Sadaf Syed: Finding Feminism Through Faith

Sadaf Syed shares a compelling view on how her faith has guided her to champion feminism. Born and raised into a middle class Pakistani family in America, she credits her mother for being her source of motivation. Sadaf is also a photo-journalist and the author of iCover, a book that dispels stereotypes by featuring Muslim women and their thoughts, dreams, struggles and fears.

This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.


“I was gifted a t-shirt by a male relative of mine that read, “ I love my attitude.” You see, anytime I felt or felt injustice against a woman around me I would be the first to roll up my sleeve and take a stand. Whether it be favoritism between my brother and I, who would often get away from doing household chores simply because he was a boy or the time when in college a friend of mine was going through a rocky marriage and needed to face her husband so she could get her belonging so a few of us girlfriends went along with her for moral support.

You know to me, Islam is a feminist religion. I know this idea of Islam being a feminist may raise quite a bit of eyebrows but especially when we often see images in the media that often point fingers to the Muslim women and see them as you know especially those that are donning the hijab you know which is also known as the headscarf and they see them as either submissive women or a terrorist or somebody who is not educated or someone who is voiceless then one will wonder how can Islam be compatible to feminism.
So my siblings and I were all born here in the United States. Three out of us four siblings have also lived abroad in Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive as we know but that’s a cultural ruling it’s not a religious ruling. We were mostly brought up here in the United States and our family was your average middle class family, religion and our Pakistani-culture both played a big role in our house, in our life, we were mostly taught the holy scriptures by our Mother and our local Islamic scholars in southern California. But it was the character and the saying which are like the Hadith and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that brought out the feminism in me.

He is a messenger of Islam as some may know or not know and he taught us the importance of a woman’s status in our religion. You know he taught us by the words of God which is you know Allah in Arabic, and by his own actions. So it says in the Qur’an and it says in what he taught us, the Prophet, is to honor and respect women of all social levels, to be kind to parents, your wives, and your daughters, to take care of your parents in their old age, to be kind to them and provide for them, and that it says that whoever had daughters and was patient with raising them, the daughters would be a protection for him, from the hell fire. So the Prophet, peace be upon him said, “Your Heaven lies at the feet of your Mother”. A man came to the Prophet once and said, “O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?” and so the way the Prophet, peace be upon him responded was he said, “your mother”. And then they asked again and he said, “Your mother”, and then they asked again he said,  “Your mother”. And then after the fourth time, the man asked again, “then who?” and then finally the Prophet said, “Your father”. So, I personally got my strength and my drive from my mother. My mother is my strongest pillar; she is very graceful, yet very powerful when it comes to her values and her faith. And on the other hand my father, he passed away two years ago, and he was my comfort. He didn’t preach his religion, he taught us by his mannerism.


I would just really would like to say to support, iCover, and if I can so say please that it is available on amazon. And the reason I emphasis on supporting iCover, right obviously purchasing the book is when you do go to these mainstream book store you don’t see many books, positive books on Muslim women especially the one who are wearing the head scarf. There really aren’t that many books out there, especially not a coffee table photo book that I produced. I think very important to support your artist, support your community, support art. And I think that’s the last message I would say.”

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