Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Disney Unveils Hijab!

Throughout this month, my goal is to promote Positive Public Relations pertaining to Muslims!  I am hoping to publish quite a few great articles shining some warm light on Muslims and their lives here in the US. As always I am and I am sure that you are very grateful for the beautiful life we live as an American Muslim and the strong independent voice you are inspired to share!  Here is a great story I read today, where a young hijabi intern exercises her American right to perform her job, while still maintain her status as a crowned Queen of Islam...
Disney Unveils Hijab-
Included Costume for a Muslim Intern
By Lindsay William-Ross in News on September 28, 2010 8:30 AM 1 Comment 0 Likes 1575 Views

Costume designed for a Muslim intern (AP Photo/Disney) 
Disney-Muslim-Worker.jpgDisney intern Noor Abdallah, 22, has a new specially-designed costumed that incorporates the head-covering she wears as a part of her Muslim faith, according to the AP.
Abdallah had been working as a vacation planner for the Disneyland resort, but took a job in the stockroom when her head scarf, or hijab, became an issue. "Vacation planners are costumed employees, whose outfits include an optional baseball-style cap," explains the LA Times.

A group intervened on behalf of the intern when they learned of her job re-assignment. Disney agreed to design a special costume for Abdallah, but said it would take five months--the same amount of time as her internship was expected to last.  Now Disney has restored Abdallah to her "front-stage job" and has provided her with a costume that includes a beret and a scarf. However, Abdallah "will not have the option to take off her hat while wearing the scarf-type covering," says Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown.

Abdallah is the second Muslim woman to make headlines in recent months for her struggles with Disneyland and her wish to wear her religious head-covering while on the job. Imane Boudlal, a hostess at a restaurant at a Downtown Disney venue, was removed from the work schedule after continuing to show up to work wearing her hijab, which is not permitted as part of her position's mandatory costume.
Boudlal wore her hijab to work despite being told it was not acceptable, and after refusing to accept a reassignment to a position with less public interaction. The Council on American-Islamic Relations say Boudlal's case with Disney remains ongoing.

Nicole Queen- On a side note, after further research into Boudlals case with Disney. She did not wear Hijab when she was hired. Then after working there for a while, decided to start wearing it, which is great...but was not discussed with her employers, she just showed up one day with it on.  I have worked as a non-Muslim, then a Muslim, then as a Muslim wearing Hijab...it is important to have as much respect for your employer as you demand they have for you. If your employed in a public position, like the service industry, it is a must that you have a respectful conversation with your employer about your decision and talk about what options you have for making it work.
  After they offered Boudlal a less public position so she could keep her Hijab, Boudlal refused. Then Disney had a designer create a cute look for her, that would still coordinate with her costume, and allow her to maintain her Hijab. 

She again refused, unlike Noor in the story above, and complained that the hat looked "silly".  I personally no longer see this as a case of Disney not honoring her right to wear hijab, but now as a case of a girl who is hoping to win a law suit.  

Thank you Disney for trying to accommodate our girls...and the 200 other faiths that Disney has made exceptions and costume alterations to accomodate.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Facing and Fighting Discrimination

I wanted to share this article I was reading today on the Huffington Post.  It was published on Sept. 12th, 2010 and because I wasn't able to post anything marking the anniversary of the tragic events on Sept. 11th, I would like to share this now.  My heart goes out to the families of victims of that dark day.  I only pray that the actions of the people, who are responsible for so many deaths that day, do not continue to create so much turmoil for the true Muslim people today, who seem to be answering for those horrible crimes which they did not themselves commit, nor do they support.  God bless America, and remind us all of the freedoms we so proudly represent.

Here is a little background on the two strong Muslim women who have written the article below.

