VISITING ARTIST: SADAF SYED
PHOTOJOURNALIST, AUTHOR, AND ARTIST
Recognized as a leading artist by the White House, Photojournalist, Sadaf Syed is today’s award-winning photographer and author. Syed is best known for breaking down stereotypes as she educates and inspires her audience through the eyes of photography and the perspectives of her subjects. She was a digital news Photo Editor and Staff Photographer for Al Jazeera America. Syed authored an award-winning coffee table book, iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl. iCOVER debut its photography exhibition in the United Arab Emirates hosted by the royal family of Sharjah in the famous Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization.
Syed was recruited by the Chicago History Museum and hired as a photographer in March 2019 to photograph Muslim Chicagoans sharing their stories of faith, identity, and personal journeys for the new exhibition, American Medina which made its debut October 21, 2019 at the Chicago History Museum.
iCOVER: A Day in the life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl
Mrs. Syed captures moments in the day-to-day lives of these Muslim women, moments that the average American can relate to once they “embrace” the fact that she covers her hair. The accompanying photo captions and personal quotes flesh out the dimensions of these women's lives. In the faces of a dancer, a surfer-girl, a biker, a tri-athlete and even a boxer you hear their voices, and touch their thoughts, dreams, struggles and fears. With each page, a stereotype is shattered and the misunderstandings that surround the female followers of a faith of 1.8 billion diminish. iCOVER has garnered significant publicity both domestically and internationally.
Our "Rotating Art" section, established in 2022, was created to house the work, dialogue, and presence of artists, educators, and creators who echo and explore the themes our center is built upon.
Each medium is a different language. We seek to display the stories they tell in our space. These walls will continue to house collective and individual voices who dream and create with intention.
Interested in displaying your work? Or want to chat? Tell us about your practice.
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Below you will find direct quotes from women whose images you witness in this gallery. As you read, we encourage you to be in conversation with the images as opposed to merely an onlooker. In doing so, images exit their static realm and
Mom of Three - 2006
“I always assumed that my boys would be ashamed of their mom wearing hijab, that they would be embarrassed that I looked different from other mothers on the street,” confesses Hina, a former English teacher who now homeschools in Northern California.
“But not so! They are so protective of my privacy and my honor when the neighbor- hood kids ring the doorbell, running to get my hijab and warning me that someone is at the door. The hijab has helped turn them into little gentlemen. I never expected that beautiful benefit back when I first put on the headscarf!”
Dr. Fawzia Mai
Medical Doctor - 2007
Dr. Mai is a Chinese-American with a long list of qualifications – medical doctor, teacher, school principal, journalist, and an Executive Director at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Arizona.
“Whenever I walk down the street, I advertise the fact that I am a modest Muslim woman and I symbolize the freedom of religion that we all enjoy in this country.”
A homeschooler whose eldest son is enrolled in medical school, Fawzia asserts, “If we want great Muslim professionals and leaders in the future, we must ensure an excellent education for our Muslim children. The great tragedy in most developing countries is that teaching has been demoted to a career for those who fail to get into more prestigious colleges. It is time to promote education as the greatest career for a Muslim, as taught and exemplified by our Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him).”
Network Engineer - 2008
A Korean-American mother of two teenagers, Michelle is a network engineer who feels that many Muslim girls tend to limit their activities unnecessarily simply because they cover. “It’s just a piece of cloth,” insists Michelle.
“It shouldn’t stop us from doing anything, as long as what we do is halal (permissible by sacred law). I ski, swim, body surf, ride motorcycles, go to the gym, work, shop… I live in my hijab. Hijab is a blessing. It is a constant reminder for me to stay away from the haram (forbidden by Islamic law).”
From Cheerleader to Muhajjiba - 2007
Whitney was your typical girl-next-door, a cheerleader at her high shool in Georgia. Only wanting to defend Islam from detractors post 9/11, she began studying the religion and ended up being attracted to it instead.
