What Being A Young Muslim Woman Is Really Like

Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Over the past few years, modesty and style have seemingly converged. Longer sleeves, looser silhouettes, and an overall more understated aesthetic have infiltrated the runways, providing women with the notion that a fashion-forward lifestyle can mean being as dressed down, or covered up, as one would like.

For young observant women though, be they practicing Muslims or Orthodox Jews, modesty is so much more than getting dressed in the morning: it's a lifestyle. It's about looking in the mirror and being satisfied with what's looking back at you; practicing proper etiquette and kindness to those around you, and respecting the religious beliefs and faith to which you adhere.

In 2009, then-high school senior Amani Al-Khatahtbeh decided that young (and stylish) Muslim women needed an outlet where they could talk about their clothing and looks — as well as other topics that affect their everyday life, from politics to beauty to pop culture. Living in the tri-state area in a post-9/11 world, where stereotypes plagued the people of her culture and others, she was sick of the feelings that girls like her experienced on a daily basis: alienation, embarrassment, even shame. She wanted the world to know that she and her friends were just like every other teenager. And she wanted their voices to be heard.

Enter: MuslimGirl.net, Al-Khatanhtbeh's brainchild that is now dominating the internet, providing a perspective that's rarely seen in the media. It's about empowerment, about feminism, about standing up for yourself (and each other). It's about presenting the world with a new portrayal of what young Muslim women are really like — that they're not oppressed or shunned, but intellectual and inspired, and more than ready for society's respect and acceptance. It has a lot to say, and we're here to listen.

Ahead, we talked to Al-Khatanhtbeh and nine of her friends (and fellow MuslimGirl staffers) about their personal style, their religious beliefs, and how they're breaking down boundaries, one blog post at a time.
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Sara Maher, 23, Lookbook Editor

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"My family has always been incredibly patient with and understanding of me, and they have always given me the chance to explore my religion on my own. They have never forced anything on me but a desire to learn more about my own beliefs.

"I started wearing the hijab when I was in third grade, because it was something that I wanted to do. The following year, in 2001, [my parents] begged me to remove it, because they were honestly worried about my wellbeing in this country. I refused. I refused because the hijab had become a part of who I was, and I respected everything that it stands for. I still do, and I work every day to show the world how beautiful the hijab really is."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"There are so many, but the biggest one is that we are submissive. To believe that we are submissive to the point where we have no say to our husbands marrying over us multiple times is so ridiculous that I can’t help but laugh when I hear it. There are so many misconceptions, and all they really need is a little bit of unbiased research to be dismissed. I dare someone to quiet me down — my opinions, my beliefs, and even my fashion."

How has your religion influenced your personal style and vice versa?
"As a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, I have dedicated myself to incorporating a significant level of modesty in my wardrobe. People may think that it isn’t easy to balance modesty and fashion, but that is not as true as it seems. Sure, when summer comes around and there is little in stores with a decent amount of coverage, you can get bummed out that your shopping is so limited. However, it’s all about being creative."

Define modesty, in your own terms.
"Modesty is balance. Modesty is knowing your personal limits. I say personal, because that is exactly what modesty is. My modesty may not translate to yours, and that is completely okay. People are conditioned to paint with a single paintbrush, and so when they think of modesty, they think of it in its most extreme cases; they may think of nuns, niqabis [Muslim women who wear veils that leave only their eyes exposed], or the pope. However, true modesty is really as simple as creating personal balance."

Who is your style icon?
"I am extremely inspired by the elegant, funky, and radical Dina Tokio — a hijabi woman who pushes the boundaries of what can be done with clothing, and even the hijab."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl?
Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"MuslimGirl’s mission statement has everything to do with empowering Muslim women in the context of a society that has limited them to a biased, incorrect, and uniform image. We want to break that understanding with our collective identities, to reassure Muslim women that it is fine to be who you are, and to remind Muslim women that we have their backs no matter what. It's incredibly important for young women, too, because it speaks to the liberation of women as a whole. It's a site made by women, promoted by the voices of women, and driven by the desire of women to encourage, love, and fight for other women."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"Working for MuslimGirl, and working with my fellow writers and editors, I can’t help but describe this generation of Muslim women as confident, fierce warriors. I can remember a time when Muslim women in this country were quiet and careful. It was important to be, because there wasn’t much support to fight against ignorance — especially after 9/11, when Islamophobia spiked to a disgracefully high level. Though Islamophobia is still very much real, I’ve never felt more love and support than I do now; this 9/11, I received more messages of encouragement than I ever had. I remember literally crying at the beauty of society’s growth in response to ignorance against Muslim women. Who can forget #IllRideWithYou, which fought against violence and fear and spread all over social media like a blazing fire of righteousness? Muslim women are finally breaking free from the oppression of Islamophobia in Western countries."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Jenan Matari, 24, Online Editor

