Nijla Mumin is not only fully aware of the stereotypes that many Americans believe about Muslim women, she also defies them all. And now she’s calling them out.
A 23-year-old grad student in Howard University’s film program, Nijla recently completed a documentary on being a Muslim woman in America titled “Without Judgment,” for which she interview Muslim women in Washington, DC and the Bay Area. Nijla entered her film in a contest sponsored by One Nation, a philanthropic collaborative with the vision of fostering a national conversation about the common values we share as Americans, regardless of how we choose to express our spirituality. If she wins she could get thousands of dollars in prizes and film equipment.
Before you take some time to view her film (and vote), check out what Nijla had to say about her project and about her experience as a Muslim woman in America.
What compelled you to do a film on being a Muslim woman in America?
I was inspired by my own experience. Some people attempted to put me in a box when it came to my religion and my relationship with God. My dad was a strict Muslim and my mother was a believer in God so I grew up with a multi-faceted perspective when it came to religion and identity. I found that I didn’t fit anyone’s rigid categorization or stereotype and there was so much beauty in that. Thus, I sought out other Muslim women who inhabited similar religious experiences.
Have you had any experiences similar to those discussed in the film? For example, two women spoke about being considered less faithful by other Muslims because they don’t wear hijab. Is this something you’ve faced as well?
Yes, I have had these experiences in my life. While they are not frequent, they do highlight the tendency of people to want to categorize and simplify the existences of others.
What are some of the stereotypes about Muslims that you’ve been confronted with and how do you deal with them?
Wow, that could take a whole day to answer. Specifically, the stereotypes surrounding Muslim women are that we are oppressed, quiet, timid, not vocal, and submissive. As you will see in “Without Judgement,” those stereotypes fit none of the women interviewed and they fit none of the Muslim women I know personally. So the way I deal with the stereotypes is to breathe and exist as myself, and in doing that I defy and call out the stereotypes that are aimed at Muslim women and people. I deal with them by questioning them and their place in our society. As a filmmaker, writer, and photographer, I use my art to show the complexities of Muslim women and people.
What would you say to people who think Islam is oppressive to women?
I would say read the Qur’an. Specifically read Surah II “The Cow” and Surah IV “Women.” It’s also important for people to be careful of how we frame “oppressive” and from what cultural and social lenses we make that claim. There are many social practices in religions that can be considered oppressive, not because the religion or the respective Holy Book calls for that but because people, patriarchy, and injustice becomes merged into them.
Why the title “Without Judgment”?
The initial title of the documentary was going to be “Intersections” because I wanted to show how personal identity and religion merge. I changed the title when I was editing because one of the interviewees stated that Muslim women deserve a place in this world that is without judgement. I felt her sentiments summed up the purpose and the overall tone of the documentary trailer and so it stuck.
Why do you choose to be Muslim?
Islam calls out to me in a way that is indescribable at times. It is an interesting merging of the teachings of the Qur’an, the example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the beauty in my mother and father’s wedding picture, the smells in the masjid, the excitement of Ramadan, and millions of other examples, experiences, and moments that make being a Muslim a beautiful and ever-evolving state of being.
Check out “Without Judgment”
If you liked what you saw click here to vote for Nijla’s film and to view others. You’ll have to register to vote, but it only takes a few minutes. Voting closes after today so act fast if you want to support her.