“Modesty in Islam was one of the things I understood right away because I remembered being stared at and hit on by men just because of my outer appearance back when I was a cheerleader. When I found out why women in Islam wear modest clothes and hijab, I wished that every woman would follow the Islamic attire. The hijab provides us a chance to be known for our personality and our intelligence, not just our outer beauty. Hijab does not define a Muslima, nor does it take away from her. It is a part of her, just as we are connected to our hearts. Our hijab is not just a piece of clothing; it is a modesty from the inside and out, and that is beautiful to me.”
Truck Driver - 2008
Asma, a 58 years old step-grandmother an immigrant from Pakistan, has been a manager of mechanics as well as a truck driver for twelve years. Reversing a 53’ long big rig is a piece of cake for the 5’ 1 1⁄2” tall head scarf wearing driver from California.
Renee Abdul Hadi
Senior Team Leader - 2007
Senior team leader Renee is a Lebanese-American who manages Target, and American mass merchandise retail store, in Dearborn, Michigan.
Pediatric Anesthesiologist - 2007
Dr. Siddiqui, a pediatric anesthesiologist, follows up with her patients during her rounds at Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. “People may think I have it hard with working full-time while also having a family with kids, but I truly believe that Allah helps you in whatever situation you are in. You learn to figure out a way. I wish I was a stay-at-home mom, but that truly is more work, and I tip my hat to the say-at-home moms.”
Nuclear Reactor Engineer - 2008
Working for the government as a reactor engineer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Illinois, Pakistani-American Sarah was surprised by the number of stereotypes she had to overcome when she first got to know her co-workers. Sarah says she struggled in the beginning, wanting to use the limited she had in the office to portray Muslims in the best light.
“I noticed that after their interactions with me, their perceptions changed and they began to honor the Muslim way of living. At that point, I understood what da’awah (invitation to understanding Islam) really meant and how fulfilling it could even be just a matter of changing one individual’s perception of the religion.”
Scientist and Entrepreneur - 2008
An Egyptian-American scientist from Huntington Beach, California, Shereen is also a certified scuba diver. Shereen was inspired to create her own line of modest swimwear, SplashGear, after struggling to find functional full-coverage swimwear for herself once she had committed to dressing modestly at the beach. “I wanted to find a way to be able to continue with water activities while still adhering to the Islamic modest dress code.”
Judge - 2007
The scales of justice are always fair and balanced when Baltimore City Circuit Court Master Chancery Zakia takes her seat in the courtroom.
“Remember that whatever your situation, and especially if you have been blessed by Allah to realize your professional ambition, show your gratitude by doing your best to obey Allah – that includes wearing hijab,” she advises Muslim girls. “Wearing hijab is a passive form of da’awah (inviting other to understand Islam). It is a statement that one can be professional and proud of being a Muslim.”
Children’s Author - 2008
Karen became Muslim in 1980, but her decision to wear thehijab came in response to the tragic events of 9/11.
“I wanted to be with my Muslim sisters who go out in the world every day displaying their love and devotion to Islam. Over and over, I have seen non-Muslims relax and let go of their suspicions in response to our openness and friendliness. When we relate human being to human being, we remind others that our commonalities outweigh our differences.”
Hair Stylist - 2007
Nuzhat worked for five years at Fantastic Sam’s, a national haircutting salon franchise, where she only serviced women and boys up to the age of 12.
Feeling that her two-year-old daughter was being neglected at the time, Nuzhat decided to stay home, and her husband encouraged her to begin her own hair salon in the basement of their Michigan home. “Initially, it was the women in my family who were my main clients, but as word-of-mouth spread, I began getting other clients who appreciated the privacy in my home. Now, I even have people coming to me from out-of-state!”
Asma Ahmed Shikoh
Visual Artist - 2007
Asma Ahmed is a visual artist who works with oils, acrylics, and mixed media. As an artist, her concerns are the immediate environment and incorporating popular icons, cityscapes, and social issues into her imagery.
