A Photo Series Displaying Diversity Among Modern Muslim Women in the U.K. and U.S.

Sagina at Heathrow Airport

by Mariya Taher
Photos by Tasneem Nanji

I grew up in a Muslim household, but call myself agnostic today. Nonetheless, I cannot deny my Muslim heritage. Tasneem Nanji cannot either; perhaps, this heritage and this identity, are the reason for her decision to photograph the many Muslim women she met during her recent visit to London. These were women who came from different backgrounds and represented different parts of the world, but who all now live in the multicultural and vibrant city of London. So as soon as she stepped off the plane at London Heathrow airport, she took out her camera and started shooting.

The first person she felt compelled to photograph was Sagina, a Heathrow airport employee from Goa who holds a Portuguese Passport. “She was emanating this lightness and freedom,” Tasneem told me. For Tasneem, London was a city that represented the diversity of the Muslim world in 610 square miles.

Sagina is from Goa a Muslim Living in the UK with a Portuguese passport

In time, when she returned to her home country — the United States, she would photograph Muslim women there as well.

Maybe it’s because Tasneem — a musician with a career spanning a decade — understands what it means to be labeled with an identity. It’s possible that simply because of her appearance, she decided that capturing these women’s images would be important.

She said:

“As an American Muslim artist I have to be honest it has been hard at times to carve a space out for my music. My sound has changed over the years. I started out with a rock band “Jungli ” — we were so punk. I’ve calmed down a bit and am a lil more soulful. But people have always wanted to put me in a box for some reason like:

“Oh, you’re Indian, do you have a tabla in your band?”

For her photos, she wanted to capture the diversity of Muslim women, to show the world that Muslim women are varied, not just one-dimensional beings, as often depicted and stereotyped especially by the media.

When she began taking the photos, the idea of going up to a stranger was daunting. She admitted that she was rejected many times, and she wondered if people’s mistrust of her intentions was due to today’s Islamaphobic climate.

A few brave women did engage Tasneem, and they were excited to take part in her project. They too wanted to reveal to the world what their candid, raw, everyday selves were like. They no longer wanted to be put into a box because of what they looked like on the exterior.

Tasneem found her allies.

I asked Tasneem, who she identified with the most out of all the women she took photos of and her answer was simple:

“I identified with Najah in the UK. She was on the train listening to her music. The photo is a candid shot of her just in her element. All of these women were doing everyday things like shopping, hanging with friends, ordering food, and riding the train…that’s how I see myself. I’m just a woman doing my thing and I happen to be Muslim and we are regular people doing regular things.”

Najah, Tasneem later learned was British-born, of Palestinian and Lebanese heritage. She was in her last year at Kingston College and was just heading home.

Najah is British born Palestinian-Lebanese Muslim in her last year at Kingston college.

Tasneem also met other students on her journey, including Irma, a student from Indonesia at a tourist shop at Victoria Station. Then there were students like Safa, a Morrocan from Cardiff, and Sabiba, a Brit of Bengali heritage, both of whom were hesitant at first to have their photos taken, but agreed after chatting awhile with Tasneem to let her take a picture of them as they ordered their food.

Irma is from Indonesia studying in the Netherlands touristing in London and Safa is from Morocco

At some point in the trip, Tasneem followed her mango obsession, and it led her to a UK resident from Mauritius who worked with EcoPeace to sell Senegalese Mangos at a local farmer’s market. To this day, Tasneem still dreams of Soraiya and tasting those delicious mangoes the woman sold.

Soraiya is from Mauritius, a UK resident selling Senegalese mangoes.

“I fancy myself a mango connoisseur and have tasted mangoes from all over like Kenya, Uganda, and Mexico. I think it reminds me of home and family, culture sweetness and love,” Tasneem told me.

Another business woman, Tasneem met was Nurjahan (ironically this was my mother’s birth name until she changed it in her twenties). Nurjahan was a U.K. citizen who had lived in London for over three decades. (My own mother has been living in the U.S. for nearly four decades – and on a personal note, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own mother’s journey to the U.S., when learning about the U.K. Nurjahan’s experience from Tasneem).

Nurjahan is a UK citizen, a business woman, and a British Muslim.

