The photography blog Humans of New York became a downright sensation documenting the lives of ordinary New Yorkers through compelling photos and text. Now, a blog and Facebook page called “Hijabis of New York” hopes to emulate its success by highlighting Muslim women all over the city who wear a head covering known as hijab.
Behind the successful social media project -- the Facebook page has nearly 14,000 fans -- is Rana Abdelhamid, 22, of Queens who is currently a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
“We want to diversify and elevate the narrative surrounding Muslim women,” Abdelhamid told The Village Voice on her motivation for the project. “It’s a product of social media and a product of having access to these types of resources that allows us to convey our own narrative. It’s really empowering.”
The women featured in Hijabis of New York come from all walks of life. Some are students, some are professional, some are mothers. Their stories highlight the how different women who wear hijabs are -- in ethnicity, background, education, age and profession.
"My goal was to use photography and social media to show the rest of the world the vibrancy and diversity of hijabi women," Abdelhamid told Elle magazine.
Abdelhamid, who wears a hijab herself, said she was inspired to start Hijabis of New York after being subjected to insensitive or ignorant comments for much of her life — even in the incredibly diverse New York City borough of Queens.
“I was receiving a lot of questions from my classmates about my hijab, and a lot of them came from just a lack of understanding. Not malicious at all, but they were silly questions,” she said. “One of my friends was like, ‘Gee, Rana, when I first met you I thought you’d be different, like, more quiet. But you’re actually pretty normal.’ I was like, ‘What!?’ ”
The project tries to highlight the vibrancy and yes, normalcy, of hijabi women by asking them a mix of questions about faith, life and their interests. One woman said her biggest struggle was dealing with a disease called polycystic ovary syndrome, while another said her most thrilling experience in life was visiting the Kaaba in Mecca.
Abdelhamid says the blog is her way of breaking down stereotypes.
"There are so many stereotypes around the hijab, both from within the Muslim community and the non-Muslim community," she said. "People will assume that veiled women are really conservative, soft spoken, docile and not career-oriented. There is also the dehumanization of veiled women that has made us walking targets of anti-Islamic bigotry. Many people think that the hijab is oppressive. For me, the hijab is an empowering part of my identity and is my choice. There are so many badass hijab-wearing Muslim women. If people aren't getting to know us, they're seriously missing out! Get to know us."