Looking Beyond the Hijab

Mariam Soliman uses poems to break the stereotypes people have against Muslim women.

Mariam Soliman at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, a place she called her second home.

Story, photos and videos by Alison Sun

 

 

The society we live in is constantly labeling minorities in a negative light. This trend includes Muslim women, who are under-represented in the mainstream media.

 

 

“…You don’t look like the majority of the people in the class, and your faith is really different from the majority in your class,” said Mariam Soliman, a fourth-year middle childhood education student at the University of Cincinnati.

 

Besides being a student, Soliman is also a poet who writes about her personal experiences as an Egyptian American as well as a Muslim woman. “It is definitely difficult growing up in America being Muslim, Egyptian, and a woman. Like I am a minority within a minority,” Soliman said.

 

 

Soliman never thought poetry would be something she would enjoy doing, but she loves writing. She puts a lot of her emotions into her writing and that becomes poems.

 

“My poems are raps but without the music,” said Soliman. She started developing her poems’ style in her senior year of high school which was also when she performed for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basketball is one thing Soliman enjoys the most besides writing. She got inspired from playing basketball and her role model is Kobe Bryant.

“I was like ‘wow’, that was my reaction when I first saw her performing,” said Hanin Ali, a friend of Mariam Soliman, “she is strong, she is powerful, everything she said just related so strongly to me.”

In today’s media, negative portrayals of Muslim women who wear hijabs on news and social media have promoted negative stereotypes, which is why more positive portrayals are essential for people to question those stereotypes.

“You don’t get to hear from our perspectives too often. The majority of the people in media they don’t look like us, sound like us, have a background like us,” said Mariam Soliman’s sister Salma.

According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, about three-quarters (76%) of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic white.

Understanding others’ cultures and values could be a challenge when the writers and producers behind the scene are not diverse enough.

“A lot of women are being undermined, their voices aren’t being heard, because people think that they don’t have a voice,” Salma said.

 

Mariam Soliman speaks out for all minorities. She attends different fundraising events, rallies, and cultural events to empower those who are speechless. In a world where different isn’t the “norm” - Mariam makes sure that everyone is capable of being who they are between her words she speaks loud and clear. 

“You can change people’s lives by just talking to them, loving them, encouraging them, and supporting them,” Soliman said.

 

It is not only about writing minorities’ experiences but also having empathy for what they are going through. Soliman recreates people’s emotions in her piece so their voices can be heard by society. People like Soliman are allowing stereotypes to become breakable and gives space for people to welcome each other.

 

The experiences Soliman went through in life built her identity and that allowed her voice to become full of strength and inspiration.

© 2020 by Alison Boya Sun