Hena Ashraf
Hena Ashraf is a filmmaker based in New York City. With roots from the subcontinent, she spent her early years in the U.K. before immigrating to the U.S. Hena graduated in 2008 from the University of Michigan with concentrations in Film & Video Studies, and Political Science. Hena is a fierce advocate for the making and use of independent media, and believes that people can empower themselves by creating their own media to amplify their voices. She tends to disappear into her headphones, and also writes and photographs.
Deluwara (Dinu) Ahmed is currently participating in the Community Organizing Residency (COR), a program devoted to launching social justice careers rooted in faith. She is completing her residency at Community Voices Heard, a member organization of low-income New York residents striving to build power and win improvements for their families and communities. She comes to this work with a background in youth organizing, and experience working on multifaith coalitions, issues of domestic violence, education, and legal advocacy, as well as organizing programming around the arts. Dinu graduated from Bryn Mawr College, where she studied comparative literature and political science.

Facing and Fighting Discrimination

The controversy over Park51 has reached a fever pitch. Opinions and concerns from around the country have been expressed, with many falsehoods and stereotypes being propagated along the way. We feel that the voices of Muslim women are lacking in this debate, especially the voices of Muslim women who go to Park51, and as such, we have chosen to express our views on the matter.
We have been astonished at how a local community project has suddenly become the focal point of political campaigning, and is now the basis for hate crimes against Muslims. We think it is important to understand the concerns and motives of the community in question, prior to assigning accusations of cultural insensitivity, because we believe that cultural sensitivity should be mutual.
Supporters of the Islamic cultural centre and mosque planned for a site near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, New York City, chanting slogans and waving placards. Photographs: Chris Hondros/Getty Images; Seth Wenig/AP Photo
Supporters of the Islamic cultural centre and mosque planned for a site near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, New York City, chanting slogans and waving placards. Photographs: Chris Hondros/Getty Images; Seth Wenig/AP Photo
As former residents, students, and employees in Lower Manhattan, we find that the demand for prayer space in this neighborhood is very high. What many around the country do not know is that a local mosque in the area has been renting warehouse space every Friday for some time, simply to accommodate the overflow of worshippers. Due to the high local demand, Park 51 would provide much-needed space and services for the Muslim community in Lower Manhattan and in New York City. The fact that this is a complete interfaith and intercultural community center open to all is an additional benefit that would be an asset to multiple communities here in New York. The center should be built, not only on the grounds of religious freedom, but because the community in this area is in need of a such a space.
Lower Manhattan is the neighborhood where I was born and raised, where I went to school, and where my community had rooted itself for the greater part of a century. As a young student at Stuyvesant High School, four blocks north, I experienced the shock of watching the towers crumble before my classroom window and being evacuated from the area. I had family and community members working at the World Trade Center and in the immediate vicinity. My high school was converted into a triage center, and so we were relocated. When I returned, I continued to deal with the trauma of loss in my community, with the fumes and debris in the air an ever-constant reminder of what we as a country had experienced. With public transportation knocked out that day, I remember sobbing and feeling terrified by the possibility of still being in danger, wondering if anything else was going to fall, if it was all over, and if everyone I knew would make it home safe. In the midst of a steady sea of people heading north, with the swirl of emotions in my head, I also encountered my first taste of being targeted as a Muslim American. I was 14.
Even before I could begin to process bearing witness to this tragedy, my peers and I, as young teenagers, had already begun to experience accusations of perpetrating the very event that had scarred us. Such notions were highly illogical, xenophobic and racist. Every New Yorker knew someone who was directly affected; there were countless Muslims who were killed whose lives have not been honored justly. It is beyond unfair to even contemplate that Muslim Americans reeling from the calamity could be responsible for what happened; indeed, it is immoral. Let us re-emphasize: we were shocked, scarred, and grieving from our own losses on this day, and spoke out loudly against this gross distortion of our faith tradition.

