Gender Inequality Interviews

The Salafi Feminist gets real about her thoughts on feminism, faith, and polygamy

Her online nome de plume sparks plenty of controversies around the internet, but it’s for good reason. According to her blog, she considers herself an “orthodox Muslimah with vaguely left-leaning tendencies,” and she’s been writing about Islam since 2005 – when she was just 14.

The Tempest had a chat with The Salafi Feminist, whose real name is Zainab bint Younus, about her personal thoughts around feminism, activism, and polygamy.

The Tempest: Through your social media posts and articles in different publications online, you don’t shy away from talking about taboo topics. Why is that?

Zainab bint Younus: I didn’t go out of my way to write about these topics specifically. They just happened to be what drew my attention, what interested me, what was relevant to me – and which very few, if any, other Muslim teachers or writers were discussing at all, information on the subjects were restrictive, ignored entire aspects of each topic, and did not reflect a holistic Islamic understanding of how these issues relate to our real lives.

What advice would you give to other young Muslim women wanting to get into activism/ advocacy work in Muslim communities?

Don’t go into it because it’s trendy. Don’t think you’re going to make much of a difference, either. It sounds contradictory, but people who think that they’ll be able to change the world overnight will experience burnout even faster. Seek the Mentorship of female religious scholars and don’t compromise the principles of the religion to fit into social activist circles.

When I first started as a writer, ten years ago, I was aware of many of our community’s issues but was still quite hopeful and idealistic. Life experience drove home the reality of misogyny and how it affects Muslim women on a daily basis.

What’s your most important piece of advice you’d give to those thinking about entering a polygamous marriage?

I very, very, very strongly advise most people from getting into poly because, without a great deal of research and emotional preparation, it will inevitably go down in flames.

Poly is not for the faint of heart: it requires a great deal of emotional intelligence, emotional maturity, and the ability and willingness to accept change and a very unconventional way of living. You will discover things about yourself and your partners that you will be shocked by, and often shaken. How you handle the inevitable conflicts and deeply sensitive situations will make you or break you.

Healthy, happy polygamy can only take place when all parties are aware and consenting – and even then, there will be numerous challenges for you to overcome.If the first wife is kept in the dark, and you as a potential second wife are aware of this, and still decide to go ahead with it – know that you are not getting yourself into a healthy and happy situation.

All that being said – I remain a huge proponent of #positivepoly!

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Stop feeling guilty and ashamed of being your own person, and stand up for yourself. Stop relying on others to make you feel better or to get you out of a bad situation. Just make du’a and kick some butt.

What’s your favorite or most used come-back to the haters who say you can’t be Muslim and feminist?

I used to bother giving thoughtful explanations, but now I am a crabby hermit who says things like, “Fluff off, I have important things to do.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Gender & Identity Life

My choice to wear hijab is judged by my Pakistani community every single day

It might seem hard to believe, but I have Pakistani Muslim friends and family that object to me wearing the hijab.

Not necessarily on the grounds that they worry about my safety, though that is a factor as well. The appearance of a girl in hijab puts other Muslims, particularly from South Asian or Desi backgrounds on an unnecessary defense. My Middle Eastern and convert friends are surprised at the reactions of fellow Pakistani Americans.

But I am not.

Related image
[Image Description: A woman in the midst of people taking off her hijab and disappearing along with it.]
Among Muslim communities in the West, we usually see our Arab friends wearing hijab more often than Desis. Desis are more likely to be seen in a loose dupatta while Arabs typically have well-secured scarves.

Some of the Desis with more secure scarves, or with any head-covering, usually come from families where women wear hijab already. This could possibly be why I faced more resistance or felt more tension when my own scarf was well-secured, or on my head at all. I look different, and it seems more deliberate

Would people in my community have the same qualms and opinions against me if my mother and sisters wore hijab too? No.

They might view my family differently though.

In an attempt to bring light to the cultural resistance that some Pakistanis express against the hijab (and sometimes even the beard) I’ll say this much:

In Pakistan, our identification with our faith, our nation, and our culture tends to blur. It’s almost hard to tell where certain cultural understandings comply with our faith or defy it. For certain groups or individuals, there is a variation in how much our faith applies in our culture if it hasn’t already influenced the culture overall. On top of that, Pakistani Americans are a people who are struggling to integrate.

How we have been going about this has added to the tension between how different communities, families, and individuals operate.

Therefore, I do have to worry about other Muslims’ opinions.

My family gets a kick out of my tendency to answer aunties when they comment on my weight and height, but I’m more limited in my diplomatic options when I get unwarranted remarks on the hijab.

