Should We Be Celebrating the Smiling Muslim Woman Photo?

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Shamaa Ismaa’eel poses in front of the protesters. (Photo: Courtesy Shaymaa Ismaa'eel)
Shamaa Ismaa’eel poses in front of the protesters. (Photo: Courtesy Shaymaa Ismaa’eel)

The above photo of a smiling Muslim woman “in the face of bigotry” has gone viral. The photo is of a woman wearing a hijab flashing a peace sign and sticking her tongue out in front of a crowd of Christian protesters.

Clarion’s National Correspondent Shireen Qudosi spoke with London-based writer Ayana Noor about the photo. Noor, a political and cultural commentator, sharply articulated exactly what’s distorted about the image and it’s wide celebration.

Clarion Project: The smiling Muslim woman in the photo was on her way to an ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) conference. ICNA is an Islamist organization, which produced a teaching guide instructing Muslims to wage jihad until the entire globe is brought under sharia law.

It advocates the use of deception and advises to “work in public but organize in secret.” It specifically says not to disclose its “strategies, plans and organization.”

It draws from Muslim Brotherhood teachings and envisions the day when “capitalist democracy will shudder at the thought of defending itself even in Washington and New York.”

The protesters were just outside the building. This photo has gone viral with a lot of support for the smiling Muslim woman. What do you see when you look at this photo?

Noor: She was literally on her way to ICNA, and they were protesting that conference. Since the [political] Left have made it bigoted to protest Islamist speeches, it’s been relegated to the uneducated right to protest these things clumsily, so the photo was perfectly shot to show how the smiling Muslim woman is some stylish and strong lady and the protesters looked like yokels.

It’s a very cleverly manipulated photo: Anyone criticizing Islamists will look like the protesters in the background, whilst Islamists will be associated with the tall model flashing a big smile in the foreground. This photo has gone viral yet no one is questioning her affiliation with ICNA, what it stands for, what they say in their pamphlets, etc.

Clarion Project: As we know there’s a litany of problems with ICNA. ICNA’s 2010 handbook, for example, laid out a five-level strategy to achieve a “united Islamic state, governed by an elected khalifah (caliph) in accordance with the laws of sharia (Islamic law).” The five levels are: Individual, Family, Societal, State, Global. The handbook references numerous Islamist authors, including Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi and Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Maududi. ICNA is a Muslim Brotherhood front group.

Why do you think this photo got so much coverage, from CNN to The Hill,Huffington Post, and Daily Mail to name a few?

Noor: Were the newspapers being lazy? Partly perhaps. Then again, there seems to be a willful ignorance.

Clarion Project: Stories like this are frustrating for reformers like myself because of exactly the reason you pointed out, the simple optics and associations. One thing is shunned and shamed while the other is glorified and romanticized. For me, this is exactly the type of patterns of alienation and misplaced prioritization that lead to things like the New Zealand mosque attack.

In a desperate effort to look tolerant toward minority communities under some bogus feeling that they need to be protected, society is further pushing civility to the fringe. No one thought to go up to the protesters and try to engage them peacefully. Instead, the protesters were mocked — and that’s what I see in this photo. I don’t see peace or empowerment. I see a woman mocking a group of people.

How do these pattern — the Islamic supremacism and the media’s constant elevation of the Islamist narrative — impact you in your life?

Noor: I’m worried because sharia-friendly laws will affect the community I’m from first, where atheists and women will be the worst off. Then the wider community: blasphemy laws, and rising radicalization, policing, honor violence, lower age for marriage, polygamy, discrimination toward LGBT and terrorism.



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