Toronto-based photographer diversifies images of Muslim Girls

A Toronto-based photographer is hard “representations” of Muslim girls after she says she had been treated as a “one dimensional individual” because of her faith and history.

Alia Youssef’s movie collection, “The Sisters Project,” diversifies images of Muslim women by sharing their stories and portraying them in an area that’s significant to them.

“Muslim girls are really painted with one brush stroke,” Youssef said. “Girls are seen this way for so long as people start to hate this whole group of individuals because they just see one among the religion.”

This “one dimensional” needs to be contested, Youssef States.      

“It is the stereotypical picture of the girls in a hijab, possibly even a niqab, in which only her eyes are revealing,” she added. “This is the idea I am trying to counter with this project.”

This is the principal stereotype that the 21-year-old is fighting with her photographs.  

Her photographs cast scientists, industry women, artists, teachers, athletes, designers and environmentalists — revealing Muslim girls in a variety of “unconventional” functions.

Youssef is a fourth-year photography student at Ryerson University.

She started taking these pictures two months ago as a part of her senior thesis.  

“It’s been a really eye-opening experience to learn about how Muslim girls are represented,” she informed CP24. “I heard so much, not only about my religion but also about representation as a whole and where these representations really come from.”

Though Youssef grew up in Cairo, Egypt till she had been eight-years-old, she states she does not seem “visibly Muslim.”

“People make assumptions about what my views are because I don’t look visibly Muslim,” she said. “They’re always surprised when I inform them I am Muslim.”

In 1 type or the other, Youssef says most of the girls she’s photographed have experienced this too.

1 girl, Mehnaz Ahmed, an undergraduate science student in the University of Toronto, states she’s been treated as the “token” Muslim.

“In most environments I find myself in (in U of T, a lab, airplanes and other countries), I think that I am perceived as a minority,” she informed Youssef. “Sometimes I think people see me as a token … a representation of the ‘Muslim girl,’ almost like a model for how most Muslim girls behave, what they do and also what they aspire to be.”

“People just assume she isn’t from here,” Youssef added. “They accept her as a token immigrant even though she grew up in Canada.”

Ahmed, like the others, engaged in “The Genome Job” because she had been ready to get a “different representation.”

“I’d love to be perceived as a competent, clever, confident individual whose determination, perseverance and endurance amounted to some success I am fortunate to receive,” Ahmed said.

“I expect to one day be viewed as a sort, generous, philanthropic leader who just happens to be a believer of Islam, also is a good role model.”

Youssef has photographed 30 girls so far and expects to continue the job after she graduates.

“I wish to help keep this project alive because I think that it’s actually important,” she said. “I am always trying to meet more Muslim girls and share their stories.”

Youssef will be showcasing her photographs on May 4 in the Ryerson School of Image Arts.  

Amara McLaughlin,

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