Muslim, Women, and Entrepreneurs: An Ode to Muslim Womanhood

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Muslim, Women, and Entrepreneurs: An Ode to Muslim Womanhood

by Elizabeth Jaikaran

Despite prevailing western narratives that perpetuate false and degrading representations of Muslim women, the realities of Muslim women’s strength, power, and resilience are becoming more and more difficult to ignore. In the past year alone, stories detailing the incredible feats of Muslim women have surfaced as seeming anomalies to the collective understanding of Muslim femininity.

In the face of monolithic characterizations of Muslim women as oppressed, subjugated, and helpless, women like Noor Tagouri and Ibtihaj Muhammad have emerged on the national radar as not only successful and empowered, but as hijab-toting forces to be reckoned with. While imperative to recognize these women and the leaps they have made with respect to the visibility of Muslim women in western media, it is equally crucial to recognize that Muslim women have always been forces of resilience and power—from the time of Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) to now. In the spirit of Women’s History Month, here are just a few unsung and absolutely remarkable Muslim women entrepreneurs who are dominating in their respective industries.

HASINA AHMED FROM ROYAL CHARMS, INC.

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“My name is Hasina Ahmed and I am the founder and CEO of Royal Charms, Inc.—a full-service event studio specializing in wedding planning and design. I was born in Bangladesh, raised in Malaysia and later immigrated to Queens, NY. I have a degree in Computer Science from St. John’s University and I worked for many years as an outreach advisor for under-privileged New York City youth, and as the Director of Conferencing Services at St. John’s University. After having children, I decided to infuse all of my greatest professional attributes—organization, detail coordination, design, and family engagement—into a fulfilling career. That’s how I ended up in event planning and design. I literally make people’s dreams come true for the most important events of their lives. I get to guide them through the stresses of transitioning through these delicate phases of lives, and through all of the formal events—culturally and religiously—that go along with that.

My work doesn’t leave much time for hobbies. When I’m not at the office or with a client or at a venue, I’m usually doing research or catching some scarce sleep. But my work is so entirely fulfilling and, because it is my passion, my company has been such a beautiful success. In the beginning, it was difficult. I wear hijab, and I think there is still so much bias in the United States surrounding women who look like me. As a businesswoman, this is difficult because this bias exists when you’re meeting with vendors, clients, and venue owners. After years of working in the industry, however, I’ve made my mark and the industry players have become quite accustomed to me, with my hijab and headset, taking venues by storm. This was an important development for me because I wanted my daughters to see me be unstoppable, so that they know that they can be unstoppable too.”

HUDA QUHSHI FROM LE JEMALIK SALON

business“My name is Huda Quhshi and I am a licensed cosmetologist. I am Yemeni-American, born and raised in Brooklyn. I am 37-years-old and married with three children aged 12, 13, and 17.

My salon, Le’Jemalik Salon & Boutique, is everything a girl could ever need. From makeup application for an evening out, a relaxing afternoon at the spa, or hairstyling for an entire bridal party, we offer a range of services that cater to the needs of every woman. Le’Jemalik is designed to be a safe haven for women who, for either cultural and/or religious reasons, cannot receive such services at any other salon. As a Muslim woman myself, I always had difficulty finding a salon that could accommodate my needs for a women-only space. For this reason I always knew that I had to create this environment myself!

Thus far we have gotten wonderful feedback on the salon! Many women of all faiths have reached out to commend us on our efforts and support the salon. We have also been excited about support by our community, which has warmly welcomed us into the Bay Ridge neighborhood. The greatest highlight is receiving such supportive and heartwarming messages from women of all religions and backgrounds, telling us how happy they are to see that we have opened Le’Jemalik.

I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure this all isn’t a dream. The opening of the salon was so surreal! I knew people were excited about it but the turnout shocked me. We expected about 200 people to attend but had over 600 people show up. It was unbelievable! Nonetheless, being a Muslim entrepreneur while being a wife and mother of three is no easy task. Trying to find a balance between family and business was a struggle but my family stood by me all the way. Their undying support is what keeps me aiming high. They are my rock and I know I can always stand strong with my loving family by my side.

From the perspective of being a Muslim woman, I believe the opening of my salon came exactly at the right time, especially after Trump’s election as president. I believe that he has ironically brought everyone closer together in opposition to his ideals. Le’Jemalik is here to stay and we will continue to empower women because that is what we stand for.