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"Religion was always a part of my life growing up. I went to Sunday Islamic school for 12 years. I loved learning about the history of my religion and culture. We’d fast during Ramadan, go to the mosque for prayer, and celebrate Eid with our family.

"Part of me always felt a bit detached, though. I went through a period of about three years where I lost my faith and felt a little out of place in the world. Although there was a balance between two cultures (Middle Eastern and American), I always felt a little off in both types of settings; I was 'too Arab' or Muslim for some of my American friends, and I was 'too Americanized' for some of my Arab/Muslim ones. Traveling actually really helped me find my faith again. Experiencing different cultures and religions around the world — and seeing how much influence my own religion had in areas across the globe — really made me see Islam in a new light. I became proud of being a Muslim, and learned to appreciate our traditions more rather than just going through the motions. Now, I’d say I’m more spiritual than religious."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"That we’re only good for cooking, cleaning, having babies, and pleasing a man. Also, that we’re oppressed. Non-Muslims have this idea in their minds that Muslim women are pressured or forced into doing things they don’t want to do — like getting married or covering our hair. Although that does happen at times, that’s not what life is like for all of us. My parents emphasized the importance of getting an education and being confident in yourself before settling down and being ready for 'that' time of your life. There are also a number of women in my family who are covered, and a number of us who are not. And all of us chose our paths."

How has your religion influenced your personal style and vice versa?
"In the American sense, I dress pretty modestly and conservatively —but sometimes what I wear is seen as provocative in the Muslim realm. My religion has definitely influenced my style. I grew up never being allowed to wear short-shorts or miniskirts; bikinis were not allowed during my teenage years, and I still don’t wear things that are too revealing. In the back of my mind, I always have this thought while getting dressed: What would Baba [my dad] say about this outfit?"

Define modesty, in your own terms.
"I think people are under the impression that modesty cannot be fashion-forward. A woman can dress modestly and still be beautiful, trendy, and expressive. Just because you choose to live a modest life doesn’t mean you have to dress in clothes that are four sizes too big for you. I think the misconception goes hand-in-hand with the stereotypes around religion. Any religion. When you think of a modestly dress woman in Christianity, we most likely immediately think of nuns; much like the modesty connection in Islam with women who wear the hijab or even more conservative — the niqab."

Who is your style icon?
"Definitely Audrey Hepburn: in all aspects of the term 'icon.' Her style embodies elegance and class. She will always be a timeless beauty. Although she’s mainly remembered for her beauty, she was actually quite an amazing woman. She was a major contributor (monetarily and in volunteering her time) to UNICEF and was focused on helping struggling children around the world. Her entire existence makes her the perfect role model to me."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl.net?
Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"Not only is MuslimGirl breaking stereotypes surrounding Islam, but we’re crushing misconceptions about women in general, too. Our site is run entirely by young women who aspire to make their mark on this world and make it a better place. In a world that, unfortunately right now, passes so many judgments about a religion of 1.6 billion people — most of those judgments being geared towards how they think women are treated in Islam — it is so important for a site like MuslimGirl to be a voice for that category, to debunk the fallacies and correct the misunderstandings about who we are as women and as Muslims. To me, one of the most important things is to show both Muslims and non-Muslims that there is no specific face of a woman in Islam. We come in all colors, shapes, sizes, from all cultures of countries all over the globe. And while we may speak differently, practice differently, and dress differently, we’re all proud Muslim women."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"We’re becoming stronger, for sure, and definitely more vocal. We have so much to say and so much good to offer this world, and we’re finally reaching the point of making sure our voices are heard. It’s no longer taboo for a Muslim woman to go away to college, to live on her own, to have her own career, or travel the world by herself. And we're not only breaking stereotypes within Western society; Muslim women are breaking stereotypes within our own communities, as well."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Nihal Al Qawasmi, 20, Managing Editor

