Thursday, March 4, 2010

Photographer captures the women who wear the hijab

 By SANDY ILLIAN BOSCH sbosch@pioneerlocal.com

Sadaf Syed of Willowbrook grew up in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a teacher. She found a way to fulfill that dream, not with a teaching degree, but with a camera.
"I believe we're all here to educate one another," said Syed. Through her photo documentary, "iCover, A Day in the Life of an American Muslim COVERed Girl," she wants to show the world that a woman who chooses to wrap her head in a scarf is just like every other woman in America.
Walks of life 
Like Syed, all of the women in her book have chosen to wear the traditional head covering of the Muslim faith. Syed's book of photos, which has seen its first run, but is still being tweaked, shows Muslim women in all ways of life -- from mother to dentist to motorcycle enthusiast.
"It's something that I do for God," said Syed, who began wearing the scarf, or hijab, in early 2001.
She said the hijab is part of a commitment to live a humble, modest life. It also allows people to focus on a woman's inner beauty rather than her outward appearance.
But the public, especially in post-Sept. 11 America, has misconceptions.

Heavy weight 
"If there's one thing I know for sure now, it's that this light strip of cloth sure does carry a lot of weight," Syed wrote in her book's introduction.
She said some people see the scarf as a symbol of piety -- a sign that the wearer considers herself more holy than the rest of the world. Others believe it's a sign of a woman's submissiveness to her husband.
But the women in "iCover" are anything but subservient. They are boxers, surfers, U.S. soldiers and artists who choose to honor God by covering their heads.
Covering one's head in honor of God is not unique to the Muslim faith, Syed said. She notes that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is always pictured with her head covered. Most nuns still cover their heads, as do Orthodox Jews.
Syed said a Muslim woman's decision to wear or not to wear the hijab is an individual one made between her and God. For Syed, the scarf serves as a constant reminder of her relationship with God and of her commitment to try to be the best person she can be.

Access granted 
She said she's grateful to the women who allowed her to include them in her book, which when complete will be about 125 pages long.
"It takes a lot for people to invite you into their private lives," she said.
Syed found these women through modern day word-of-mouth. As friends e-mailed friends, they began suggesting women they believed would help Syed deliver her message. To photograph them, she flew all over the country, to the East and West coasts, to a dance studio in Texas and a courthouse in Baltimore.
Syed sees her book as a way to celebrate women -- like the Pakistani woman who drives a big rig and the Chicago teacher who challenged herself to complete her first triathlon -- and as a way to show the world that these women really aren't that different after all.
"It's just a piece of cloth," she said.

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