By Samina Ali
As the curator for the International Museum of Women’s new global exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices, the one question I find myself repeatedly asking is, “What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of a Muslim woman?" The sad reality is that many of us have grown accustomed to—and comfortable with—seeing Muslim women portrayed as victims. So the answers I get are usually: veiled, submissive, voiceless. Let’s face it: Muslim women have become the object of both pity and scorn.
I'm the last person to deny that oppression of Muslim women exists in certain parts of the world. Women can't drive a car in Saudi Arabia and are required to veil. Girls were not allowed to go to school under Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. In the U.S., I marched to end the gender segregation at some mosques that forced women to enter through back doors and pray in back rooms. But the truth is, the mass-produced and distorted image of the Muslim woman is far from the reality. The many Muslim women who make up the many different Muslim communities around the world represent a diversity of opinions, appearances, occupations, passions, languages, and spectrums of faith.
This slideshow from the Muslima exhibition contains just a sampling of the hundreds of women artists, thought leaders, writers and activists included in this revolutionary, global exhibition. Images open up a world and are far more effective than my words to show the true spirit, creativity, talent, and even sense of humor of Muslim women. I challenge you to put those belittling stereotypes of Muslim women into question. Check out the images in this slideshow, then head over to the Muslima exhibition and explore the rich complexity of the women included. I guarantee you’ll be moved, inspired and deeply touched by the artwork you will see, the voices you will hear, and the stories you will read.