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"My parents always kept me hyper-aware of my identity, and that’s something I’m forever grateful for. They made it a priority for me to practice my religion and be conscious of my Palestinian roots at the same time. I was enrolled in a local Islamic school in sixth grade, and I ended up graduating from there, too. As a result, it encouraged me to put on my hijab at a young age. Eight years later, no longer in the sheltered hallways of an Islamic school, I’m still going strong."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"Society thinks young Muslim women are oppressed, submissive, and voiceless. And it’s pretty hilarious, too. That’s why MuslimGirl is so important to so many of us. It’s a platform that allows us to prove everyone wrong and show what it actually means to be a Muslim woman."

How has your religion influenced your personal style
and vice versa?
"Being a hijabi — or a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman — has definitely influenced the way I dress, and my overall style. I’ve been a self-proclaimed 'fashionista' since my early teen years, so learning to balance the two has been easy. I incorporate the latest trends into my wardrobe, while also adding a little modest twist. I love experimenting. And, I must say, hijabi-istas, if you may, are very creative and stylish."

Define modesty, in your own terms.
"To me, modesty is more than just wrapping a scarf on my head. Modesty comes from the inside. So, yes, you can be modest without wearing a hijab. It’s not limited to a piece of cloth. And I think that’s where the misconceptions come from. People think you need to be dressed in grim colors and oversized pieces, or that modesty is old-fashioned or limiting, when it really isn’t. Modesty is however you want to interpret and practice it in your lifestyle."

Who is your style icon?

"Does Blair Waldorf count? Just kidding — maybe! My fashion dream team would be Olivia Palermo and Dina Tokio. Both are amazing when it comes to mixing pieces and styles, and veering outside the norm."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl?
Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"We’re not here to 'give a voice to the voiceless.' We’re here to elevate the voices that are already out there, and to justly represent Muslim women in the media by reclaiming our narrative and breaking every single misconception out there. Along with reshaping the image of Muslim women and reclaiming our space in society, MuslimGirl is all about empowering one another. And for young girls everywhere, that’s a very important thing to have.

"Generally speaking, women are constantly misrepresented in media; but the narrative of Muslim women especially seems to get lost in translation. I think it’s important to focus on the stories that mainstream media avoids or gets completely wrong. It’s also important to aim to challenge the fear-mongering that goes on at almost every mainstream outlet."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"I think this generation of Muslim women is owning it. Not to say that the generations before us were passive in any way — it’s actually because of them and their hard work that we are where we are today. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants. We’re aware of who we are and what we believe in, and we’re letting that push us even harder, not break us. Although the Western society we live in tries so hard to make us invisible sometimes, we’re just not going to have it."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Sobi Masood, 20, Fashion Writer

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"I grew up in a fairly practicing Muslim household, which made a large impact on the person I am today and how I have chosen to practice my faith currently. I think it's safe to say that my parents instilled much more than ritualistic and cultural aspects of Islam —they made it a point to teach me key Islamic morals and principles that are applicable to almost all life situations. With various experiences, I have taken a further interest in the teachings of Islam and how they best apply to my life, which in turn helps me in the constant strive to become a better person."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"I think society doesn’t understand that Muslim women do in fact have an intellect and volition (two things that I have been taught to hone my entire life) and they are not just subservient human beings that are forced into arranged marriages. Rather, we are movers, shakers, and producers, bringing passion and beauty to the world around us."

How has your religion influenced your personal style and vice versa?
"What I have learned in the three years that I have worn a hijab — while simultaneously blogging about modest fashion — is that dressing modestly and being fashion-forward are certainly not mutually-exclusive...but they can go hand-in-hand. For most people, it’s simply about inspiration and figuring out a way to apply a certain trend to your style. Most models you see in advertisements and on runways are not necessarily dressed like typical Muslim or Orthodox Jewish women. However, you can certainly see a modestly dressed woman rocking a hijab, culottes, and platform shoes with sunglasses, a septum piercing, and a bold orange lip. (Goals, I know.) Sure, it takes some improvising, but it truly comes down to wearing what feels right and comfortable. Dressing modestly and wearing the hijab is extremely empowering; it allows me to really challenge myself in striving to be better."