Soon Tasneem’s London journey was over and she went home to the U.S., but her desire to capture the diversity of Muslim women resided within her, so she continued the project in her home country, in my home country.

She needed to shatter the illusion that all “Muslim women” were oppressed or voiceless.

She wanted to show that she was more than her stereotype, that other Muslim women were more than their stereotype. She told me:

“Muslim women, every day, were part of their society, working as students, teachers, artists, friends, business women. We just never saw these types of images in the media or read about them very often. This photo project taught me that we can all thrive in society regardless of our diverging racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. The idea that all kinds of Muslim Women are thriving and coexisting in the modern western world while maintaining their unique cultural identity (which for some Muslim women is actually a blend of Muslim culture and the Western world) really spoke to me.”

When she returned to California she photographed Mithra Alavi, a U.S. born, Muslim American woman who lives in LA and works at an Entertainment Agency in Beverly Hills. And who it might surprise others (it certainly did me), is also an aerial dancer trained in the Circus Arts.

Mithra Alavi was born in the US She lives and works in LA. She is an assistant at an Entertainment Agency in Beverly Hills she is an American Muslim and an aerial Dancer who is trained in the Circus Arts.

Tasneem ran into a variety of Muslim women across the U.K. and across L.A. In taking their pictures, she acknowledged that Muslim women were like anyone else. They wanted to be treated with dignity, to be treated like regular citizens of the countries they resided in. They did not want to be put into a box and singled out. This is how Tasneem felt and with the recent kidnapping and murder of Nabra Hassanen, Tasneem understands just how important it is to demystify how Muslim girls and women live in America.

In this last photo, we see a woman who Tasneem met outside of one of her music gigs at HOB in Anaheim. The woman was charging her phone when Tasneem approached her. The draw of the headphones, the possibility that the woman would be listening to a tune, maybe one that Tasneem listened to herself, called out to Tasneem and encouraged her to strike up a conversation with this stranger. Music bonded them, held them together. By the end of their conversation, the pair had each learned a first about the other.

Monica Torrez -Williams is aSoCal Mexican-American Muslim woman who was thrilled to meet a Muslim female musician as she had never met one before.

Tasneem was the first Muslim woman musician that Monica Torrez Williams met in real life. Tasneem was equally thrilled to meet Monica Torrez Williams southern Californian, Mexican American Muslim convert. At the end of the day, they both went home happy at having learned something new in the world, about having made a connection to another Muslim woman who was just living her everyday life the way she chose to do so.

Zhakia Bangura was born in New Jersey and is an American Muslim whose family is from Sierra Leone. She is a student at CSUN studying to be a teacher and works as a Teachers Aide in LAUSD.
Anam Syed was born in Karachi Pakistan and is an artist and writer who has her own experiential agency she is an Angeleno by way of Dubai and Karachi, a creative young Muslim American woman in L.A.
Kubra works in the mall and is a student at San Francisco State University bio major. She lives in San Mateo and is about to become a US Citizen in Stanford, CA.
Jasmin Ratansi is an American Muslim with roots from Uganda and India. She is the senior manager and talent relations at Machinima, as well as marketing and branding at Doggystyle records.
Khadija and Aisha are of Bangladeshi heritage born in L.A. They are twins in the 7th grade at UCLA community school in Koreatown, L.A.
Anonymous woman shopping at Food 4 Less in L.A., CA.
Naima and her friends are from Somalia and work teaching in the U.K. school system.
Fatima is a Canadian Muslim living and working in London. Munira is a U.K. citizen working at her family business.
Falaknaz Chranya, Shama Sadruddin, Sahar Sadruddin, Saeeda Dhanani are Emory University students on a study abroad visiting London en route to Dubai.
Irma is from Indonesia studying in the Netherlands touristing in London.
Mehrin Ashraf is a student at Girls Academic Leadership Academy in L.A., CA, born in Bangladesh. Mehrin is now Student Body President.