A wrong move gives Pakistanis who are wary of religious attire all the more reason to hold a grudge against it.

Family and friends alike are ready to inform me that there are people who wear hijab (and niqab and burka) who are not “good” people, (ergo probably not “good” Muslims). After nearly two decades on Earth, I had not remained unaware of this possibility. If a person in a hijab, burka, niqab or with a beard has ever acted unjustly in your eyes I can’t apologize for that bad taste in your mouth.

It’s just not up to me.

Not to mention, those who outwardly “look” Muslim aren’t exactly at an overall advantage in the United States.

That being said, hijab is not limited to a culture, but I’ve seen and heard Pakistanis treat it as something that should be excluded from ours.

It’s an interesting type of conservatism, isn’t it? There simply is no fine line between Pakistanis who want to conserve their faith and their cultural identities.

One can be both.

Aside from cultural conservatism, insecurity hides under the tension between Pakistanis and their friends and family who wear hijab. It’s normal for people to worry about being judged by people whose outward appearance reflects their faith.

I know this because I also felt insecure before I wore hijab (I still do, because dressing modestly is hard when the standard is blurry) and people who acted awkward about my decision admitted this issue too. If you walk on eggshells around people who dress a certain way, you are only reinforcing the notion that they may have some higher moral standing than you, and we all know deep down that this does not have to be true.

Neither friends nor family were ever supposed to feel like I hold anything against them for the way they dress. It actually cannot work like that. I just wanted to continue to take pride in my culture without feeling like I had to put my faith behind it.

As people who are constantly judged for their outward appearance, those in hijab or beard ought to know better than to hold someone’s lack of against them.

When you’re a Muslim in the Western world, you carry this weight of ensuring that whatever you do, you don’t leave a negative impression.

You feel this weight most if your name or appearance gives away your identity.

Imagine feeling that weight out and about among non-Muslims and around other Muslims too.

It was not fun to see the friends I grew up with watch as elders made faces at my attire and made comments that I couldn’t respond to.

Though it’s not something that’s easy to smile through, I was okay, more than okay. The concerns of how you look in your scarf and what others think (at times excluding concerns about safety) go through you so easily when you remember why you made this decision.

At that point, nothing else matters.

It goes from something frustrating to something peaceful. In a culture where “what will people say?” is over-emphasized, to remind yourself that people will simply say whatever they say is a reclamation of self-control. Wasn’t the hope that I could prioritize God-consciousness over petty opinions not a heavy factor in my decision?

It will always be a struggle and I wind up back at square one every day, but its worth it for me.

At the end of the day, Pakistanis are mostly harmless about these things (I think). It probably helps that my family has mostly digested my situation. My mother and sisters have stood up for me because you can make fun of your family, but no one else can – and because they have come to somewhat respect my decision. Some of my Desi friends genuinely wanted to look out for me from the start. Some of them didn’t say anything and I knew why.

Things feel okay now though, maybe even more than okay.

[bctt tweet=”In either case, I can’t apologize for ruining family photos by sticking out. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Some people, including Pakistanis, are actually very kind and tell me that I look beautiful in my scarf out of appreciation of seeing me in it. Many people genuinely want me to be safe and free from discrimination as I proceed through life. Honestly, I do get scared at times- that’s a separate issue though.

Meanwhile, some are still waiting for me to change my mind, and many are surprised that I haven’t yet.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

Editor's Picks Gender & Identity Humor Life

15 things niqabis are sick and tired of hearing all the time

As a woman who wears the niqab (face veil), I find that some people take it as a license to say whatever they want.

People can get kind of weird about it sometimes. On one hand, I get it – really, I do. On the other hand, it irritates me that people can’t exercise basic tact.

1. “You would be much prettier without that thing on your face.”

This is the niqabi version of “You’d be so much prettier if you smiled.” Please stop telling me what I can and can’t do with my face.

2. “I bet your husband/father forced you to wear that.”

I understand there are real cases of this but the majority of women who wear it, do so because they want to – especially in Western countries. Instead of assuming why I wear the veil, just ask me about why I wear it!

3. “Has your husband seen your face?”

Um, of course? We eat, sleep, and live together. He is married to me.

4. “Where are you really from?”

april parks rec puerto rican

This is not just a strictly “niqabi” thing, but people tend to assume that women who wear the niqab must be from the Middle East. Just like anyone else, we can be from anywhere in the world.

5. “I wanna see you.”

Well, you do see me. You just don’t see my skin.

6. “Your eyes are sexy.”

People who try to objectify the few inches of skin niqabis have left are super, super creepy. Your advances are unwelcome. Stop objectifying women!

7. “Are you Batman?”