Describe modesty, in your own terms.
"Modesty, to me, is more than just physically covering myself. It's about the modest behavior I strive to instill within myself. By behavior, I mean things like respectful interactions with Muslims and non-Muslims, etiquette in various situations, the way I speak or carry myself, and more.

"As for the the physical dressing, dressing 'modestly' is left open to interpretation. A predominant misconception is that women are forced to wear long black dresses and face veils, though Islam’s Holy Book of the Quran does not explicitly tell a woman what type of scarf or dress to wear or how she should wear it; it is simply prescribed to dress modestly while encompassing modest virtues. Many non-Muslims who oppose the hijab forget that the Virgin Mary is always depicted veiled and in modest dress. I certainly do not believe that wearing the hijab...means one is more pious and virtuous than one who does not wear it... Every Muslim woman has the right to interpret modesty the way she wishes and deems appropriate for herself. It's as simple as that."

Who is your style icon?

"The Olsen twins. They are just fabulous. From their red carpet looks to their street style, they are always on point. They always seem to incorporate just the right amount of boldness in their looks and they own it."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl? Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"MuslimGirl is an empowering platform and a creative outlet in which young Muslim women are able to voice their opinions on matters relevant to us, whether they're religious, political, pop-culture-related, or more. Oftentimes, matters related to Muslim women are discussed without actually including a voice of a Muslim women. It is time for us to not only be included in the conversation, but for us to be put on the forefront to discuss a wide spectrum of related issues at hand.

"Being a part of the team that covers all things fashion, I find our section to be imperative to the fashion sphere. As a blogger, many girls find that dressing fashionably while still trying to apply aspects of the faith is difficult. However, with various lookbooks and trend-related posts, we hope to inspire and show girls that this is very much possible and within [their] budgets. We want them to be able to walk into a popular fashion retailer like Zara and H&M and realize that, with a bit of hunting and a little bit of improvising, you can walk out with an on-trend outfit that [you] look great and feel comfortable in. With these posts, we're slowly breaking the stereotypes of Muslim women — one outfit at a time."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"I see somewhat of a revolution going on amongst my fellow Muslim ladies. Whether it’s an internal revolution or an external one, it’s amazing to see so many platforms being used as creative outlets for these revolutions. I see the power of change when we all come together for a greater cause; I see that we feed off of each other's positive energy and push each other to enlighten our corners of the world. I think we’re breaking the molds of the 'stereotypical observant Muslim woman' and I can confidently say that I have never seen something this empowering and beautiful."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Sania Siddiqui, 25, Fashion Writer

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"I grew up in a practicing Muslim household. Initially, my family practiced more of their cultural faith (what was passed down to them). As we got older, we learned more about religion and began to practice our faith in all aspects of our lives. We grew together as a family. My parents always encouraged me to speak my mind and explore my faith. I decided to wear the headscarf in middle school, even before my mother decided to wear it a few years later. They supported me in all of my decisions while encouraging me to do the best at whatever I did. It was important to them that I practice my faith in my daily life and to succeed in my education and career."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"The greatest misconception is that we are second-class to young Muslim men. Many people assume that Muslim women just do what they are told by their fathers, brothers, and husbands. What most people don’t quite understand is that the way we dress, act, or choose to live our lives is not by what another individual tells us, but rather our faith. My father and husband have only supported my decisions in regards to education, career, and the way I choose to dress."

How has your religion influenced your personal style — and vice versa?
"Religion has a huge impact on my personal style. However, since I’ve chosen to wear the headscarf since I was 12, my faith and fashion have evolved over the past 13 years tremendously! I love following the latest trends and actually enjoy the challenge of attempting to modify them to fit my idea of modesty. For myself, though, faith comes before fashion. I will forego some fashion trends if I feel like it doesn’t complement my faith — but that’s just my interpretation of modest fashion."