She describes her installment ‘The Beehive’ this way: “This project was part of the show ‘Liberated’ at the Ceres Gallery in New York in 2009. Almost 100 Muslim women across America contributed by mailing me one of their hijabs. The format of the installation is based on the beehive. Honeybees bear special mention in the Qur’an for their healing powers, and the sixteenth chapter is even titled ‘The Bee’. The significance of the beehive for this project is the fact that all of the worker bees are female instead of male. The installation is formed of cells representing each of the women who have submitted the scarf. Each cell holds a scarf with the identity, occupation, and location of the owner.”
Art Historian and Designer - 2006
Reem attended the prestigious UC Berkley for her bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Urban Design where she graduated summa cum laude and then attended England’s highly acclaimed Cambridge University for her master’s degree in the History and Philosophy of Islamic Art.
An accomplished equestrian who has studied ballet and piano, Reem also speaks Arabic and Mandarin fluently. She recently started a fashion label “Alalusi Couture” and was delighted when one of her designs was worn at a White House reception with President Barack Obama honoring Muslims who were making a difference in their communities.
Sama Wareh and Aurelia Khatib
Surfers - 2007
Surf’s up for artist Sama (left) and aspiring photo journalist/ elementary school teacher Aurelia, who believe in doing what they love most, regardless of how different they may look from other beach-goers.
“I am a Muslim. I live in America. I could be Muslim and live in Egypt, and it would still be me,” says Aurelia. The girls’ love for water sports alone causes much confusion and skepticism from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, but it’s their fully-covered beach attire that prompts most to take a second look. “Maybe because it is so normal to dress a certain way in the water, it doesn’t occur to anyone that it can be done any other way… but there is always a way.”
Soccer Player - 2007
Rema, an Arizona State University student of both Palestinian and Dutch ethnicity, likes to get out on the soccer field whenever she can take a break from her studies.
“It’s really important to create an outlet for girls to stay active and have fun by being involved in sports. Staying physically fit and active is important for Muslims, both male and female. I played basketball and baseball and ran track in middle school. I didn’t wear hijab yet, but I wore pants instead of shorts. My parents encouraged me to stay active as long as I followed the Islamic dress-code. I hope to encourage my own daughter to participate in sports as well in the future. Someday I would love to start a little girls’ soccer team to encourage all Muslim girls to get active and stay fit, God Willing.”
Tae Kwan Do Martial Artist - 2009
A 26-year-old Indian-American who got her Masters of Arts in Religious Studies from Boston University, Nousheen also practices the martial art Tae Kwan Do. “The discipline I learned in Tae Kwan Do helped me focus more in my spiritual practice, which in turn helped me perform better in martial arts. Tae Kwan Do taught me to treat daily prayers as a real meditation where the focus is on my relationship with God.”
Boxer - 2007
Atlanta-based Mariem “Punchenella”
Brakache is a former IBA Jr. Middle Weight Champion, boxing coach, and a renowned trainer.
“To be a Muslim while wearing the hijab in America has cost me my job, but it only placed me in a greater position to take on what I am most passionate about, and that is my career in sports. I am still in the process to cleanse my soul to live my life on a straight, narrow path with no room for mistakes. God has created me and He never creates a mistake!”
Palestinian American survivor/student - 2008
Noor, 24 years old, has seen it all in her native Palestine. House arrests, curfews, roadblocks, being woken up at dawn by soldiers to have her home ransacked and occupied had all become par for the course before she decided to take advantage of her U.S. passport and move back to Rockford, Illinois, where she has went on to complete her high school.
The Abrahamic Center for Cultural Education:
WHERE ISLAMIC PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE COLLIDE
The Abrahamic Center for Cultural Education is an art gallery and resource center dedicated to providing a more creative and rich understanding of Islam, Muslims and the Abrahamic faiths using interdisciplinary methods.