with these words of wisdom and advice in response to my question about any controversy or negativity that may have been a reaction to her work or the inherent topic of the book.

“People are not born to hate- something in life triggered it. The ‘goal is to please Allah. The bottom line is to show mercy. Take that message and continue with it.”

The power of visual images is truly evident in Sadaf’s book, iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl.

Win a copy of it by adding a relevant comment below.

One winner will be selected randomly (U.S. mailing address only). All guidelines below must be met:

1) Have a U.S. mailing address (no P.O. Boxes). Do not put your address in the comments. If you win, you’ll be asked for it privately.

2) Be a fan of My Halal Kitchen on Facebook

3) Be a fan of  iCOVER on Facebook

4) Add a comment relevant to the subject of this post (i.e. about iCOVER, Sadaf Syed, the no-cook recipe shown, cooking with kids, etc.)

Offer ends July 14, 2011 at 12:01 a.m.

Thank you for your submissions.





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  1. I am not a Muslim, but I have a great deal of respect for Islam and its beliefs and practices. I’m truly inspired by your articles on eating halal and how Sadaf “found the women [in America] to be beautiful because they have their own ethnicities, balanced lives and are truly American; they are educating and inspiring others that everything can be done.” Living and working in the very diverse Washington, DC area gives me many opportunities to embrace all of our cultures and practices. I absolutely love it!

  2. This book is a classic because it not only visually defines the American Muslim woman, it mentors other women who are newly arrived Muslims, those who are the children of immigrants caught between some conflicting cultures, and non-Muslims who need to see the reality rather than the stereotypical media-driven perception of Muslim women today.
    Many American Muslim women are diverse, vibrant, intelligent, and contributing to a better America in many ways. This book opens people to the possibilities for all who aspire to be Muslim in a free society.

  3. I remember telling my friend who introduced me to Islam that if I ever converted it would be all the way or not at all. It would be many years later when Allah (SWT) created the conditions in my life to make this happen. Even my friend had some difficulty along with family members that I adopted full hijab in a post 9/11 reality, but that event made it even more meaningful in terms of my commitment to be a good Muslim and human being and raised my expectations of myself in a world that has succumbed to the pressure to accept mediocrity in terms of one’s character. I appreciate both the author of this article and book for making the Muslim American experience less lonely and may it give more sisters (and potential sisters) courage to embrace and express their faith through hijab and exercise their rights as a Muslim and citizen of a country that protects our rights if we are willing to support that right through knowledge, conviction, and strength of character. Most of all may it touch the hearts of those within and outside the folds of Islam to be more compassionate and understanding of one another.

  4. I am really fascinated by this book. I would love to see what its about. Is it available in book stores? I am an amateur photographer and a student pastry chef. Both loves come together in food photography and this particular blog is truly inspiring. Its great to get kids involved in cooking. They should know where food comes from and what they’re putting into their body. That is how good habits form, inshallah. All the best to both of you in your efforts. May Allah give you much reward.

  5. Assalamu Alaikum..I am a new revert and while I know the choice to wear a Hijab is up to me, I have chosen to do so. The main reason is to represent Islam( I feel if I do not wear one, no one takes me serious as a Muslim) and I love scarves. I am also a mother who cooks with her children, I have also focused on my sons learning how to cook so they do not rely on their wives doing all the work. As of now my two older sons are great cooks and enjoy being that. I am currently teaching my 14 year old Granddaughter all about the culinary arts. She is involved in community youth programs that focus on healthy foods and cooking. No of my children are Muslim, however they have been very supportive to me. They even have eliminated pork (and products) from their diets. This is also the way they cook at my Granddaughter’s program. I am happy to see that more Muslim women are writing books and in the spotlight teaching others about Islam. Even if I do not win this book I will certainly try to buy it. Salam…

  6. What a beautiful interview. I love both My Halal Kitchen and iCover and enjoyed reading how enterprising Chicago Muslim women got together over coffee and snacks. Wishing both endeavors all the best 🙂

  7. I reverted to Islam 6 yrs ago and began covering 3 years ago. It was really hard because I lived in a very small southern town. I would be the only person in my town wearing hijab. After I started wearing the scarf, I got some strange looks and people just right out asking why I wore the scarf. It was a wonderful opportunity to educate people around me about Islam. I have not had one person say anything bad to me about my hijab. Also I love photography, and also learning new recipes to try.

  8. AOA, all it is so inspiring to read this article..I am amazed all the work my muslim sisters are doing to get positive recognition. May Allah bless us all AAmeen..

  9. wonderful post..all the best for Sadaf..
    and I love this site, I started following my halal kitchen on fb a while ago 🙂

  10. I am not Muslim, but my husband and his family are, so I have learned quite a bit about the Muslim Faith and their perspective. Sadly, I’ve also witnessed first-hand the looks that Muslim women receive when in less diverse areas of the country. I hope to win this book and display it on my coffee table for everyone to see. Who knows, perhaps someone will gain a new perspective! 🙂

  11. Assalamualaikum.After read ur article about the ICover and always looking forward for your beautiful dishes appeared on the My Halal Kitchen.I wish that I can do it just liked yours but I do learn and took some tips that you shared around us as a Muslim cook.Even though this is randomly giveaways before Ramadhan but my dream this will be a good gifts for my September Birthday(Insyallah)Wassalam my dear fellow sister….

  12. Being a hijabi in the West I do across situations where it’s only my hijab/abaya counts, sometimes negatively and sometimes positively. However. I want to emphasize it’s just a part of the person I am. The way a person chooses to dress should in no way create judgements about him/her. It’s a very personal thing. People like Sadaf Syed are an inspiration to women like me who prove that your faith/ethnicity/dress code are not a hindrance to whatever you want to do.

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