Describe modesty, in your own terms.
"Everyone defines modesty in their own way. Some people use their faith to identify modesty, and some use society’s meaning of modesty. For myself, it’s a combination of both. It really depends on the type of environment you are brought up in, and what you choose to take or reject. Modesty, to me, is not just about how I dress, but how I carry myself as a young Muslim woman. It encompasses my mannerisms with my family, my interactions with strangers, and my etiquette with my friends. It includes who I am as an individual, not just how I appear."

Who is your style icon?
"Olivia Palermo. Her style is classy yet timeless. I can always find inspiration in her style!"

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl? Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"For too long, Muslim women have only been talked about. It's our time to take back the mic and lead the conversation! This site empowers young women to speak for themselves and be proud of their Muslim identity.

"As a part of the fashion team, I want to encourage young Muslim women to embrace their identity through how they dress. While growing up, modesty was always seen as something to be ashamed of. I want to encourage Muslim women to celebrate modesty. Modesty and fashion are not at all mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same. They are an expression of who we are as individuals. I love wearing the latest fashion trends and styling them while also maintaining the key elements of modesty."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"Our generation of observant Muslim women is definitely changing the game. Before, a Muslim woman was expected to fit one mold. It was very black-and-white. Our generation is making it clear that Muslim women come on a broad spectrum. We are empowering one another with positive energy, regardless of how we choose to practice our faith. We support each others' endeavors, and that is truly what will help us a grow and succeed as a group."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, 23, Founding Editor-in-Chief

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"I’m half-Palestinian, so I’ve always been very conscious of my culture and my religion. I was only a little girl when I watched Muhammad al-Durrah and his 8-year-old son Jamal get shot on my parents’ shoddy Arabic satellite in our New Jersey home. I was the same age when I received the first racial slur that I could remember, when one of my classmates taunted me with, 'Your people throw rocks at tanks!' Growing up during the height of post-9/11 Islamophobia and enveloped by the static noise of all the hysterical anti-Muslim media coverage, I was too scared to tell people at school that I was Muslim."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?

"People love to victimize us. It seems to make them feel more comfortable. For Muslim women born and raised in the West, we’re a threat to the status quo. Our families come from the lands you hear about on the news, so we know our stuff. We can call you out in your own tongue and let you know what’s up with a New York accent, too. People hate that we don’t fit in this box of women that need to be rescued or need others to speak for us. Our patriarchal societies already hate empowered women; throw a headscarf on top of that and you really have a problem on your hands."

How has your religion influenced your personal style — and vice versa?
"My wardrobe was the absolute worst when I first started wearing a headscarf. I dressed so awkwardly to try to cover (pun intended) all the components I perceived of hijab. The biggest struggle was finding long-sleeve undershirts and leggings that I could get away with wearing under the more revealing, average clothes I’d find in the stores. With the rise of headscarf-clad beauty gurus and fashionistas on the internet, I don’t see that being a problem anymore."

Describe modesty, in your own terms.
"I wholeheartedly believe that women have the autonomy to decide the definition of modesty for themselves, relative to their own lives, experiences, and societies. For Muslim women, modesty is a practice in spirituality, so naturally the way they choose to express it is a personal choice. It really doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all definition. People have wild misconceptions of what modest dressing means, because our male-dominated society has conditioned us so well to believe that women’s liberation comes in the form of revealing our bodies. With all the hyper-sexualized advertising we see on TV, in magazines, on billboards, and the countless other ways it’s become saturated in our society, that’s the definition of oppression to me."

Who is your style icon?

"I don’t have one, but Rihanna will always be my bad-gal muse."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl? Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"Ever since I was a little girl, I wished I could see a woman that looked like me as a talking head on the news, instead of all the non-Muslim (often non-women!) people claiming to speak on our behalf. When I first started MuslimGirl, I did so because I wanted a place where I could find other Muslim girls that felt the same way, and we could freely express ourselves. Now, it’s become a platform that elevates Muslim women’s voices in the media. Our writers are being quoted everywhere from Glamour UK to The New York Times. We’re busting our asses to make the dreams of those little Muslim girls we once were come true, so that our daughters don’t have to go through what we did."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"I think we’re witnessing the Muslim woman’s renaissance of our time right now, and it’s definitely generational. Just look at the generation of Muslim women before us in Egypt, for example — in the '60s, most of them didn’t wear headscarves. The revival of the headscarf, especially in the non-Muslim cultures of the West, is a reclamation of our Muslim identity in the midst of post-colonial globalization and Islamophobia. For young Muslim women in the West, many of us are the daughters of first-generation immigrants, so we have one foot in two cultures. We’re navigating a path that has never been treaded before. In the process, we’re blazing a trail for ourselves and those who come after us. We’re claiming the space to which we’re entitled. We’re telling our societies that this is where we belong and that they have to make room for us, in spite of us constantly being told otherwise."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Hadiya Abdelrahman, 23, Writer