For the past decade, Mariya Taher has advocated against gender violence through research, policy, program development, and direct service. In 2015, she co-founded Sahiyo to empower Asian communities to end female genital cutting. The Manhattan Young Democrats honored her as a 2017 Engendering Progress honoree. Mariya also is a prolific writer whose articles have appeared on NPR, Ms. Magazine, Huffington Post, The Fair Observer, Brown Girl Magazine, Solstice Literary Magazine, The Express Tribune, The San Francisco Examiner, The Flexible Persona, Cecile’s Writer’s Magazine, and more. Follow her on Twitter @mariyataher83

Tasneem is an American Muslim Musician Actor Writer and Activist based in Los Angeles California. She took her own self-portrait for this project in the bathroom at a Centre in London where Muslims gather for religious, social, and cultural purposes. She wanted to keep a memory of that moment and place. “The space itself brings me much joy when I think about it now documenting these women and the trip itself was magical for me.” All her music can be streamed and downloaded at www.soundcloud.com/iamtasneem Follow her on Twitter & FB @iamtasneem and Instagram @lastmangoinparis

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Rakhi Celebrations and the Hybridization of Cultures in the Contemporary World

Rakhi celebrations

Culture, in the broadest sense, is a shared set of norms, values and beliefs. We pass down our culture to our children based on our own lived experiences, and what we believe in. The decisions we make for our families reflect the values that we want to prioritize. We also hope that our children will want to pass them down to their own children.

As parents, it’s important to reflect on our cultural values: Where did they come from? Why do we believe in them today? Also, what values seem outdated or irrelevant in modern times and for our own children? By reflecting on these, parents will consciously be aware of the values that they believe are relevant, meaningful, and important to articulate to their children before they leave the nest and fly off into the world.

Our South Asian-American culture is constantly shifting and adapting to reflect changes of the modern times. Today, we are continuing to hold on to the celebrations that bring us the most joy and meaning in our lives. For example, I am attending a family wedding, this October, where the bride is Gujarati and the groom is Tamilian. They have decided to have a Sangeet which is traditionally a Punjabi custom, but they wanted to celebrate both cultures in this new way with their families because they both love music and dancing to Bollywood songs. They are also honoring their individual cultures during the ceremony by having a mangalsutra (the most important piece of the Tamilian ceremony) and the sindoor (the most important part of the Gujarati ceremony).

[Read Related: Celebrating Rakhi: An Ode to Our Brothers ]

As we approach Rakhi this year, I think back to how I used to celebrate Bhai Phota, which is a Bengali version of Rakhi celebrated during Diwali. Today, I have chosen to celebrate Rakhi with my brother and with my Bengali-Gujrati family as a separate celebration, that takes place in August, because this way we can spend more quality time celebrating this sibling bond.

Post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha puts forth how when cultures mix together, we often open up a hybrid, third space, which forms new ways of being and living in the world. This idea of hybridity acknowledges the space in-between cultures which is filled with contradictions and indeterminate spaces. By negotiating between these differences, we are able to create new forms of culture and identity.

“hybridity… is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to emerge.” – Homi Bhabha

Today, South Asian American children are forming new ways of connecting to their cultural identities. This summer, I launched my new children’s book, Shanti and The Knot of Protection: A Rakhi Story, to provide more context to children about the historical origins of Rakhi, while also capturing the new and unique ways Rakhi is being celebrated in contemporary times. In contemporary times, we don’t just celebrate with our immediate siblings, but also with our network of family and friends that we have created in our communities.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Dr. Amita Roy Shah (@dramitaroyshah)

We celebrate individuals in our lives (boys or girls) who provide us with a sense of protection and security. This could mean siblings that are both girls, siblings that are both boys, only children, or children who identify as LGBTQIA+ and don’t identify with traditional gender norms. I wanted this story to highlight images of inclusivity and to represent and validate the experiences of all children who are celebrating this festival in the modern day and age. Through this story, children learn the importance of creating a community and feeling secure with not just their siblings but with their friends and other caring adults.

[Read Related: 5 Books that Portray the South Asian LGBTQIAP+ Experience]

Shanti and the Knot of Protection also helps parents open up the conversation about what values they want their children to prioritize in our post-pandemic world and how to live a balanced life. In this story, Shanti’s parents die and she decides to rule her queendom based on the four values that her parents taught her: strength, curiosity, community, and security. In addition to highlighting the importance of relationships, this book also highlights the importance of balancing one’s life with the four domains of well-being: physical domain (strength), cognitive domain (curiosity), social domain (community), and emotional domain (security). These domains are all connected to one another and influence our overall well-being and happiness in life.

