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The Misrepresentation of Muslim Women & Celebrating Authenticity, Muslim Sisterhood

Muslim Sisterhood is an artistic collective working within photography, fashion publishing and events to create an inclusive community that centres Muslims.

The collective is co-founded by Zeinab Saleh, a recent graduate from The Slade School of Fine Art, Sara Gulamali, a graduate from Central Saint Martins and Lamisa Khan, who studied International Relations at LSE and is currently studying her Masters in Gender Studies at SOAS.

Most recently, they've featured in the 26th Photoworks Journal and were included in the 2020 Dazed 100 list in recognition of the collective’s contribution to the creative industry. Their work has been exhibited at V&A Lates, and they have hosted community-based workshops including tile glazing, belly dancing and self-defence. Last year, they launched their self-titled, debut zine.

We talk to Muslim Sisterhood about the misrepresentation of Muslim women in fashion, celebrating authenticity and the challenges of being a Muslim woman today.

Muslim Sisterhood is a collective focusing on the misrepresentation of Muslim women in fashion. When was the idea for Muslim Sisterhood born? And how did you bring the idea to life?

When we began as a photo series, we spent a long time discussing what we wanted our photography to represent and why we were creating it. It was 2017 and positive authentic portrayals of Muslim women in the media were few and far between. We wanted this to change. Initially, we took photos of our friends and styled them out of our wardrobes, it was all very DIY and born out of love. At the time I was at University College London (UCL) and was part of a WhatsApp group of Black Muslim students. I dropped a message in the chat to ask if anyone was up for shooting with us and I shared some of the photographs we had taken. The images got such a great response and with the encouragement of the group we made an Instagram page to share our work. @muslimsisterhood is the handle Lamisa, Sara and I decided on. We realised that if we wanted our ideas to come to fruition, it was up to us to make them happen.

How did the collective begin? How did you all meet?

I first met Sara when she came to an exhibition I curated. Sara was studying Fine Art at Central Saint Martins at the time and I was studying Fine Art at UCL. There is a lack of Muslim women studying fine art so when we met we immediately clicked and a few months after we worked together on a photo series.

Lamisa and I were mutuals on Instagram. She messaged me when she saw the photography Sara and I did and asked about doing photography together. I asked if Sara could come along to our first meet up and the three of us met up on the basis of our shared love for photography and our desire to see something new. We all have different lived experiences of being Muslim women which makes our work all the more richer. We met at Amaliah’s old office where Lamisa was working at the time and made a mood board including things we loved at the time, lots of London culture, stills from a Section Boys music video, local cash and carries in east London, rubicon mango and bootleg designer.

Muslim Sisterhood is a celebration of beauty and authenticity, what do you hope audiences take away when they encounter your work?

We do this work for the younger version of ourselves and the next generation of Muslim women. I’d like women to feel inspired, held and affirmed by the work we do. Not only do we do photography but now we also hold workshops for our community like zine making, incense making, belly dancing and self-defence. We also work on brand campaigns to make sure there is authenticity and diversity in front and behind the cameras. Our zine is a platform for Muslim women and anyone can submit work for publishing.

You have featured in the 26th Photoworks Journal and were included in the 2020 Dazed 100 list in recognition of your contribution to the creative industry. What has been your career highlight to date?

There have been so many highlights but the Nike swim campaign was amazing, we provided the creative direction, casting, styling and directing. In the end, we made a beautiful short film and a series of photos. We commissioned people from our incredible community to put the campaign together. I’ll always remember Rhianna and baby Aadam in the water and how we were behind the scenes in awe and quite teary, it got quite emotional! I think baby fever hit us all that day! We did this campaign during London lockdowns so there was a lot of rescheduling, we were all so happy to see it finally come together. Often older women and mothers with children are excluded from narratives and campaigns around swimwear so we made the project inclusive and community-focused.

You have collaborated with a wide diversity of brands, which was your favourite collaboration and why?