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"I grew up in a practicing Muslim home and went to Islamic school for the majority of my life. My parents incorporated social justice very early on, and have taught me that religion was more than just repetitive rituals; it encompasses the integral idea of universal justice. My mother was my inspiration in that I was ahead of my peers in the level of awareness I had of the world and how I was able to see my growth spiritually attached to my growth as an activist. Religion is, and remains, an integral part of me in that it shapes how I view the world and myself. Through this view, I have liberated myself of constraints that I feel are unhealthy and limiting to my growth as an empowered Muslim woman."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"This idea that we are submissive, docile, and somehow also dangerous? We can't be uneducated and disempowered but also be explosive. Like, do you feel bad for us and want to save us, or do you want us to ‘go back home’? Speaking about misconceptions is frustrating for me, because I believe in not having preconceived notions about anyone before meeting them. If I can lead my life like that, why can’t we all?"

How has your religion influenced your personal style — and vice versa?

"Modesty has become prominent in the fashion industry and has allowed Muslim women to blossom in ways that have not happened before. Modesty has always meant so much to me, and I have always been a fan of baggy clothing, especially sweaters and blazers. So when the fashion industry suddenly remembered that modesty and fashion can work over the past few years, it was a holiday for us! Now, years of horrible fashion has become a distant memory and a fast skim through Instagram celebrates the various Muslim women fashionistas who make it work beautifully."

Describe modesty, in your own terms.
"Modesty is personal and means different things to different people. Inner modesty is incredibly important. To be humble, giving, reflective, patient, spiritual, honest, and present are all signs of inner modesty that are crucial for any Muslim to have. I personally view this internal modesty as something that's reflected externally."

Who is your style icon?
"Yuna. Her style and voice make her a bundle of perfection."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl? Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"It’s incredibly important for us to be a site that does not limit our roles to those that are traditional. MuslimGirl does not shy away from the uncomfortable, so many of the conversations taking place on the site are reflective of conversations taking place between Muslim women. These are vital, because they're sending a message that it is okay to speak out, to be unconventional and loud."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"I think social media has been able to connect more women in ways that has been refreshingly empowering. Women in Muslim communities have always been questioning and vocal, but it is powerful when you can connect all the voices together and have them recognized as a universal power. I think it's changing, because borders and communities are no longer an issue for us to get together. This generation is one that defies rules and expectations, and draws power from one another."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Shanzay Farzan, 22, Editor-at-Large

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"I was born into a Pakistani family while growing up Muslim. I wouldn’t say it was the most conservative environment, but it definitely wasn't radically progressive, either. When things are unclear as to whether they should be considered from a liberal or conservative perspective, it leads to a very religiously and culturally confused girl growing up in the United States. I do wish it were more concrete, though, because I never knew if what I was doing was acceptable or not. I’ve had my crises of faith; I’ve had my science versus religion debates, and I have now reached a zen-like state of acceptance that I am far more progressive and liberal than the environment I grew up in. And that’s okay — I'm still proud to be Muslim."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"That we don't have a wide range of beliefs and values, and are instead a mindless blob of oppression and veils. There’s always that 'other-ing' factor where — if you dress a certain way, if you interpret some parts of Islam differently than others, if you are outside the common physical and emotional beliefs of what a Muslim woman is as it's portrayed in the white-centric media — people are shocked. They say things like, 'Wow, I would have never pegged you as a Muslim,' as if there’s only one distinct type."

How has your religion influenced your personal style and vice versa?
"I have separate baskets for every color of undershirts, and every color of tights. Everything else is just about pairing the main outfit with those things. The real struggle is when the undershirts aren’t the exact shade you want them to be, so instead of purchasing a certain dress or shirt, you're stuck with buying the corresponding garments to cover that up as well."

