Alia Youssef’s The Sisters Project disrupts tired perceptions of Muslim women

The photographer explores the diverse narratives of the Canadian Muslim community.

by Alia Youssef

In the wake of Trump’s election and a subsequent rising tide of nationalistic sentiment worldwide, countries like Canada, France and more are experiencing growing levels of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

After a memorable utterance from a guest speaker in her Women of Islam class – “Muslim women are often painted with one brushstroke” – Toronto-based photographer and student, Alia Youssef, began to seriously consider the representation of her fellow Muslim women. In early 2017, she embarked upon a photographic journey to diversify these portrayals.

Called The Sisters Project, Youssef’s portrait series demonstrates the diversity of Muslim women’s stories and experiences. Captured in spaces that are particularly meaningful to them, the images serve as a challenge to the myriad stereotypes that they face.

by Alia Youssef

Depicting Canadian Muslim women from varying backgrounds, age groups and occupations, The Sisters Project features subjects that subvert stereotypes. From a 23 year old Somali Youth Worker to a kinesiology student considering medical school, their portraits and stories not only affirm the women’s agency but also serve to humanise and diversify many people’s limited views of Muslim people.

In a piece for The Ethnic Aisle’s Visual Issue, Youssef writes, “A one-dimensional image is stamped repeatedly on the bodies of every single Muslim woman, all 850 million of us. At a time when the number of hate crimes against Muslim women has increased 42 per cent in the past three years (which I heard at a panel discussion last year) this perceived 'sameness' serves to obscure who we are, and put us at risk.”

by Alia Youssef

Having photographed over 25 women so far, Youssef hopes to continue the project after she graduates from Toronto’s Ryerson University – not only because she feels their stories are important but because it has afforded her a greater sense of connection to her own culture. Having immigrated to Canada from Egypt at just 8-years-old, she began living in a predominantly white neighbourhood and subsequently grew up wracked with feelings of displacement.

"It has been a really eye-opening experience to learn about how Muslim women are represented. I learned so much, not only about my religion but also about representation as a whole and where these representations really come from."

by Alia Youssef

by Alia Youssef

To keep up with The Sisters Project, you can follow the project on Instagram. Watch the video below to hear some of the stories of the series' subjects.

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