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
Offer ends July 14, 2011 at 12:01 a.m.
Thank you for your submissions.