Mona Ismaeil is the owner of Modern Hejab, an online hijab store, and blogs at My Modern Hijab. She is also the director of External Affairs for the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC) in Edmonton, Alberta.
Muslim Link interviewed Mona about her experiences being a blogger focused on life as a woman who wears hijab.
Tell us about yourself
"I am a first generation Canadian Egyptian. I was born and raised in Jasper National Park, Alberta. I moved to Edmonton, Alberta to pursue post-secondary education in the field of Elementary Education. I have been in Edmonton since 2004 where I have worked as a teacher for 3 years, married and raised my children".
Why did you start your blog?
"I've had two blogs. The first blog I created was a part of my Online Hijab Business, www.modernhejab.com. I used it as a marketing tool as well as to share tips and tricks for Mohajabas (women who wear hijab). I shared information about the best underscarves to use, Hijab styles for Eid, how to use Hijab Accessories, etc.
I soon realized that I was really confined by blogging for the business and I wanted to blog for myself and and my readers. I wanted to explore topics that were more than just hijab. I started writing about other topics related to not only wearing hijab but "Being a Modern Mohajaba".
I wanted to share my experiences and my advice for living the hijabi life that was beyond underscarves and hijab pins. In Fall 2017, I launched my new blog www.mymodernhjiab.com. Here I talk about everything and anything related to hijab fashion and being a Mohajaba. It's the fashion, the ups and downs, the life and the love for hijab".
You are based in Edmonton, Alberta. How do you feel your experience as a Muslim hijabi blogger based in Alberta contrasts with those of other Canadian bloggers based in Ontario and Quebec?
"I'm forever grateful that I have had nothing but positive experiences as a Muslimah in Edmonton and Alberta. I've always been met with respect, understanding, compassion and acceptance. Perhaps I am just lucky. Of course, our ideas about being a Muslimah or Mohajaba develop based on our experiences.
Therefore I may have a more positive outlook than those in places where they experience racism, discrimination and Islamophobia. Although we have had a few incidents of Islamophobia here in Edmonton, I would still say as a whole, my outlook is still very positive".
You are doing a lot of public speaking now in Edmonton. How has this come about and what insights are you gaining from this experience about the needs and interests of Muslim women in Edmonton?
"It has been a great blessing to have these opportunities. I am a great believer in honest and open dialogue and it seems that other people value that as well so they ask me to be apart of women's panels, workshops and even news interviews. My speaking engagements have been in two different areas.
First of all, through my expertise in Hijab Fashion and styling I have been doing different events related to Hijab and Women in Islam. These have been aimed at showcasing the beauty in Hijab and Islam and about sharing my experience as a Muslim Woman in the West."
"Secondly, after joining AMPAC (The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council) as the Director of the External Affairs portfolio I have been given the opportunity to work alongside an amazing friend and mentor, Nakita Valerio (VP of External Affairs). She has taught me so much about not only Islam and Islamophobia but also about creating connections with other communities."
"Further, I have been given the opportunity to be part of AMPAC's Muslim Women's Town Hall meeting where we discussed the needs of women in our community. We have come to realize that the main factors that hold our women back or restrict them are not the external factors placed on us by living in a Western/Non-Islamic Community but moreso they stem from within our community!
That was a huge eye opener for me. We are accustomed to blaming those outside of our community for discrimination, racism, misunderstandings, lack of acceptance, etc. But the real issues are rooted deep in our own community.
It's obviously not about Islam itself but how Muslims practice it. It's factors such as sexism, racism, lack of education, lack of empowerment, double standards, abuse, and so much more that we do not talk about. They are so rooted into our cultures that we don't even realize they are an issue. We allow our cultures to influence how we practice our religion. That's a problem"
According to Statistics Canada, Muslim women are disproportionately the targets of Islamophobic attacks. How does this reality impact your relationship with your hijab? Is this something you see as a concern for your readers?
"I think that this issue is expected as we are obvious Muslims. Before anyone knows anything about us they know we are Muslim. We are the face of Islam, we ARE Islam in the eyes of many people. All their misguided beliefs and preconceived beliefs about Muslims get projected on us. For me, my hijab is my identity. I wear it because I want people to know I am Muslim.
I know very well that if it came between my husband or I it would be me that would take the brunt of any Islamophobic attack but I am ready. I have come to a point in my life and my relationship with Allah (swt) where I have CHOSEN to be a Muslim. Yes, I was a born Muslim but I took the time to explore myself, my life, Islam and consciously CHOSE to be Muslim.
This means different things for different people but for me it is about being ready to live Islam, and in this day and age to defend Islam and be a ambassador of the Deen (religion) whether that means a thoughtful understanding conversation or an Islamophobic attack".
I do fear for my readers. The more Islamophobic attacks I see taking place around the world, the more I worry about my sisters. I know that every Hijabi in the West and quite possibly the world knows that her day may come.
The incident might be a rude comment or it may be a physical attack. At the same time I have great belief that my sisters are soldiers and their hijab is their armor. They are strong and I know they are ready for whatever comes their way. They will face it with confidence, grace and most importantly their Iman (faith)".
Follow Mona Ismaeil's blog on Facebook here