Posted on Jul 18, 2013
Ainee Fatima is a poet and blogger from Chicago, IL. Haute Hijab sat down with this up-and-coming spoken word artist, who recently became the first hijabi to be featured in Seventeen magazine (and who also happens to be the face of the “Awesome Muslim Girl” meme) to talk about her inspirations, aspirations and (of course!) a few thoughts on hijab. You can follow her on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and on her blog!
Who inspires you?
Many people look to their elders and past figures for inspiration, but I don't think we give our generation enough credit. The Muslim youth have been doing so many amazing things that usually go unnoticed. I look to my peers for inspiration – I think my generation of Muslims is going to be the one that will go beyond expectations, and make strides that no one thought was possible. I can name so many of my own friends who are creating doors and opening them for Muslim youth, and they are the reason that I strive to push myself.
Islam is the religion of creativity. It urges its followers to be active, creative and imaginative. Islam calls upon Muslims to make use of every branch of knowledge, to enhance their link to their Ummah and their sense of belonging. We are politicians, fashion designers, lawyers, doctors, educators, writers, actors, film-makers, activists and so much more – but we're also Muslim.
How did you first get involved with poetry?
Writing was a form of escape for as long as I remember. I began with writing short stories about my friends and me. My English teacher approached me during my freshman year of high school and noticed that I would write a lot more than paying attention in class. He asked to look at my notebook, and I reluctantly let him. After a few minutes of flipping through pages, he said I had potential. The next year, I joined the Poetry Slam team with no idea what to expect.
After hours and hours of writing and editing, I finally had a piece good enough to perform. Performing became an issue at first because I had horrible stage fright (and to this day, I still do!). The next year, it was my first year performing as a hijabi. I noticed that I was the only hijabi out of 500 kids competing at Louder Than A Bomb. Now, this could have worked to my advantage or my disadvantage. I pushed myself to write one of my hardest pieces to date, and performing it was emotionally draining. But after hours and weeks of preparation, it paid off – my high school, Niles West won first place in Louder Than A Bomb. Ever since, I've had opportunities presented to perform and have been recognized nationally for winning with my team.
What was it like being chosen to be featured in Seventeen? How did you feel when you first saw it hit newsstands? What sort of message do you think it sends young girls who read the mag?
It was exciting and overwhelming but definitely a huge blessing to have been chosen in a fashion magazine that millions of young girls read every day. I've gotten so many messages from young Muslim girls telling me how they feel like they have a chance now that they see someone who looks like them in an international magazine!
I walked into the local store in my neighborhood and I saw the issue sitting among the other magazines and I picked it up, then flipped towards the back and found myself staring at my picture – that's when it hit that there are so many people reading about me right now, but this isn't just about me, it's an accomplishment for all young Muslim women. The message I'm aiming to share is that you shouldn’t let hijab stop you from doing what you love and voicing your opinion. You don't need to adhere to Eurocentric standards of beauty in order to fit in and believe in yourself! (Be sure to check out Ainee's Behind the Scenes at Seventeen video on YouTube!)
So what’s your hijab story?
I was very confused about my faith when I was sixteen years old. I questioned everything and fought with my parents all the time. The one thing we always fought about was the male-female double standards in our culture. My brother could go out wherever he wanted without being questioned while I had to make sure I was being chaperoned. Why did I have to wear a hijab and my brother could wear tighter jeans than me?! It took me a long time to dissect the difference between Islam and culture, because those two were presented to me hand in hand.
I always had this notion that I had to wear a hijab because of men. They were the sole existence why this piece of cloth needed to be worn, they were too weak and easy to tempt. As if my awkward sixteen year old self could tempt anyone, I thought. The fear of social ostracization and looking even more awkward became my worry. But after countless hours of research, talking to other friends who wore the hijab and hundreds of Youtube videos later, I realized that hijab isn't for women by men, it's for women by God. And it’s more than just the physical – it's through actions, manners, behaviors, speech and personality that hijab becomes such a beautiful act of faith.
A few weeks later, I finally built up the courage to wear it to school. Once I arrived at school I became more nervous because there were people looking at me in the parking lot already! With each step, I got closer and closer to the building and strangely more and more calm. Each person that passed me by just treated me like they always did on a normal day. A person even commented that my hijab was beautiful, and at least two asked me if it was a special occasion. At the end of the day, I couldn't believe that I had worked myself up about nothing all of these years.
Ainee's viral meme
What are your go-to pieces in your closet right now?
My go-to pieces in my closet right now are my gladiator sandals and cotton maxi scarves. Chicago's weather can get really hot and I make sure I have myself prepared. As someone who practices the Abaya, I tried to find sandals that were creative and fun, so I stumbled upon these sandals that were perfect for warm weather but also provided protection and it really is an everyday item for me now.
The cotton scarves are perfect for the warm weather and so fashionable, I think they’re a must in everyone's closet to have during the summer and so versatile with all the styles you can wear them in!
What's your favorite thing about hijab?
My favorite thing about hijab has to be the confidence that it brought me after I started wearing it. After I put my hijab on, I felt so much more confident and ready to take anything on. Because I feel like it forces people to look me in the eye and listen, people already know I am a Muslim when they look at me and usually, it will trigger a question or two.
Of course, it hasn't been perfect. I have had people attack me verbally in public for wearing my hijab, but I appreciate it. I think it's amusing when people spew their hate at you in front of strangers, and all you do is smile at them.
Hijab is essentially how a woman can be beautiful without placing emphasis on her sexuality. In western society it can be quite difficult to separate the two, especially if you're in high school. It's true that hijab actually makes the wearer stand out even more in the society we live in, but it's a good thing to be recognized for your hijab. There is also more than just physical hijab, more than just a piece of cloth. Hijab is a concept for both sexes, men and women. It's bringing forth spiritual beauty, not hiding it from everyone.