She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated

Trailblazing Muslim Women – introducing Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

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Squad -5.jpg

Image credit: Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

We were so honoured and proud to be part of a visual photography series launched by two London-based creatives Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya , to showcase and amplify the U.K’s currently lesser known Muslim Women trailblazers.

Beginning the series with 21 inspiring examples featuring : Shahnaz Ahmed (Senior Designer at Livity/Founder at KnitAid), Fatima Zaman (Advocate at The Kofi Annan Foundation), Malia Bouattia (Former President of NUS), Leyya Sattar (Co-Founder of The Other Box and Design Manager at MYWW™ ), Rahima Shroom (Illustrator and Co-Founder of Restless Beings), Nelufar Hedayat (Journalist) and many more, including our very own founder Akeela Ahmed.

Inspired by the squad shoots from The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair and the high profile well known award season ‘Roundtables’ & photoshoots, Zainab Khan, with the help of photographer Maaria Lohiya, produced an inspiring squad shoot featuring 21 like minded Muslim women. The series has garnered mainstream attention and widespread acclaim amongst BME and Muslim online outlets.

So you can imagine our excitement when we were asked to be involved in the series and couldn’t wait to interview these two inspiring creatives who had a awesome vision to create role models for young Muslim women, and went far and beyond to deliver it!

SSWH: So Zainab and Maria please tell us about yourselves – your chance to include anything about yourselves including what’s your background, where did you grow up, age and anything else!

I’m Zainab Khan, 24, a creative based in London. My family moved around a lot growing up so I’ve been lucky enough to call Frankfurt, New York, Toronto and London home. This exposure along with my Pakistani background sparked my interest in cultures early on so I went on to study Archaeology and Anthropology at university, where my dissertation focused on the discussion of aspirations within South Asian women of my generation. After university, I pursued experience in tech, at an e-commerce brand and a fin-tech startup. At the moment I’m working as a freelance digital creative, specialising in Social Media and Community. The projects such as this one is the first in visual series that I’ll be curating this year around cultural issues. 

I’m Maaria, 23, a creative based in London, and have been pursuing my talent and passion for Photography and Videography after graduating from university. You can check out my videos on my youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvB6X59T2Y7gmwHRonitKZg. I created an amazing video for my journey during HAJJ. 

SSWH: How did you come up with the idea for the project to showcase Muslim women?
 

Zainab: Back in January I had been taking in the newly released Forbes 30 under 30 list and I was curious to see how many people of colour, women of colour and Muslims were on the list. And then I thought back to all those times I looked up to these squad images from award seasons, to powerful businesswomen shoots to fashion shoots and I hadn’t seen enough representation, enough of women like me. 

That was it. I had to do it. Everything I had done so far, my dissertation on aspirations of South Asian women, my project @coffeeandhenna and more had led to this in some weird way. It was time to share the badassery of Muslim Women. An Identity that took me a long time to accept. 

SSWH: You kind of answered this already by just HOW important is the representation to you?
 
Zainab: I didn’t quite realise how important representation was for me, I grew up hiding away from my identity but then I started seeing the world around me and didn’t see enough women like me around. Not at university and not in the workplaces I’ve been in so far. It’s so important now more than ever to shoud about our identities. It’s so important to create something for the next generation that we lacked growing up. 
SSWH: What were you and Maaria hoping to achieve with the project?
 
Zainab: I want to amplify the voices of the badass women in London, what they are doing and counter the representation in media. Show the diversity of Muslim women. Inspire the next generation of Muslim women.
SSWH: How has the response been?
Overwhelming, what was a wacky idea that I wasn’t sure I could pull up in so many weeks turned into something very meaningful. From the moment I got in touch with the women for this photo series to everyone I told about the project along the way, they were all like “we need that”.  It’s just so exciting to have all our hard work out there and having people support it. 
 
SSWH: Who or what inspires you?
It’s probably the most cheesy response but everyone around me. First and for most my mother and grandmother, for continuously telling me “you do you” in Punjabi/Urdu before that was a thing. Even though I didnt become a doctor. My family, my father has always been the rock. They always taught us to be independent.
 
There are so many amazing women and creatives I’ve met along the way but the ones that inspire me are the ones that collaborate, that lift people up, that don’t compete with others, and are humble whilst doing groundbreaking things. I have been fortunate enough to meet so many of these people in only the last several months.
 
SSWH: Our last question is what advice do you have for young girls looking to get into photography or advertising?
 
Just go for it. Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission, if you want to do something, just start. If it’s overwhelming and difficult and you want to give up, that’s all the more reason to just get started. It’s the things that matter the most, that are the most difficult to achieve, so keep going. Whatever you want to do, you got this- MAARIA
 Watch the Squad video below:
Thanks so much to Zainab and Maaria for creating the series and answering our questions! The series lives here: http://zainabk.com/trailblazers2018. And you can follow Maaria on Twitter and Instagram @justmebreathing and Zainab on Twitter and Instagram @_zaikhan
By She Speaks We Hear

Image and video credit: Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

 

Author: She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women’s voices together, unaltered, unadulterated. Platforming stories and experiences of Muslim women, so they can own their narrative.

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