By Suzanne Baroud
It was a typical blustery, cold evening in Seattle, Washington, the US. The mixture of snow and rain pounded down on our heads and faces as my family and I ran for cover within the warm and inviting shelter of a coffee shop and bookstore not far from our home. My husband stood in line to order coco for our kids while I browsed through racks upon racks of magazines, finding myself perplexed: Could I possibly find anything appropriate for my seven- and nine-year-old daughters? Is there anything here that does not push consumerism and the darker side of pop culture?
These days, media and advertisers have found that the pre-teen scene is a hot market still not fully tapped into. New television shows and magazines are cropping up everywhere, tempting kids and taunting parents, indoctrinating young girls that they cannot be seen in school without that latest style of jeans, and making conscientious parents ponder, "How can we protect our kids without completely isolating them from their world?"
To my delight and surprise, in the midst of magazine titles, such as Teen Cosmo and Tiger Beat, was a lovely and colourful magazine titled Muslim Girl. I grabbed a copy and ran to the table where my girls were sitting.
"Take a look at this honey," I said as I handed my nine-year old Zarefah the magazine. Her eyes illuminated as if I had handed her a bucket of gold.
Sipping hot chocolate and thumbing through the magazine, I was so happy to see that this was certainly a different magazine from the others that cater to this young, impressionable, and often very vulnerable age group. While the meatiest material (like the latest seasonal fashions or the best way to break up with your boyfriend) can be found in other teen magazines, Muslim Girl pushes world awareness, self-esteem, and empowerment.
Muslim Girl’s motto is "enlighten, celebrate, inspire." The front cover showcases a lovely young girl brightly dressed in a colourful skirt and matching hijab. Standing strong and confident with a beaming smile, she rests her hands on her sides amid articles’ feature titles such as "Girls Go Global," "The View From Indonesia, Lebanon and More," and "Save Darfur."
Further reading featured an article about a young Palestinian Muslim girl who is a two-time world champion in karate. Another piece tells the story of Zaynab Aden, an enthusiastic American Muslim woman who founded the Save Darfur Coalition an organization that works to educate people and foster awareness and policy change toward the war-torn country of Somalia.
Yet, another piece titled "Muslim Girl of the Month" highlights the lovely and bubbly Shaa’ista Sabir, an American Muslim teen in the southern US state of Georgia. In one photo, she poses with a laptop and beside her a quote expressing the "’thirteen year plan,’ as Shaa’ista calls it, will result in her success as an author, screenplay writer, journalist, editor and publisher."
Another image features Sabir laughing with her eyes closed, under which a statement reads, "She refuses to underestimate herself or to blindly follow any pre-existing plan that has been set out for her."
The final picture shows her skipping down the road with a happy and confident smile, and the article concludes, "While it would be easy to reduce Shaa’ista to her long list of hopes and ambitions (which, by the way, don’t preclude the possibility of being elected President of the United States), it would be inaccurate to do so … she will achieve her goals — she knows that if she puts in the effort, Allah will do the rest."
With American Muslim girls being the target audience, pop culture is covered in creative and very clever ways in photos with captions such as "Winterize Your Hijab — Make the Most of the Great Outdoors!" One young girl reviews the very popular Harry Potter book series and addresses the controversies and questions that have arisen from an Islamic perspective.
Certainly not all readers will agree with all of the opinions expressed in Muslim Girl. Personally, I was a little distressed by what seemed to be editorial comments that touted the party line of the Bush administration. But the overall and strongest impression I came away with was that Muslim Girl celebrates strong, confident, responsible, and pious youth, characteristics that for long have sadly fallen by the wayside in most American media.
Muslim Girl promotes a faith-in-action philosophy. It presses the social responsibility that comes with faith. It addresses hard issues like the distorted and often hostile sentiment that many American’s have toward Islam today. It enlightens kids about a multitude of current events and features Muslim women who are successful journalists, athletes, and diplomats.
It prioritizes study and faith rather than fashion. Not only does it encourage inclusion and integration but also it inspires girls to "stand out" and "stand up" for their faith.
But with all I have said about this great magazine, I think my seven-year-old daughter, Iman, summed it up best when she pointed to Sabir with her beaming smile and tightly bound hijab and said, "Mommy, I want to be just like her."
-Suzanne Baroud is a writer and the managing editor of PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in IslamOnline.net)