Sulaf has a bright and genuine smile - the kind that would put the most committed of cynics at ease. Her ruby red lipstick and dark black eyeliner match her bold and confident demeanor.  She speaks with the ease and intelligence of a teacher. Her fluidity is broken only by sparks of laugher. In her headscarf, she's sophisticated and she's at home. After all, it’s her choice to wear it.

She's a Muslim. And she's a feminist. And no, these two aspects of her identity are not incompatible. But the common misconception that women in Islam are oppressed prevents most people outside of her faith from seeing the two as complementary. 

Non-Muslim journalists who write sensational headlines suggesting Muslim women need to be saved are part of the problem, says Sulaf. She wants people to understand that they’re getting the story wrong – confusing a particular country’s cultural practices or political leaders’ decrees with religious creed.

“I definitely believe that there are a lot of women who are unfortunate to live in certain areas where they have one way of interpreting Islam.”

“But the Quran is a feminist.”

She smiles when she says it. The former women studies major is proud that her faith granted rights to women that women in the West “barely got in the 19th Century during first wave feminism” centuries prior. These rights included the right for women to educate themselves, earn their own income, and divorce.

While some Muslim men may “cherry pick verses” from the Quran to justify their oppression of women or to try to convince others that Islam establishes men’s dominion over women, Sulaf and her friends use the Quran for just the opposite. 

“The rights are there and a lot of women, including myself, use Islam to reinforce those rights… I’ve used Islam multiple times to remind men in the community or Muslim men that this is a right for me whether you like it or not. I will go to school and I will educate myself and I will make my own income.”

She would also remind people that “there are women oppressed all over the world whether you‘re Muslim or non-Muslim. Female oppression is a universal thing.”

This includes the United States, where women are still struggling to achieve full equality. But she’s proud to be an American, where she knows the Constitution at least protects her right to practice her faith. While her parents were forced to flee from religious persecution in Iraq in 1991, she’s been able to practice freely in the many cities she’s lived – Nashville, Dearborn, and Albuquerque.

She says she wouldn’t want to practice anywhere other than the United States because here she knows that every decision she makes when it comes to her faith is her own. 

“Here I have the freedom to take off my head scarf,” says Sulaf. “I have the freedom to practice any religion I want… I’m not forced to follow any school of thought or ideology or any other belief system.” 

Free as she is to not wear her hijab, she chooses to wear it, often in brilliant and vivid colors, paired with her bright, bold lipstick.  And free as she is to practice any religion, she chooses Islam.

Free as she is to not wear her hijab, she chooses to wear it, often in brilliant and vivid colors, paired with her bright, bold lipstick. And free as she is to practice any religion, she chooses Islam.

She’s not adhering to any “universals” - only to her own choices as a strong, powerful woman who knows she’s any man’s equivalent.

Sulaf encourages others to speak their truth as well, whatever it may be.

“If covering your face is what it takes for you to get to that spiritual point in your life or to feel confident or to feel safe then by all means, go for it. If you want to wear make-up and wear a scarf and that makes you feel empowered, but also keeps your identity, then by all means...”

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