By Rebecca G. Dorr
Thursday, April 3, 2003
A new women's magazine talks to and about Muslim American women, in all their diversity of thought, appearance and opinions.
(WOMENSENEWS)--As a Muslim woman of color, Tayyibah Taylor did not see herself reflected accurately in the magazines, newspapers, TV shows and films that surround her in North America. So, she started Azizah, a magazine for the modern Muslim American woman.
Azizah, now entering its third year of quarterly publication, presents the diversity of contemporary Muslim women; Taylor, the founder and visionary behind the title, hopes it will counter stereotypes. Azizah loosely translatesfrom Arabic to English as "daringness, strength and nobility."
Though born in Trinidad, Taylor spent her childhood in Toronto, where she found it difficult to reconcile what she knew of her parents--hard-working, black professionals--with the images of black people in the mainstream media.
"The only time I saw people of color was on TV, news clips covering civil rights demonstrations, and it was always negative," she said recently over the phone. She breathed a sigh of relief, she said, when she first glimpsed Ebony magazine, which portrayed black people in positions of importance.
Taylor grew up Christian and converted to Islam at age 19. Too often, she said, Muslim women are presented as the "suppressed, oppressed non-entity."
On the cover of each of the first seven issues are vibrant portraits of successful Muslim women, wearing the traditional hijab headscarf. Stories have covered everything from feminism and Islam to how inclusive Muslim communities are of the disabled.
With nearly 3,000 subscribers, the magazine is the first written by and for Muslim women in North America. It is also one of the first Muslim magazines with no affiliation to an Islamic ethnic group or school of thought, for example Sunni or Shiite, said Taylor.
A 50-year-old mother of five, Taylor studied biology and philosophy at the University of Toronto. She went on to study Arabic and Islamic studies at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, before working as an administrator at the Islamic School of Seattle. Her dedication to Islam and an instinctual desire to share ideas and facilitate communication led her forge the idea for Azizah more than 10 years ago.
"Azizah is a forum for our voice," she said of Muslim American women. "By presenting positive images and portrayals it gives us permission to aspire to things, to break out of self-imposed limitations."
Taylor incorporated WOW Publishing, Inc., a privately-owned company that publishes Azizah Magazine, in 1999. Ownership lies entirely with three Muslim American women: Taylor, editor in chief; Saleemah Abdulghafur, chief operating officer; and Marlina Soerakoesoemah, head designer, who works from Seattle. Taylor put up seed money for the venture, but all three women have made substantial financial investments.
"We pay ourselves a pittance," Abdulghafur laughed, but stressed that money doesn't motivate them.
Now 28, Abdulghafur received her undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1996. She originally worked as a consultant to Azizah, but began full-time work as chief operating officer in January. "It's critically important that Muslim women in this country forge their own identity, and have a voice in the mainstream media" she said from Azizah's Atlanta headquar