In Michigan, I lived amongst a very large Arab-American population, with a third of the students in my high school being of Arab descent. Immediately after September 11 and in the following years, the surrounding Muslim and Arab communities were fearful of being targeted and harassed by federal, state, and local authorities, and for good reason -- this was happening to many families in and around Dearborn, Michigan. As a teenaged Muslim woman in America, I became highly aware in a very abrupt manner of the poisonous political environment seeping across the country that transformed many Americans overnight into the latest demographic threat. This perceived threat, which continues today, included both people visibly presenting as Muslims as well as ambiguously brown-skinned people mistaken for Muslims. As time went on and the War on Terror expanded from Afghanistan to Iraq, and with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, and racial and religious profiling, I have certainly felt very cornered growing up as a Muslim over the past nine years in this country.
Fast-forward to this past summer in New York City. At different places and across various boroughs in New York, Dinu and I have experienced much Islamophobia. Never have I received as much consistent harassment in one place during one length of time as I have this summer in New York, from a shopkeeper asking in May if I was a suicide bomber, to a man shouting furiously at Dinu and me, "Where's Osama?!" (incidentally on July 4). Those are just a couple of the hateful incidents that have occurred to us as women who wear hijab -- our list also includes times when we were physically and verbally threatened. The unnecessary controversy and debate around Park51 has come to a boiling point with hate crimes against Muslims; just last week in New York, a cab driver was stabbed for being Muslim, and a man entered a mosque in Queens during the Ramadan nightly prayers, yelled at the congregation and urinated in the house of worship. Over the weekend, the site of a new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was attacked by arson. And then later this week, a shotgun was fired outside of a mosque in Carlton, New York by teens shouting slurs, who also drove their car up against a worshipper. The very next day, a Sikh man working at a 7-11 in Seattle, Washington was mistaken for Muslim and assaulted.
We have to wonder what has led people to commit such racist and hateful crimes. With our critical and unwavering eyes on the mass corporate media, we believe the coverage thus far has been highly irresponsible and biased in its depiction of Park51, starting with calling the center "the Ground Zero Mosque." The media needs to be held accountable to present objective, fair, and analytical coverage, rather than merely creating spectacle and allowing for hate groups to present their propaganda without critique. Moreover, politicians who have harnessed the media to design racist and xenophobic campaigns have been especially irresponsible, and are not only distracting Americans from real issues that affect our daily lives but also ramping up the hate discourse and actions against Muslims across the country.
We are Muslim women who live in New York and who believe in the linkage of all struggles. What we are experiencing at the present time is not new. Many communities in this country have struggled, and continue to struggle, against hate, biases, and stereotypes. We are in solidarity with them and understand that Muslim Americans, and those perceived to be Muslim, Arab, or South Asian, are just the latest groups in recent decades to experience such vilification. This Ramadan, we pray that New York and the larger American society will be as inclusive and welcoming as it is claimed to be, and strive to achieve liberty and justice for all communities.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Eid Mubarak from Dallas, Texas

I just wanted to share with you a nice piece from the "Revealing Ramadan" series on NPR.  It's a great program and they did a story on different Muslims and what the month of Ramadan means to them. Since it is the last night of Ramadan, sadly, I thought it would be nice to share what Ramadan means to me.  I truly love Ramadan and I am always sad to see it go, but look forward to the coming year.  Even more, I look forward to Eid!  Praying with hundreds of Muslims in Downtown Dallas, you really feel like you belong to something greater than you could imagine.  I love seeing all the bright shining faces and beautiful Eid garments. All the children are so excited, with twinkling eyes and pockets full of sweets.  They look forward to receiving gifts after the prayers and a day full of fun with their families. We are all so thankful for the lives Allah has granted us and for at least this one day, there is peace throughout all Muslim hearts, despite media and political agendas.  I can't wait to see my niece and nephews when I give them their long awaited Eid gifts...sometimes I think it's harder for me to wait to give them, than for them to wait on receiving!  I will depart now, I need to make my first attempt at constructing Eid cookies, in my opinion it ranks in the tops of one of the most difficult cookies to bake, wish me luck in this venture as I'm covered in flour into the long hours of the night!  Hamidillah for lifes simple challenges and simple pleasures...

