Elevate Difference

Nazrah: A Muslim Woman's Perspective

Muslim women have received a lot of media attention recently: driver's license bureaus insisting they remove their head covering, fellow travelers regarding them suspiciously and with pity, and an enterprising Australian woman recently came out with a “burqini” that allows Muslim women to swim without violating their modesty standards. Rarely, though, do Westerners get to hear from Muslim women themselves.

Farah Nousheen is an activist based in Seattle, WA. Nazrah (Arabic for "perspective") is her first documentary, consisting of interviews she conducted with Muslim girls and women from the Pacific Northwest of the Uniteds States.

The film looks like it was recorded with a handheld camcorder, and sometimes the interviewee's face drops out of the frame completely. What is compelling is not the visuals, but the message and the variety of views. Nousheem interviewed a variety of women: though most are of Middle Eastern descent, several are African American and one is a white convert, whose acquaintance with Islam began when she saw a scroll in a museum. They are activists, housewives and law students. Their shared religion unites them much more strongly than I expected given the uneasy racial relations in the mostly-Christian U.S.

The documentary begins with a discussion of hijab. Most of the women did not seem to view it as a symbol of male oppression, but rather a sign of devotion to Allah. Some view it as another way to make themselves beautiful, albeit in a modest way. The sheer variety of scarves from market footage supports that idea. One woman chooses not to wear hijab because, in her eyes, a woman who wears hijab represents all Muslim women to Westerners – and she wants to be seen for herself.

Nousheen interviewed several girls from the Islamic School of Seattle. Even there the opinions ran a wide gamut. Some girls cover their hair, others do not. Some outspokenly object to being seated behind boys in classes, while others feel more comfortable in sex-segregated environments.

For a rather short (55 minutes) documentary, Nousheen touches on many topics, in some ways doing them a disservice for the lack of depth given to a given issue. Only a couple of women talked about sex; one focused on rape, saying that the blame should be divided between the victim and the attacker - one for being enticing, the other for succumbing to weakness. A lesbian woman recalled her initial fears of being "struck by lightning" despite a former lover telling her that being a Muslim and a lesbian are not mutually exclusive. Another area that deserves more in-depth focus is how these women reconcile being an American and being a Muslim. Few touched on it, one mentioning Western interference in Palestine and Americans' surprise at being hated by most Arabs.

The video ended with a voiceover by Nousheen speaking of her gratitude at being able to serve as the envoy for these women's stories in a culture of over consumption, an interesting dig.

Written by: Vita Foster, March 1st 2007