Define modesty, in your own terms.
"Modesty, in my opinion, is a malleable entity fueled by one’s own concept of self. It should not be limited to permanent definitions described by scholars or parents. It can be what you feel comfortable with in regards to yourself, and can easily change throughout spans as great as an entire lifetime, or as little as a drastic daily decision."

Describe your personal style.
"My style is weird in that I try to incorporate nerdy pieces alongside cute trends; there’s yet to be a chic science Muslimah I can look toward and be inspired by. But a large part of my modest dressing — combined with a wide array of witty-reference T-shirts — ends up with some amalgamation of that geek-chic theme I usually go for."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl? Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"MuslimGirl is a platform that unites. We speak out loud, we don’t back down, and we define ourselves in a society hell-bent on grouping and defining us all together. We believe it’s important to raise our voices through the constant obstacle courses of Islamophobia, sexism, and misogyny coming at us at full force. We’re not here to just tell girls that they can do it if they believe, or that there’s sparkling hope left amid the adversity. It’s so much more than that. We want to show them that what they believe matters; that their opinions are unique and should be pronounced, bold, and confidently considered. Controversial topics are points of pride for us; we thrive off of taboo subjects. From politics to marriage to sex to body image — nothing is too far out of our reach. Cutting through the ignorance to uncover the raw, uncensored truth is something we have consistently aimed to teach."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?

"Two words: intersectional feminism. Muslim women have been at the tail end of every 'progressive' movement for women’s rights because of the ugly stereotype that they are either somehow more oppressed, or that they need to be helped or saved. Our generation has access to knowledge within seconds at our fingertips. We are intelligent, we are leaders, and we are aware of what has been done to us for centuries. Through websites like MuslimGirl, we're able to voice our concerns and unite for a common cause: to simply be granted the rights to exist as we want."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Shannon “Audrey” Melero, 23, Digital Producer

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"I grew up in a very Christian family. Everyone was involved in the church life somehow, whether it was preaching, singing, dancing, or in my case, sound technician-ing. At the time that I began struggling with my faith, my mother was in the process of becoming an ordained reverend and being installed as the associate pastor of our church. I was away at college, trying to pass my classes and come to terms with Jesus. When I took the time out to speak to a Christian friend about what I was going through, he told me I just had to pray and keep my heart open about everything; to 'have your meeting with Jesus and come out stronger.'

"Well, Jesus and I never really had that meeting. Instead, I spent a lot of my time looking at Islam, and everything I learned felt completely logical. I said my Shahada in a bathroom one day and spent almost an entire year being a secret Muslim. The secret became harder to contain when I tried fasting for Ramadan without telling anyone, and wearing hijab with absolutely no explanation as to my new fashion development. During this time of transition, I was still putting in work at the church I had been attending for years, too.

"Finally, everything came to an uncomfortable head and I admitted my life-changing decision. I was unceremoniously fired from the church position to which I had devoted several months. I cried about that. I had a heated argument with my pastor over it. I thought, if someone who had been with me through so much could dismiss me so callously, what was my mother going to say? While my mother’s reaction wasn’t the most politically correct thing in the world, she said something very important to me that I will never forget: 'If you want to be a Muslim then be the best one. Your faith isn’t something you can do halfway. I don’t get it, but if this is what you’re going to do then do it 100%.' I’ve gone through many struggles with my new Muslim identity (it’s been almost two-and-a-half years now), but because of my mother, and because of the MuslimGirl team, I’ve given it my best."

How has your religion influenced your personal style — and vice versa?
"I’m a terrible dresser, and I always have been. My wardrobe can be described as 'not adult' because of the amount of graphic tees I own. But, I actually started becoming aware of how I dress when I saw the women at mosque on Fridays. It wasn’t that they were ornate or anything, but they were just so neatly put together; they looked beautiful and effortless. Those women, who I never actually spoke to, inspired me to try a little harder and get pants that actually fit. I’m still rocking the graphic tees, though."

Describe modesty, in your own terms.
"I think people hear modesty and they imagine having no options. But really, modesty offers more options. As far as I’m concerned, modesty isn’t solely about covering up your goodies; it’s about creating a comfortable shell for yourself. Wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable, but don’t make you feel like you’re the center of some kind of reality show."

