Why Islam & Feminism Aren't Mutually Exclusive

In this week’s episode of Strong Opinions Loosely Held, host Elisa Kreisinger speaks with Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, about what it’s like to be a feminist Muslim-American woman in 2016.

Sarsour is on a mission to disprove the damaging depictions of Muslim women that permeate American media and pop culture (specifically, she cites the Disney classic Aladdin). “Put the humility aside,” she urges. This is a call to action for Muslim women to be more forthcoming with their natural intelligence and power on any platform they can find. “When I was more confident, I got more respect,” Sarsour tells Kreisinger.

All too often, Muslim women who act with agency and hold feminist values are treated as exceptions. According to Sarsour, this reflects just how little the American public knows about women’s roles in Islamic society. Simply put, feminism and the Islamic faith are not mutually exclusive.

We spoke with Kreisinger about her conversation with Sarsour below.
Why do you think it's so hard for non-Muslim Americans to separate the politics or current events in Islamic countries from the religion itself?
"It's so hard to separate politics from the religion, because they are so intertwined in our collective cultural consciousness. Throughout every decade, media and pop culture coverage of Muslims has been negative. In fact, one thing I cut from this episode was a montage highlighting the constant media coverage and pop culture depictions of Muslims as terrorists. The pervasiveness of these images helped normalize prejudice against Muslims and Arab culture. We rarely revisit these Hollywood caricatures. It's only recently that we started making new narratives drawing attention to the differences between ISIS and Islam."

Where can we see the perception of Muslim women changing right now?
"I think online, in web-based content where Muslims are speaking out, especially in the wake of mass shootings. Unfortunately, mainstream media isn't moving as quickly as digital publishers."
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How are minority women reclaiming and redefining feminism for themselves?
"Through social media, like Black Twitter, Queer Tumblr, and especially online video. This interview with Sarsour came from a series we made called Get Real. Digital publishers are looking to tell stories left out of mainstream media, and because there's an audience for this type of content, it really becomes something the audience is demanding and publishers want to cover in order to create new, updated narratives that reflect the diversity of everyday life."
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