Washington D.C., 16 July 2012
Washington D.C., 16 July 2012
This is not a publication that is telling women ‘how to be a good Muslim woman,’ but rather it is a reflection of who Muslim women in America are, what they’re doing, and what’s important to them.”
Yasmina Mrabet, Director of Connection Point Initiative at Peace X Peace and member of Morocco World News’ editorial board, interviewed Publisher, Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder of Azizah Magazine, Tayyibah Taylor about her work highlighting the voices and perspectives of American Muslim women. Her responses are below.
What is Azizah Magazine and why was it created?
It is a quarterly publication and magazine that portrays the lifestyles of Muslim American women. It was initiated to provide a vehicle for the voice of Muslim women. For centuries Muslim men, and people who are not Muslim have really defined Muslim women, and this is an opportunity for the Muslim woman set her own agenda and celebrate her accomplishments and discuss issues that are important to her.
What was wrong with the prevailing discourse?
Often men defined the pious Muslim women as the ‘silent invisible’ one. When we incorporated Azizah Magazine in 1999 and came out with first issue in 2000, although overwhelming response was positive, especially from women, we did receive phone calls saying it was haram (forbidden). Some said we can’t have a woman on cover of magazines, or wearing makeup, and so on. Most of these calls were from men and a few from women too. Those who had defined pious women as ‘silent’ and ‘invisible’ were uncomfortable with the magazine, but they were the minority. The majority were happy that we were showing women as empowered and accomplished beings instead of suppressed and depressed and oppressed. That voice that perpetuates false stereotypes and that ties the Muslim woman to victimhood, oppression and terrorism is the voice that we frequently see in the mainstream media. Azizah Magazine, by highlighting the women’s voices and accomplishments, shows that the Muslim American woman is a Muslim to be emulated, to be admired, to serve as a role model—and that is not a common narrative in the mainstream media. For most Muslim women seeing it for the first time, it is a positive experience. All articles in Azizah are written by Muslim women, so this is one place where you can hear authentic voices coming through.
The American Muslim community is incredibly diverse, though it is rarely shown in the mainstream media. Does Azizah magazine make efforts to highlight that diversity?
We decided, from the beginning, to demonstrate the rich diversity of the American Muslim community. Every cover has a woman from a different ethnicity on it—so we show Muslim women from various communities including African American, European, Arab, Japanese, Indonesian, South Asian, and many others – we try to really reflect that diversity. Inside the magazine you will see women from all different ethnic backgrounds, and women who adhere to different schools of thought within Islam. We not only make efforts to highlight Sunni, Shiite, and Sufi voices, but also when we cover issues of contention–for example when we were talking about birth control—we gave perspectives from different Islamic schools of thought, to make sure we are not perpetuating an agenda. This is not a publication that is telling women ‘how to be a good Muslim woman,’ but rather it is a reflection of who Muslim women in America are, what they’re doing, and what’s important to them. To show that a combination of being Muslim and female in America is a very powerful one.
Are the voices in the Magazine from Muslim women around the world? Or are they primarily Muslim American women?
They are mostly Muslim American. There’s one department in Azizah that are global voices and that looks at some Muslim women outside of America. We are also planning to launch Azizah internationally, so that we can look at issues and accomplishments of the global Muslim community, and give Muslim women everywhere a voice in the Azizah sphere.
Have you addressed issues related to the Muslim woman’s experience in the context of hostilities experienced by the Muslim community as a whole in the United States? How does Azizah help Muslim American women move past a harmful discourse that often promotes false understandings of their identities?
We did an article looking at the backlash after 9/11 – reporting on what Muslim American women did in the aftermath, everything from taking off scarves, to hosting neighborhood discussions in homes and mosques. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about double consciousness, and how the Blackamerican experiences discrepancy between who you are and what people perceive you to be – this is the same with Muslims— it is to some extent what Muslim Americans are dealing with. Dr. Sherman Jackson gave a speech on this—we are always trying to reconcile who we are and what people think of us, and that really resonated with me. Even Muslims, we too internalize how others define our identities—we are absorbing those messages as well. Dealing with that is a part of our experience and we should talk about it—but instead of focusing constantly on that, it is more beneficial if we focus on building ourselves and building our community. We really try to show the Muslim woman and all of her incredible accomplishments and triumphs—we have a community of such phenomenal women it’s amazing. In our last issue, the special report was called “13 Under 30” where we looked at 13 women coming up, who have already accomplished so much. One of them holds the Guinness book record for being the youngest professor ever. Ibtihaj Muhammad is a hijabi fencing champion representing the US in the Olympics. In another article, we highlighted the first female private space explorer was Muslim – Anousheh Ansari. When I first started someone said “Aren’t you afraid you’ll run out of stories?!” and the opposite is true! There are still so many to tell and share with the world.
Have you addressed any topics that are particularly sensitive or taboo in the Muslim American community?
We have looked at many topics that are not commonly discussed in the Muslim community, although now ‘taboo’ issues are being discussed more and more openly. Even 12 years ago when we started, many topics we brought up were not a part of the discussions in the Muslim American community. In the latest issue, we dealt with the topic of betrayal in marriage. In the past, we have looked at HIV and AIDS in the community we have looked at how inclusive the Muslim American community has been of people living with disabilities, and looked again 10 years later at how things have changed. Our aim is not to be provocative, but to be thought-provoking. We feel that in the women’s magazine genre there are a lot of trivial pursuits, and we try to have very substantive, thoughtful editorials.
What is one of the most common or important topics to Muslim American women?
When we did surveys and focus groups, one topic that rose to the top was marriage – those who wanted to get married, those who wanted improve their marriages, and those who wanted to get divorced. Everything you find in the mainstream community, you find in the Muslim community, and that’s partly because of the context we’re in, and partly because of human nature. When it comes to relationships between men and women, women’s magazines often focus on the pursuit of men, and the antics that we must put ourselves through in order to make ourselves beautiful to attract men. At Azizah, we focus on empowering women to be their authentic selves, and to live with spiritual integrity, which often translates to positive relationships.
Do all articles make reference to Islamic perspectives on issues discussed?
If there is any point to be made religiously, we ask for a reference, and oftentimes women will put a reference in because they feel it better exemplifies the messages they are trying to get across. We do have articles that focus on providing Islamic perspectives specifically, but for those, writers must have some credentials in Islamic studies. They are often written by professors, or someone who has formally studied Islam.
What final words would you like to share with the world about American Muslim women and the work of Azizah Magazine?
I think the combination of being Muslim and American is positive – we have an American legacy of freedom of speech and a Muslim legacy of spiritual agency, and they go together to create a really empowered woman. I’d also like to mention I don’t work in a vacuum! I have a whole team that works to make Azizah Magazine happen. My business partner Marlina Soerakoeosoemah oversees all the creative direction and the printing of the magazine, while I manage the editorial, publicity and publishing of the magazine. Marlina and her team are in Seattle and I am work with the team in Atlanta. We have subscribers all over the country and all over the world, and we invite women of all faiths and backgrounds to engage and learn the perspectives and accomplishments of the women in our diverse community.
Source: Peace X Peace