This is actually the one exception I want to include in this list. It’s really cute when little kids think I am their favorite superhero, honestly. I’d love for more people to confuse me with a person that regularly saves the day.

8. “You’re just covered up like that so you can do crimes!”

Like most human beings that wear clothes, there are good and bad people who wear the niqab. Most niqabis are law-abiding, God-fearing citizens of the world that want nothing to do with making God (or the law) angry.  We hate crime as much as you do.

9. “You wear that because you’re ugly.”

No, I am not ugly at all. I like how I look actually!

10. “So you wear it because you think you’re so pretty? You’re full of yourself.”

Nope. Niqabis literally can’t win, can we?

11. “But nobody knows your identity! I need to see your face every second of the day to verify who you are.”

I can almost guarantee you don’t remember every face you pass in the grocery store. That’s because your brain naturally gets rid of information it doesn’t need. If by chance one does need to know what niqabi looks like, (Ex: for an ID or in court), we are required by Islamic law to take off our niqab long enough to be identified by the authorities.

12. “I would find it oppressive. You are brainwashed!”

creepy everybody looking at once

I recognize that some women hate the niqab, but some of us really enjoy wearing it. In case you forgot, every woman has an autonomous brain that can tell you if she likes or doesn’t like what she is doing. I find it so frustrating for people to tell me what I like wearing without actually listening to me. Note: I’ve mostly gotten this from men.

13. “Are you a piece of art on the oppression of women?”

lady gaga niqabi burqa

This really happened to me when I was tabling for a local womxn’s empowerment group.

I guess the lady assumed there was no way I was a real Muslim woman advocating for the rights of women. It made more sense that I was channeling Lady Gaga or something, I guess.

14. “I need to see your full face to have a genuine connection.”

Or you could just treat me like a decent human being and respect my boundaries? People are people – no matter how much skin they’re showing. They don’t deserve less respect just because you have a personal problem with how they look.

15. “I don’t think it’s obligatory so I don’t think you should wear it.”


This is from other Muslims, of course. A lot of people say this to me the first time we meet. Sometimes we haven’t even changed names before they let me know their opinion on my attire.

It would be one thing if my friends and I talked about these things, but it’s usually other women who feel like I’m going to judge them for dressing differently (by first passing judgment themselves).

Fashion Lookbook

10 of the most gorgeous niqab styles that I’m obsessed with

Anybody who knows me knows I am all about modest style options. As a woman who has worn the niqab for several years, I experimented with the different styles and types of niqab-friendly outfits.

These are some of my favorite looks – but who knows, that might just change soon enough.

1.  Soft blues highlight this ethereal look

niqabi in blue

The sky blue is an excellent choice since it softens the black on the top half of the look. The lace on the sleeves is so lovely and ties the black and blue together. This baby blue satin dress is perfect for any dressy occasion.

2.  French jilbabs are very “in” right now

red french jilbab with black niqab set

The french jilbaab extremely easy to put on for the day. Many women say they feel this style is demure and elegant. The burgundy jilbab pictured is paired with a black one-layer niqab and glove set.

3. Wear your favorite Snapchat filter

niqabi in tunic with flowers

From the bright pink of her Quran to her white sneakers, I am in love with this look. All of the pastels work together flawlessly here. Her skirt brings a neutral color to the outfit while packing a punch with the lace pattern. She picks up the same color from her skirt in her shoes.

4. Pair a one-layer black niqab with any color scarf

tranquil niqabi

Another common niqabi look is to wear a black one layer niqab with a colorful shayla (scarf). By wearing a different colored scarf each day, one can potentially wear the same black abaya and single-layer niqab all week without most people noticing if you really wanted. Looking for a glasses-friendly everyday look? Find a no-pinch black niqab at SunnahStyle.  ($14.99 USD)

5.  Be fearless with a brightly-colored niqab

paige in pink niqab stylish

I simply adore this shade of pink on this model. This gorgeous deep pink niqab looks great in warm climates. The black suede jacket creates a bad-girl vibe while the pink niqab softens the look. Together, this is a one-of-a-kind style inspiration for any urban Muslimah. Find this beautiful pink niqab at Misk of Jannah from Germany. ($24.16 USD)

6.  Spruce up your wardrobe with this green khimar set

niqavie green niqabi

This look is great for a spring collection! The contrast of color between the forest green and the soft pink reminds me of a beautiful French garden. Take a look at the flattering ruffles on this niqab set!  One can purchase this set at Niqavie. (RM89 or a little over $20 USD)