As parents, we want to be the North Star for our children and provide them with an inner compass to know what values are important and why. We also want them to know how to be resilient during difficult times. As Ann Landers states, “It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” Through this story, I hope parents can have important conversations with their children about prioritizing values that will contribute to their overall well-being, happiness, and resilience in their lives.

Feature Image courtesy: Dr. Amita Roy Shah

By Amita R. Shah

Dr. Amita Roy Shah is the founder of mysocialedge.com, a company dedicated to meeting the social, emotional, and cultural needs … Read more ›

Priya Guyadeen: The Indo Guyanese Comedian Paving the way for Caribbean Comics


“How could the British bring the Indians without the cows?” That’s one of the jokes you’re very likely to hear at comedian Priya Guyadeen’s show. In fact, the 53-year-old just wrapped up a set of shows with her troupe: Cougar Comedy Collective. The Guyanese-born comic spearheads the group of mostly women of “a certain age,” as she puts it.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Priya Guyadeen (@pguyadeen)

She says the group was formed in 2021 but she started dishing out jokes back in 2020 during the pandemic, over Zoom. She was always labeled the “funny one” in her family and decided to take her jokes to a virtual open mic, hosted by her friend, where she says failure was less daunting. 

[Read Related: Indo Caribbean Actress Saheli Khan Lands Role as Young Anna in Disney’s Musical ‘Frozen’]

Cut to 2023, and the comic was able to take her show on the road. Guyadeen and her fellow performers recently hit the East coast for a set of shows called “Cougars on the Loose!” The shows even featured two male comics. 

Guyadeen’s comedy routines touch on her Indo Guyanese background, highlighting stereotypes and a clash of cultures. In one of her jokes, she tells her audience that her Guyanese mom is bad with names when she introduces her white boyfriend, Randy, and he gets called Ramesh. 

Out in the Bay Area — where she spends her days now — she tries to connect the sparsely Caribbean population to her jokes. 

That includes talking about the 1978 Jonestown Massacre which had ties to San Francisco and ended in Guyana. She uses this as a reference point — trying to connect her audience to her background with historical context. She says this does come with its challenges, though. 

The single mom also practices clean jokes. Once she finishes up her daily routine with her eight-year-old son and day job as a project manager for a biotechnology company, she tries to find time to write her material. 

It’s a balancing act. I’m like the day job-Priya for a few hours or for a chunk of time. And then I’ve got to put on my comedian hat and do that for a period of time because with comedy, I’m not just performing. I’m also producing, managing the shows, booking talent, seeking venues. 

Though it’s not easy, she says she’s learning through it all — the business side of comedy and discipline. 

Guyadeen, who’s lived in Brazil and Canada, says her young son really contributes to her comedy. A lot of her material focuses on jokes for parents, and single parents like herself, because she feels:

[We live] in a society that doesn’t really create a support system for single parents.

Her nonprofit, Cougar Comedy Collective, was born out of all the great reception she received. She noticed a “niche market” of women in their 50s who loved to get dressed up and come out to the shows to hear jokes that related to their own lives that aren’t typically touched on. These were jokes about menopause, aging and being an empty nester. Guyadeen says her nonprofit,

…bring[s] talent together in our age group to celebrate this time of life; celebrate this particular juncture in a person’s life.

As Guyadeen continues her comedic journey, she says she hopes she’ll be a role model for other Caribbean women to follow their dreams despite their age. She also hopes to see more Caribbean people carving out their space in the entertainment industry.

Featured Image of Priya Guyadeen taken by Elisa Cicinelli Photography

By Dana Mathura

A natural-born skeptic, Dana is constantly questioning the world around her with an intense curiosity to know who, what, where, … Read more ›

The Family Immigration Process That’s Meant to Reunite, Keeps us Apart

These days, the phrase, “love knows no bounds” doesn’t seem to hold true. For many couples, specifically, those in long-distance relationships, the lengthy and complicated immigration process can keep lovers apart for six to 24 months. Well, aside from the thousands and thousands of miles of the deep ocean in between. I’ve been there; I have been an immigration attorney for 10 years and I found love abroad (my wife was living in the UK when we met).

