This week has been an amazing week for American Muslims with the debut of the Mipsterz: “Somewhere in America” video. The video sparked a huge critically engaging discussion about the interaction of Muslims with American culture, gender norms and misogyny in the Muslim community, modesty and fashion, and the purpose of aesthetics. I’m so proud of the creators and women involved for being brave enough to share their experiences with the entire world.
I joined in the online discussion on Facebook and Twitter and got into some meaningful conversation and also polarizing debates with other Muslims about the message and significance of the Mipsterz video. My tweets were even featured on BuzzFeed and HuffPostLive! Pretty cool to get 2 huge media hits in one week. I guess it really pays off to use hashtags:)
To put it briefly, I am of the perspective that this video was a wonderful showcase of a micro-community/subculture of American Muslims that has every right to assert their existence. Not everyone agrees with me of course. Sana Saeed is concerned that the women involved are promoting an “Islamofashionista” culture in order to prove to Americans that “hey I’m cool, I’m normal, please like me!” and aren’t actually fighting stereotypes because they are equating “being normal” to “being superficial.”
But if you actually listen to the women involved in creating and appearing in the video, you see that is not the case. They are being authentic to who they are as Muslims and American and they are not saying they are defining the “normal” that all Muslims need to adopt as a superficial construct that is all about physicality.
The Mipster video is a snapshot of real people somewhere in America showing what normal is for them and whether you like it or not, our physical appearance is a part of that. Why is anyone surprised or upset? We’re born in the U.S. so we’re going to look and act American, while retaining our Islamic beliefs and values–something this country gives us the freedom to do as we please. The video is not a comprehensive examination of what it means to be an American Muslim nor is it an oppressive, objectifying representation, therefore we have no right to hijack their experience and replace it with our own paternalistic, condescending viewpoint that these women have no agency in the way they present themselves.
If you do not enjoy the aesthetics of “mipster” culture or share the same interests/hobbies/activities of the Mipsterz, then congrats, you are not one of them nor do you have to be. Saying that the acceptance of Muslims hipsters in America is going to result in rejection for non-hipster Muslims is a fallacious argument. That’s like saying the acceptance of niqab-wearing Muslim women in America is going to result in rejection of Muslim women who don’t wear niqab. Why is this a zero-sum game?
Sana repeats throughout her critique that she’s not trying to shame the women’s dress or behavior but rather critique the video’s message and purpose. But honestly when you break her argument down, that is essentially what she is doing. She says in order to break down stereotypes, we need more than just our image, we need us. It seems that “us” she means is a representation that includes her, not the individualized experiences of the women in the video who she sees as being caricatures. Some people relate to different identities such as hipster, prep, athletic, bohemian or hip-hop etc. etc. It doesn’t mean they are becoming stereotypes necessarily or that their ability to articulate their Muslim identity to the rest of the society is somehow diminished. That’s a really pessimistic way of seeing the outcome of cultural exchange and also diluting the strength of Muslim agency as well.
Hijab fashion has existed for decades in America just as Muslims in sports, music, literature and more, but suddenly now, we think it’s a problem that we need to step back and criticize? I have a theory that there are so many Muslims intellectuals on the Internet now trying to build their brand that in order to stand out, they need to call out other Muslims in the public sphere and put out all these social critiques to be seen as visionary and thought-provoking.
Two great pieces to read: A post by Rabia Chaudry who very eloquently describes the problematic shaming of Muslim women and negativity emerging around the video’s aesthetics. Instead of forcing our narrative onto the Mipsters in the video, we should be listening to what they actually think and believe, so please take time to read this piece by Amina Sheikh, one of the women who participated the video.
I also understand people who would have liked more diverse women shown or to have the women speak or show what they do in the workplace. Those are all great concepts for further videos and people should go out and make them, because I’d love to see that! It’s the YouTube era, so we have that power to create and distribute our own media! The best thing that could come out of this video is that more Muslim are inspired to share their ideas with the world and tell their own stories instead of having the media do it for us. No one is trying to deny anyone else’s lived experience and freedom to be Muslim and be American. It’s a balance we are all trying to find.
Let’s be real folks, Muslims are the true hipsters of the world. We discovered stuff before everyone else did and mainstream society will not appreciate nor recognize our contributions till we’re long dead. I hope we are not afraid to continue creating art and critically engaging and exploring the intersection of culture and religion. We should not lose that part of our tradition, especially when so many people outside of Islam accuse us of being unable to flourish in this realm of the aesthetics. The Mipsterz are just one of many groups of Muslims in America trying to support this progressive movement and I’m grateful they are around, so I can find like-minded individuals who do care about many of the same issues and ideas I feel are being sadly ignored by the majority of Muslims. Check out what they’re up to on the official Facebook page.
Be kind to one another. We are all hipsters fighting against our own mainstreams. Peace.