7. Butterfly niqabs look absolutely chic, hands down

nino widosari butterfly niqab
Nino Widosari Boutique

Nines Widosari’s butterfly niqab design is flattering, adorable, and on point. At the time of publication, I could no longer find these niqabs at her store, but I hope they return soon. I especially loved the wide variety of colors available in this style. The satin edges of her ruffled veil really pull the look together. The closest I could find for this style was the satin trimmed butterfly niqab available at Sunnah Style. ($28.99 USD)

8. Be at the peak of fashion

niqab yellow haura

Qibtiyyah Exclusive is a modest fashion line from Malaysia that creates beautiful veiled looks for all women.  The widow’s peak niqab is quite fashionable right now in some countries. I have only found this look in black so far but I think black is the classiest color for this style. This look is called “Niqab Haura” and can be found here. (RM49 or USD $11).

9.  This unique design is great for the fall season.

I'esha fall design

Plaid pulls together this look in my opinion. If you are seeking for something to start your fall collection with next autumn, this is a great look. The solid red abaya creates a lovely background for the hijab and niqab set she is wearing. The one-layer white “Niqabi Queen” niqab she is wearing is an I’esha original and she has them available in several colors through her company, Mi Modesty. ($35 USD)

10. Everybody needs a go-to black dress

black niqabi

It’s like the little black dress of the niqabi wardrobe – everybody has one. It’s honestly very interesting to me because in Western countries, the all-black look is considered gothy but in some Middle Eastern areas, this dark look comes off as the essence of elegant femininity. Regardless of which culture one is from, this style is classic.

TV Shows Pop Culture

‘Quantico’ gives a solid go at diversity – but sometimes they failed

Spoiler Alert, y’all.

I’m starting from the top. In case you missed it, Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra won People’s Choice Award for favorite actress in a new TV series – for reasons which evade me. It might have something to do with her role as Alex Parrish, an FBI recruit who is suspected of being a terrorist who carried out a deadly attack. The entirety of the show is Alex trying to prove her innocence AND find the real culprit- if that’s not White Savior Complex, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the plot: If she didn’t do it, someone from her class did.

From the trailer, the cast oozed diversity: a South Indian Bollywood actress as lead, a hijabi, an African American woman as head of Quantico’s recruitment program. After the pilot, it all went downhill.

With a diverse cast leading the show and everyone being a suspect, it was only a few episodes in before the hijabi was the prime suspect.

How shocking.

With brief mentions of Alex having an Indian mother and white father, there  is no other way of telling that she represents a minority unless you count the Om bracelet she wears, the fact that she tops her class, naturally, as Indian girls should, and most offensively, that her title as the suspect was ‘JihadiJane’ because, you know, all brown girls are suspect.

[bctt tweet=”After the pilot, it all went downhill.”]

Then there’s the overwhelming who’s-sleeping-with-who web of stories, because catching the perpetrator isn’t captivating enough. I expected as much, since the promotional poster featured Alex handcuffed, with an FBI flag loosely draped around her. I guess she was supposed to be sexy – and it definitely helped.

As for Alex’s story, she found out that her dead dad was also in the FBI, and wants to find out about more about him. She eventually does and is riddled with guilt because he was an FBI agent. Let’s not forget, she killed him years earlier because he abused her mom. This was a fact she needed constant reminding of, because as long as you’re a hero, you can treat your wife like crap. Right?

What really got to me, though, was the hijabi character. Moving past the ‘I am defying my family tradition by being here’ that all hijabis seem to have, is the lack of truth in the hijabi character, Nimah.


Nimah Amin
Nimah Amin

Nimah falls in love with Simon, a mysterious recruit with his own secret – he’s part of the Israeli Defense Force. She eventually invites him over, then removes her hijab in front of him to show him that she likes him. You know, because words aren’t what we use to express feelings. How rudimentary of you, writers, not only do Muslim women stay at home, we can’t speak for ourselves either.

Unveiling the package moment. What the actual eff?

I should also mention the Muslim-shaming ‘Oh you’re missing out’ sentiments and snickers expressed by Alex and another character Shelby towards Nimah as they talk about their flings – very mature for people training to protect the country. Thanks for pulling up that age-old stereotype about Muslim women and their relationships with men, amirite?

[bctt tweet=”Unveiling the package moment. What the actual eff? “]

If stereotyping one Muslim wasn’t bad enough, they did it to an entire Muslim community when Alex took to hiding in a mosque – because where else do fugitives hide? The FBI came looking for her there and her only means of escape was to put on a niqab.

Never in my life have I seen so many niqabis in one mosque.

Lastly, we come to Miranda, who runs the recruitment program. While I do give the costume department a good job for dressing her for her body type, that’s the only thing they’ve done well. Her backstory is her fatherless son, who’s in juvenile detention because he wanted to shoot up a school. Original. For some reason not explained, she fears and distrusts him.

