Based in London with Saudi, Sudanese and Pakistani origins, they are between 23 and 25 years old. Jameela, Sunavah and Noor have launched AZEEMA, a magazine celebrating the diversity of women in the Middle-East, aiming to break stereotypes and “bring together women to inspire and empower, both individually and collectively”.
KAWA : Azeema means “power, determination”. What is the power you are talking about? What does that mean? And what is the baseline of your magazine?
AZEEMA: The meaning of the word Azeema is empowering to us, in itself. This is the ethos we hope our readers sense when they pick up the magazine. To feel powerful and buoyant in whatever political and social context they may be in. Power here does not only mean rebellion and resistance, but also means finding power in vulnerability and femininity. The baseline is to bring together women to inspire and empower, both individually and collectively.
What is the idea and stereotype of women from MENA region? What do people ignore about them?
Women from the MENA region are often painted with one stroke, they are thought to all be the same, whilst in reality the MENA region is filled with different colourful cultures and traditions. With every issue, we try to showcase different strokes from the region and more. We wish to show what is often ignored- the beautiful diversity, intelligent and innovative work from women in that region.
What’s the meaning of the veil in Europe? Is it a symbol of conservatorium or of resistance?
As with anywhere, there are those who are more tolerant to differences from their known norm and there are those who are less tolerant to it. This applies in Europe. The symbol of the veil belongs in the hearts of the women who choose to wear it. We at AZEEMA encourage tolerance and acceptance.
The last two years have been hectic in UK. In 2016 London elected Sadiq Kahn: a Muslim mayor, with Pakistani origins. Few months later, UK decided to leave Europe. How do you explain this paradox?
The two events may not be linked. What is evident is that the right wing’s influence has grown since, with more signs of isolationism and protectionism, which encourages racism. However, this may not necessarily change diversity.
The cover of your first magazine showed a woman with a veil driving a car. Why?
The ‘Borders’ shoot was initially produced with regards to women being unable to drive in Saudi Arabia. It was something that these women had faced for such a long time. We wanted to confront and raise awareness on the situation, whilst also projecting an empowering image – something that people would have a reaction to. The ban in Saudi has now been lifted though, which is amazing and a huge step in the right direction!
What is the biggest frustration of growing up as a Muslim girl in Europe/UK?
One of the biggest frustrations for Muslim girls growing up in the UK/Europe is the clash of cultures inside the home and outside. It can be difficult having certain rules, expectations and traditions at home and then having to adapt to fit into the society around you. This puts many Muslim girls under pressure to appease to both cultures.
What’s the role of fashion in the development of women?
Fashion is a part of self-expression. It goes hand in hand with developing and learning about oneself by encouraging exploration and strengthening confidence.
What will be the theme of the third number of Azeema? If you cannot share it yet, can you tell us in which direction you’d like to work, what’s the topic you’d like to explore in 2018?
We can’t share the theme with you just yet but we do have big plans for this year. Each issue of AZEEMA has a different feel, so the next issue will be different to the first and 2nd. Topics we would like to see continuing in the next issue are themes of strength, acceptance, self-love and empowerment.
Do you have a message for Muslim girls and women in Europe?
AZEEMA is a space where you are accepted, loved and celebrated, so we invite you to share this platform with us.