Revealing Ramadan

Read more on the show's main page.

First Person: Your Voices, Your Stories

» Email  ¦ » Print  ¦ + Share
“I remember a friend of mine said to me, "Who is it that thinks your so glamorous and cool? What kind of people are they. They are just like you only caring about themselves and living for nothing...”

Nicole Queen

Born in 1981
tradition: Sunni Muslim faith
I was born in Houston, Texas to some very young parents. My grandparents are devout Baptist Christians who raised us close to this religion. Our parents didn't really follow any religion, so I used to ride the bus to church alone. When I got my license I drove myself there each Sunday. I stopped attending church after I graduated high school and began life as an adult. I spent some time in college and began working as a photography studio manager. I came back to Dallas from New York and, after managing for five years, began my own photography company.

I scored a few huge jobs shooting celebrity events for Ghost Bar, inside the infamous W Hotel in Dallas. Only the most beautiful and successful people partied at this place. I shot everyone from Justin Timberlake to Owen Wilson and Kate Hudson, and lots of other sports and pop stars that graced our doors.

With this job came lots of other restaurant openings, and every other main street night club had me shooting their private parties. My work then went into all the Dallas magazines, sometimes even in People and Paper City. I got to hang out with publicists from Vogue and worked with the best in the media business. It was simple and glamorous and along came with it lots of glam friends. I could walk into any party and it seemed I couldn't go anywhere at night without spotting friends.

I even had to look the part while working. I had to wear sexy clothes, loads of makeup, and "fohawk" style hair — it was popular at the time. I often found that I had fans. People actually came up and wanted to have their picture with me, on their own cameras. Later I would see it posted on Myspace or Facebook. I partied, and drank, and only cared about one person: me.

Deep down inside though, this life and the people in it started to wear down on my soul. It's a wicked life. I remember standing next to Justin Timberlake and all the flashes from the crowd going off, and we could barely see five feet in front of us. I only took about three shots of him, so I wouldn't get fired and then I slid my lens to the side. I couldn't do it more. It felt horrible all these people screaming, flashing, body guards around him, managers yelling — and this was after he had finished a three-hour concert. What kind of life was that?

I felt dirty that I was part of the reason he couldn't have a normal life. I started wondering what was so great about my life, what was I doing to better anything around me. Nothing, just shooting pictures of people partying and drinking and wow, "Here is my contribution America. I'm here to make the world a more materialistic and vain place!" Not exactly something that would make my grandmother proud.

So here it came, the overwhelming sensation of doubt about who I was and what I was doing with my life. I couldn't sleep. I began having nightmares with people screaming out to help them. I also couldn't escape the thought of the most important question that I had ever asked myself, "What will you say when you must explain your life to God?" OMG, what do you say, "Umm sorry God I am too busy drinking and hanging out with cool people to think about You or to help others."

This is definitely a defining moment in my life where I knew it was time for some changes. I talked with friends about what I was feeling. They tried so hard to help. One friend recommended that I watch a few lectures on YouTube. One of which from a guy named Yusuf Estes, a Muslim convert who used to be a Christian pastor. The best part was he was from Texas! I watched the lectures and when I got to his I heard a bearded man explain everything I was going through right to me as though he was reading my mind.

He told the story of his conversion to Islam from Christianity. Said he needed a greater purpose in life, a better reason to wake up in the morning. Oh how nice this sounded to me. To wake up without thinking, "What did I do last night, and how did I get home alive?"

I became obsessed with learning more about his religion. I would come home from shooting around 2:30 a.m. and get online till the sun came up. It was so relieving to listen to other converts too! Holy cow I found some help! Of course when studying and believing in this religion, you start to look at yourself differently. It's like you see yourself from outside your body!

I remember a friend of mine (who is now my husband) said to me, "Who is it that thinks your so glamorous and cool? What kind of people are they. They are just like you only caring about themselves and living for nothing better." Ouch, those words drove straight through me. He became my biggest supporter in my transition.