Who is your style icon?
"Her royal majesty, and my soul twin, Audrey Hepburn. We have the same birthday."

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl? Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"The mission of our site is to create a seat for Muslim women at the universal table. So often our opinions and struggles get ignored because the general image of Muslim women is that of an oppressed group. MG is painting a more accurate picture. It serves as a safe haven for women. Navigating life as a young Muslimah is complicated, and there aren’t always leaders in your community that you can just roll up to and ask for help or information about things going on in the world. If we aren’t seen in media outlets, or in things like TV shows and movies, then who are young women going to look up to? It won’t be other successful Muslim women; it’ll be people like Kim Kardashian-West."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?

"I think my generation just wants more in every sense. We want more control over the narrative and, more than anything else, we want more respect. Respect from outside the community and from inside. We’re over the whole false image of women walking 10 steps behind a man and waiting around their whole lives to get married. We’ve had a sip of power and we’re ready to drink the whole cup."
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Photographed by Sam Cannon.
Hebah Akram Khan, 20, Creative Director

Tell us about the role religion played in your upbringing.
"It is something that I grew up with but also that I was able to claim for myself at an early age. I was part of MYNA (Muslim Youth of North America) from age 12 onwards, and later served as [its] president... I had an activist space for my Islam to exist that was not dictated by my parents but felt whole and like something I wanted to replicate for myself always, and to be in a spiritual setting without feeling super insecure isn’t all that common. My Islam in some ways feels like its changing but in other ways, I don’t think it really ever will. Things like the power of prayer or the necessity to fast are so clearly necessary to me, that while I may philosophize about specific shari’a issues differently as I get older, I think my conception of 'ideal practice' is pretty consistent."

What would you say is society’s greatest misconception of young Muslim women?
"Society can take away a person’s sense that they should exist in this world. Muslim women have been told that they shouldn’t exist the way they are, that they shouldn’t imagine their identity and their life according to their own terms but those of someone else, and that’s not okay. Muslim women as a category are not inherently any of these things: oppressed, subjugated, empty, sexually repressed, sex objects, militarized, violent, or dangerous."

How has your religion influenced your personal style — and vice versa?
"The process of how I dress is really different from just going to the store and picking out things I like. I think my wardrobe develops and shifts over time. My Islam has influenced me to be more minimalist in taste. Also, right now I enjoy mixing silhouettes especially fusing together longer desi draping of fabric and shawls over basics like a bomber or a trench. What I wear can change a lot from day to day, depending on what I am doing and what the weather is like, to be honest. Function and communicating identity are both really important functions of fashion for me."

Describe modesty, in your own terms.
Modesty for me means having a presence in the public sphere that is not 100% focused on my sexual identity. What it means to perform gender as a woman in various cultures and societies shaped by patriarchy is always going to be a complicated topic. It goes to say, there are misconceptions because these standards are so shifty; everyone ends up making their own decision. And we are all informing one another, through media, over the internet, of what decisions we are making, and paying attention to our friends. It is a pretty extraordinary moment for 'modest fashion,' however."

Who is your style icon?
"…I’m low-key the hijabi Zayn Malik…"

How would you describe the mission of MuslimGirl? Why do you think a site like this is important for young women?
"Being young and Muslim in America is not easy. MuslimGirl is a voice and a platform for our community to engage with itself and with external audiences. We want to be able to negotiate how the identities of Muslims and woman will exist in the public sphere, rather than our identities being dictated to us by people who do not have our interests in mind. The topics we cover, and how we cover them, will always be adapting to the forces at hand: internet culture, and 'American-Muslim' culture. We will react politically when we need to, create content that comes from us, and put it in a place where someone who grows up weary of their 'alien' parents will read it and say 'Wow, there is space and potential for me in this world.' This is a project that has a lot to do with empowerment."

How do you see your generation of observant Muslim women changing?
"Just look at the women in this article alone! I see people of my generation thinking about identity in ways that require less code-switching, and less bouncing from one extreme to another. People are trying less hard to be white, and working harder to understand where they come from and who they want to be. It is confusing, and there is a lot to deal with, but I like to think we are a resilient set of millennials."
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