Outside of working for the salon, I love teaching. We are now offering seminars on beauty techniques at the salon, covering everything from makeup application to tips and tricks for hairstyling. We will be inviting other highly acclaimed artists in the industry to guest teach as well. I am hoping to inspire an empowering environment for women. We at Le’Jemalik want to foster talent and, for this reason, we are actually providing our weekly seminars.”

EMAN IDIL BARE OF EMAN IDIL DESIGNS

business“I am Eman and I am a 24-year-old yoga teacher, fashion designer, and journalist who wants to make the world a better place through storytelling. I am Somali/Ethiopian-Canadian and I grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan. My upbringing and hometown have everything to do with why I am the person that I am, in addition to, of course, my parents and my brothers. I’ve always been blessed in the sense that I’ve had educators and mentors who have invested in me from a young age.

Defiance is what made me want to go into fashion. There are a lot of things about the fashion industry that makes me sick, actually. When did we decide sweatshops are normal? Many industry players are destroying our world and peoples’ lives for pretty things, and it’s crazy to me that we’re allowed to sell garments that were made through slave labor in North America. I went into fashion both out of love, and a larger goal to change the industry ethically.

The greatest highlight of having my own business thus far has been the fact that this business is entirely mine—from the idea to the startup costs, and the networking I needed to do to get here. I worked very hard for this, and the blessing is that the brand is an extension of who I am. I get to decide what the norm is in our procedures and policies. I’m a Black Muslim woman from a small city in the middle of Saskatchewan, Canada. I’ve been othered my entire life. Except for in my business. In my business, I get to decide what the norm is and what is acceptable.

The most difficult part of my journey thus far has been finding balance. I work every day, and I’m usually at a desk for 16 hours or so, between being a journalist and a designer. It’s straining on my relationships because things are always happening, and I need to keep up. If a shipment is late coming in from Casablanca or Dire Dawa, it’s on my shoulders. It’s a really overwhelming feeling, but I look at what I’ve done so far and remember that I’ve always been able to find a solution and that I will continue to find solutions.

As a Muslim businesswoman, I’ve always been underestimated, and this has to do with, not only being a Muslim woman but also being Black. People don’t expect me to be as intelligent, as driven and as successful as I am. When I’m talked down to, however, I don’t see it as a negative experience for myself or for my brand—I see it as a weakness of the person that I’m dealing with. I’m unapologetic in my identity, and people who have doubted me have always been my biggest supporters because they are why I’ve been able to grow my business as quickly and as successfully as I have.

Outside of work, I teach yoga and I’m currently planning my first retreat right. Otherwise, I enjoy playing rugby and/or watching a good rugby match with my best friend. In the future, I will go to law school, and hope to eventually work toward making it illegal in Canada to sell garments made in sweatshops. I also hope to open a factory in Somalia that offers safe and fair employment to women, as well as free education for their children as part of their benefits, in addition to health care.”

DR. TABASUM MIR OF GLAMMIR

business“I am Dr. Tabasum Mir and I am a celebrity Dermatologist, hailing from New York. I started medical school at the age of twenty and started my own practice over twelve years ago. Since then, my practice and personality has taken over the media via reality television and radio platforms. After completing my medical degree and finishing as a resident with New York University and the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, I became exceedingly tired of not being taken seriously in a male-dominated industry. Thus, I started my own dermatology practice on the East Coast, which has now expanded to two other locations in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach, California.

The highlights of my career are plentiful and they have changed along with my goals. Opening my first practice was one highlight, then launching a skin care line was another, followed by being on QVC. But then Bravo TV came knocking and now I’m so grateful for that highlight as well. In essence, these newfound media opportunities have given me a new direction and new voice to educate and uplift others. My biggest media highlights, I’d have to say, are being on The Doctors show, and interviewing Deepak Chopra for my CBS radio show.

The most difficult part of my journey has been remaining resilient. Along any journey, people will disappoint you and you will sometimes feel like you are all alone. You will be told “No” a lot and that things are impossible to do. It is so important to be resilient and to realize every disappointment is an opportunity to get back up and learn.

In the future, I hope to take my career in medicine and media to new levels so that I can continue to educate, inspire and uplift. I want to always have a purpose in life that gives me meaning and creates happiness.”

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