I remember one day I wanted to start going to the New Muslim classes at the local masjid and I went into my huge closet to find something suitable to wear. Ha! Good luck! This day I went crazy I think. I teared up as I thrashed through the hangers of sexy tops and tight jeans and pants — not one single thing that I could wear to a holy place. Most of the tops had to be taped on to avoid the loose fabric from exposing your chest! I began crying at myself. What kind of girl was I!

I tore through the clothes, throwing them behind me in a huge pile of slinky embarrassment. When I was done there was only a small rack of barely modest things left. I couldn't afford to replace them all so I slowly began the process of a new wardrobe. I started with looser pants, shirts with long sleeves, modest shoes instead of stilettos, and a low pony tail became my daily routine. Then it went from there, and slowly but surely God carved his way through my black heart and planted Himself deeply inside.

I said my Shahada in April of 2007 in the office of Dr. Yusuf Kavacki, the father of Elif Kavacki. My later husband Hassan was there supporting me, as well as a few new girlfriends I had made from the New Muslim classes. I have a slew of new friends now, who follow the same lifestyle as me. I didn't get rid of any of my old friends, but if your not down for meeting people at the bar, then they tend to stop calling as much, until it's just never at all. No problem for me. I am busy as I ever was and happily married with a wonderful family of in-laws not far away.

I asked Hassan if I could visit Jordan; he is from Amman and his parents and siblings live there. His family was so happy to have me. Muslims have the best sense of family and welcome guests as if they are blood. I stayed with his Mom and Dad for a month. I started wearing the hijab full-time there, it made being out in public easier for me, less men harassing you and people really respect you more. Wow, people respecting me for the way I dress and carry myself in public, that was a new and wonderful feeling.

When I came back to Dallas, I couldn't take off the scarf. I just couldn't stand the thought of going back to being just another "piece of meat" for men to glare at. I didn't want to go back to competing with women based on whose boobs look bigger, and what brand are you wearing and are you sexy enough to be my friend. No more of this life for me. I wanted to be free from those chains and wearing the hijab was the only answer for this. I wore it proud, wore it with style, and actually more men than ever in my life opened doors for me and showed me respect.

One day a man in his 40's came up to me at a store and said, "Where did you get these clothes, you look so classy and stylish. I wish my wife would start dressing this way." Why wouldn't men love this. They have a beautiful wife who shows her skin only to him and in public she covers demanding respect for herself and her religion with every public appearance she makes. I am currently working on designing new headpieces for hijab-wearing women to wear. Soon, Inshallah, I will have the first set completed.

I still do photography, but I keep it clean, you know. I don't shoot clubs or crazy parties anymore. I stick with charity functions, fundraisers, and my newly started wedding and bridal photography is going quite well. I also take part in MAS (Muslim American Society) and WCTI (Woman Converts to Islam). I speak sometimes to schools about Islam, and even to Muslim schools to the younger girls, I try to tell them to stay away from the wrong kind of life. I tell them from experience that it gets you nowhere, a vicious lonely circle where everyone is lonely and rich and it never gets any better.

I have a huge following on Myspace, thanks to the YouTube interview done on me. I use the page on Myspace to reach out to other "party girls" and show them that you can escape that life. Even if you don't wanna become a Muslim, just clean up your life and you will change forever for the best. Having God in your life is the best therapy you could ever hope for, and it's free!

I also love working with Sr. Elif Kavacki. She is a great woman and really trying to open doors for Muslim women everywhere. I am happily married, and we are hoping one day Allah will bless us with an addition to our new little family. My husband and I enjoy living in downtown and keeping each other close to our religion. We frequent trips to the masjid and enjoy nights with friends for dinner. We have picnics by the lake and watch the sunset, and attend a lot of functions with his career. This replaced all the late-night parties and people who don't really care about you. I think it's a pretty good trade, Hamidillah.