I was flying across the Atlantic every few months so, as you can imagine, dating was quite expensive (though she quite liked the fact that for our first intentional visit, I paid several thousand pounds for a global migration conference as an excuse for flying over).

Marriage immigration is complex and costly. The eligibility and procedural requirements are confusing and require multiple long and complicated application forms over the course of six to eight years: from fiancé(e) or spouse visa through adjustment of status process, the Removal of Conditions Application, and thereafter applying for U.S. citizenship.

To put it in perspective, many immigration applications end up being 200-300 pages long. For you to know exactly what you need can be either extremely expensive — using an attorney, who typically charges $2,000-$12,000 per application (not including government-filing fees) — or time-consuming learning how to DIY. If you opt for the latter, it is quite scary to have to figure out the requirements and procedures and follow up with case status checks in hopes of finally getting some peace of mind that your case is progressing as it should. 

[Read Related: Tug of war: Brown Women and the Feat of Marriage]

The worst part? The grueling wait. Waiting while not knowing how long until you can bring love home; waiting to start a family — the next chapter of your life. You keep hearing people say, “life is short!” and you thought that you finally found a partner you want to spend it with. Unfortunately, life (bureaucratic procedures) get in the way. 

The combination of distance and long immigration processing times puts our next chapter ‘on pause’ while we do everything we can to bridge the gap — the gap that effectively challenges our ability to build a ‘real’ relationship. Or did it? Is there a test for this kind of thing? I mean, apparently, the U.S. Immigration Service (USCIS) seems to know what a “real” relationship is and tests ours against some “standard” to determine if it is genuine enough to grant a fiancé(e) visa or spousal green card. What makes a strong Fiancé(e) or Spouse visa application? I’ve experienced love; I am human. What do they want from me to bring my partner home?

I have been a U.S. immigration lawyer for over 10 years and I myself found love abroad and firsthand had to go through the process of bringing my spouse home to the United States. My wife is an NRI who grew up in the Philippines and lived in London where we met (more on how our meddlesome Indian families instigated our “meet-cute” in a future article). Having recently gone through this journey, and having helped hundreds of immigrant couples over the years, it became obvious that there had to be a better way. It should not be expensive, unaffordable, or overly complicated for you to bring your loved one home to become a family. 

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]

When we were apart, we did everything from waking each other up in the middle of our respective nights, with the time difference, to one partner falling asleep with the other on the phone. We watched movies together on Netflix. We made travel plans and talked about what the future would look like. We craved each other and expressed our love daily, maybe even hourly.

The future can be uncertain for any couple, but perhaps even more so for those in a long-distance relationship. When one partner is waiting for a spousal visa or fiancé visa, there can be a lot of anxiety and stress about the process and wait times. Even one mistake can set the whole process back months or even years and, if you are not familiar with the process, there’s always the overhanging uncertainty of whether or not the visa will be approved altogether. 

In today’s globalized world where borders are becoming less relevant than ever before, largely thanks to technological advances which allow individuals across countries via Facetime, WhatsApp, and Skype chats without having left home, there is more of a need for a streamlined immigration tech platform that helps “modern” couples who are dating long-distance with the help of technology.

The number one reason Fiancé(e) visa or Spouse visa applications are denied is lack of documentation evidencing your relationship/intent to marry. This article shows what evidence you can provide USCIS to prove you have a genuine relationship and thereby strengthen your visa application. OurLoveVisa.com is an immigration attorney-designed platform that provides free tools and features to help couples going through the U.S. K-1 or marriage visa process plan, manage, and track their immigration journey. Many couples going through the K-1 fiancé visa process, or CR-1/IR-1 spouse visa process, have found its relationship timeline tool, which is as easy to use as Instagram, helpful in building their application. The best part: it’s free to use. The OurLoveVisa.com platform was built so you can focus on what is truly important, your relationship!

The long, unreasonable immigration processing/wait times are definitely another topic for discussion and, as time goes on, I will continue to share and elaborate on my and my wife’s joint and individual journeys through marriage, immigration, and closing the gap from our long-distance relationship. In the meantime, I hope the information provided will bring value to you and your journey.

By Kunal Tewani

Kunal Tewani is a US immigration lawyer who grew up in New York with his extended family under one roof. … Read more ›