While the fashion industry and pageant circuit expand their reach to include Muslim women in hijabs and burkinis, one Muslim model is speaking out about the controversy she has stirred within her family circle.
Andleeb Zaidi is a 20-year-old student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Hyderabad, India, who has been modelling since 2015. In a first-person account she wrote for The NEWS Minute, Zaidi says that while her extended family’s reaction to her photoshoots are extreme, it helps to give her confidence.
WATCH: U.S. beauty pageant first as contestant wears hijab, burkini
Zaidi goes on to say that multiple relatives — who she calls “educated, well-respected people” — accused her of disgracing her family by “shamelessly exposing” her body. She says that her cousin, who she also considers her best friend, stopped speaking to her for four months after the bikini shots surfaced.
“She became judgmental,” Zaidi recalls. “But when I visited her a few months ago, she realized what she was doing. She watched my photos and videos, congratulated me and told me she was proud. I remember the happiness in her eyes to this day.”
Zaidi’s perspective on her religion stands in stark contrast to what extremist Muslims preach and what Islamophobic rhetoric espouses. It’s something she credits to her “liberal” parents.
“I am not irreligious. But being a Muslim, for me and my parents, has little to do with what I wear and more with who I am at heart,” she says. “I eventually want to become an animal rights activist and even open a shelter for strays. I try to work hard and be good to people around me. Is that not more substantial?”
While she says that her family has calmed down somewhat over time, she is criticized online through her social media channels and accused of going against Indian culture and setting a bad example for other girls. Regardless, she says she will continue to model.
“Thanks to that very photoshoot, I am a more confident person. And for that reason, I will never regret it.”
As more Muslim women participate in modelling, they are increasingly targeted by their conservative communities. Last March, Nuraini Noor, a Malaysian model who goes by the stage name Tuti, was unveiled as one of 14 contestants in Asia’s Next Top Model. She said she was immediately bombarded with hateful comments.
“This is not a matter of pride for Malay people, who are mainly Muslim,” wrote one Facebook commenter. “Furthermore in this event people are told to wear clothes that are not proper, and can be touched by boys.”
Although Malaysia is considered a moderate Muslim country, in recent years religious sentiment has been on the rise. In 2015, Islamic authorities in Malaysia condemned an all-male Korean pop band for hugging teenage Muslim girls onstage, saying it was a possible violation of Sharia law.
But Sharia law doesn’t uphold what many fundamentalist Islamic clerics would have us believe. In an article that appeared in the Dallas News, Asifa Quraishi-Landes, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Law, debunked a number of myths about Sharia law. Among them, was the notion that Sharia is anti-woman.
“On a range of issues, Islam can fairly be described as feminist. Fiqh scholars, for instance, have concluded that women have the right to orgasm during sex and to fight in combat. Women fought alongside the prophet Muhammad himself.”
And women like Zaidi and Noor will continue to fight against fundamentalist restrictions.