[bctt tweet=”Never in my life have I seen so many niqabis in one mosque.”]

I must admit, in later episodes the show did become more captivating, as less time was spent on the characters and, as you quickly realize, everybody’s hiding something. It was ambitious to have a diverse cast as integral part of the show, but what is needed are writers who are diverse and can bring more faceted perspectives to the stories being featured. Now that’s a show I know I’d tune into.



Gender & Identity Life

Hey dude, stop trying to get behind the veil

Hey, world. I have a quick PSA for you. A certain few of you, actually: Hassan Ammar of Associated Press and Nick Kirkpatrick of The Washington Post. And anyone else who was behind the following harebrained scheme:

A photography project shot from behind a niqab of different locations around the Middle East. Of course, let it be known that this veil was a veil worn by a MAN and his CAMERA in the MIDDLE EAST.

Because, you know — the only Muslim women in the world are located in the Middle East.

Give me a second while I try to catch my breath. Granted, I’m not wearing a niqab, so here’s my insertion of #notallhijabis in case you bring that up in the comments section. However, there are a few questions that I have to ask you, Hassan, and Nick, the reporter who then decided to report on this decidedly exotic excursion.

A man leading tourists riding horses at the historical site of the Giza Pyramids near Cairo in April. (Hassan Ammar/AP)


What possessed you to want to unveil Muslim women?

Where do you think we live? Some fantastical world set in the early 1900s, one where it was okay to have a man named Lawrence of Arabia wandering around, colonializing women through his gaze?

Here’s an actual quote by the photographer:

“In my travels, I decided to begin shooting images through a full niqab to offer a glimpse of what it must be like to look through them,” Ammar wrote. “In my hometown of Beirut, I shot pictures of its famous corniche that way, the bright colors of the Mediterranean dimmed through it. The same happened at the Giza pyramids in Egypt, where a sunny blue sky grew dark. Despite that, some women say they welcome the anonymity and protection from harassment the niqab offers.”

So basically, this man is saying that he, as a man, decided that he, as a man, would be the BEST possible authority on entering into a world that a CERTAIN PERCENTAGE of Muslim women move within, and that after this seemingly-enlightening experience, he would RACK IN the profits.

I’m not going to bother with educating you on why it’s problematic for non-Muslim women to do this – I already wrote about it before. Hell, it’s been done, over, and over, and over again. In 2010, a Kentucky woman wore a hijab for a month, revealing an experience that “silenced, but simultaneously … brought unforgettable words.” The writer found that the experience made her uneasy, but was unable to pinpoint certain encounters because they were rarely transparent. The writer concluded that “what you see and hear from the media is fallible — if you want the truth, talk to a Muslim.” Yet her very experiment failed to do that. In 2011, an editor for The Huffington Post chronicled her endeavor to become “Islamic,” describing the niqab she chose to purchase as “something an executioner would wear.” Throughout her piece, she says things like “the sight of fully veiled women has become disturbingly familiar” and “there are people right here who want to shroud women … to make us all submissive and invisible.” In 2012, a VICE journalist decided to explore “what life was like for women who have been consigned to wear the least-revealing piece of clothing of all time,” her article sexualizing what she felt life was like for a woman in niqab.

What makes this series INFINITELY more problematic, though, is the gender of the experimenter. That’s not to say that I would be happy with it if a non-Muslim woman deigned to do the series — but seriously, what was the thought process, Hassan? Did it go something like this: “oh man, those women with the thing in front of their faces … niqab … huh. What would it be like if I put it on? Right? What do you think, AP editor? There aren’t any niqabis or hijabis in the media industry, nope, I think I’m the only expert to be able to adequately provide photos like this:”

A woman walking at Al-Azhar Park in Cairo in May. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

I don’t get it.

Honest to God, I’m trying. I’m trying. The world never ceases to amaze me with the latest instalment of mansplaining. Here’s the reality, Hassan Ammar, Washington Post, and anyone else lauding this as revolutionary, amazing and fantastical: it ain’t. You’re doing exactly what everyone else who decides to “experiment” with hijab/niqab/Muslim clothing does: slapping yourself in the face with idiocy.

Fun fact: Muslim women have voices, we speak up, and we know how to eviscerate ridiculous opinions and experiments — this one included. Keep that in mind the next time you attempt to speak for us. For now, go on, reap the back-slapping congratulations you’re probably getting from your buddies at your publication, Hassan Ammar — but realize this: you did wrong with this experiment. It reeked of awfulness.

I am not impressed.