Our Conversation with Writer, Poet and Activist Ainee Fatima, 1st Hijabi on America's Seventeen Magazine

By now you probably already picked up Seventeen's magazine at your local newsstand and came to a page of a young lady that you can identify with from the inside and/or the outside. Maybe you heard all the rave about a hijabi on a U.S. non-Muslim based magazine. Who is she? Why is it a big deal? Well, without a doubt Muslims have appeared and are working in non-based Muslim magazines in the U.S. as writers, stylists and other occupations, but it is very rare to see a Muslim covered young lady on one of America's most circulated magazines geared to the youth. American magazine Seventeen has been in circulation since the 1940's. It was America's 1st magazine catered to teenagers. Well, this month Seventeen got its own first; Ainee Fatima was the first Muslim American young lady to appear wearing a headscarf in it.

The American Muslim, Ainee Fatima at her young age of 22 years has already packed on significant accomplishments and is no stranger to spotlight. She is an award winning poet, writer and activist. Her voice has been her tool at interfaith tables since her break-through moment at the beginning of highschool and it extends to the fight against social injustice and Muslim stereotyping. Ainee's voice also  supports young Muslim women with their identity struggle in the U.S. Her poetry has been recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and published along side recognized poets such as Kevin Coval, Tara Betts and others.

Ainee Fatima is currently part of Chime for Change, founded by GUCCI, who is using its brand recognition to help change the lives of women around the world through education, health and social justice. Their advisory board includes celebrities and recognized civil rights activist Hafsat Aviola, Philanthropist Muna Abusulayman,  and director of Equality Now, Yasmeen Hassan

We had the opportunity to chat with this astonishing young lady about her most recent milestone magazine appearance and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse on Ainee's powerful voice.

Local New York news stand

How are you feeling? I have an understanding you had to keep your Seventeen Magazine feature under wraps for 2 months. 

Ainee Fatima: Overwhelmed, scared and blessed. I think those three words sum up how I’m feeling at the moment. I didn’t expect the reaction to the Seventeen magazine article to be this amazing so I’m feeling overwhelmed by the support but definitely grateful for it. However, the reason I’m scared is because I have a responsibility now of doing something good with that support and it can get really scary sometimes when you’re pushed into the public eye so quickly, especially as a Muslim because I find that there are people who feel very intimidated by someone who is proud of something that is always been seen as an evil religion, but now I have this opportunity to do something good with it so I’m hoping, with God’s will that I’m able to accomplish something that helps to benefit the Muslim community.
Hiding the magazine article for two months are probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because when you find out something like this, you want to shout it from the top of the world. But I tried to remain patient until I felt that it was the right time to officially announce it.

How does this milestone add to you personally and your personal cause of struggle growing up in America as a Muslim teenager?

Ainee Fatima: When I was growing up, I found it so hard to relate to these magazines because these girls didn’t look like me, they didn’t have the same struggles I did while growing up. Being a Hijabi, you don’t get to see a girl around your age in fashion magazines, especially one who is covered and a woman of color. I hoped so badly to be able to have a representation in the media of a Muslim woman who wasn’t deemed as oppressed or submissive because we’re more than that! I never expected myself to be the person to fulfill my own wishes, it wasn’t something that I was intending to do but it happened and I’m very blessed for it.

Ainee's blog profile image.

I think one question many are asking themselves is; how did she get on the magazine? 

Ainee Fatima: I wish I had a proper answer to this question! At the time, I was busy focusing on my finals for school like most students were doing in order to prepare myself for spring break and one day, I  was approached by Seventeen via email asking if I was interested in flying out to New York to do a photoshoot and interview for the magazine. I thought it was going to be something really small so I had to contemplate if going to New York would be worth it but something in my heart kept telling me that this is a once in a lifetime chance and that I should take it. After convincing my parents, I was able to fly out.  I don’t know who mentioned my poetry to the Seventeen staff, I don’t know how word of my work got to them but I’m just really blessed that it happened, alhumdulillah.

What message do you think this milestone is sending to both Muslim and non-Muslim women and girls throughout the U.S. and the world?  

Ainee Fatima: Work hard and stay true to yourself as a woman and as a Muslim. When living in a post 9/11 United States, it’s hard to imagine achieving your goals when you feel like you’re constantly being scrutinized because of your religion and how you’re dressed but things are changing, I can feel it and I hope that what I do will pave a path for many Muslim girls to follow and show Non-Muslim women that we have a voice and we’re proud of it.

Ainee Fatima is the famous face behind one of the most popular images.

The subjects (social injustice and social realities) you write poetry about are as intense as the words themselves. Do you feel a sense of relief when you are done writing or performing? Describe that final moment.

Ainee Fatima: Its cathartic, it’s like purging everything out on paper. It doesn’t always have to be a piece I’m going to perform but just letting it off your chest and on to the paper feels like a burden has been lifted.

Your gift of poetry has lit the way to all your major accomplishments and recognitions at such a young age. How do you feel about that? 

Ainee Fatima: Absolutely grateful and stunned because I never thought my words could have that impact on anyone. I wrote stories about my friends and read books every day to escape from reality. Then I started writing because there’s this sense of peace that comes when you know the paper is listening, it’s always listening and waiting to be written on. I feel grateful that people listen and they can connect with my words, especially at the young age that I was when it started.
It’s a gift given by God and I believe as any type of artist, especially if you’re Muslim, you have a responsibility to do something good with it.

Ainee at DePaul University in 2012

Poetry was a way of life at the time Islam begin, do you ever feel the connection to that period of time through your gift of poetry? or somehow do a comparison?

Ainee Fatima: I wish I could write as well as the great poets back in the day but I feel that sense of writing about the beauty of Islam through personal experiences and how it has helped me grow up in a way where I felt very confident with myself. Islam is the religion of creativity. It urges its followers to be active, creative and imaginative. Islam calls upon Muslims to make use of every branch of knowledge to enhance their link to their Ummah and their sense of belonging.

What is inspiring you right now?

Ainee Fatima: All the support I’ve been getting is my inspiration right now, I’ve had so many young girls tell me that they are happy knowing that someone else goes through the same woes of teenagedom as they do. We all go through it and sometimes we’re not taught how to deal with it very well, especially in an Islamic manner because of how much culture intercedes with our religious upbringing. It’s my source of motivation and inspiration to do more and better for others.

From Ainee's blog: Hunger Games Make-up

Now, for a fun question: Fries or onion rings?

Ainee Fatima: I’m a big foodie so I definitely can’t choose; I will have them both at the same time if I could!

If you could sum up the best advice to the American Muslim teenage girl struggling with identity and social pressures, what would it be?

Ainee Fatima: You’re not alone, reach out to your sisters and find solidarity in one other. Know your religion so that you know your Creator who has bestowed upon you rights as a woman and know how to use those rights. Every hardship has a hidden lesson so make sure you’re able to step back and be patient. Be honest to yourself and to others.  Make excuses for your sisters, I feel like Muslim women are constantly put up against one another in the battle of who is “more hijabi” and it really brings down this sense of sisterhood that we’re supposed to have. Understand that not everyone has the same advantages that you have been blessed with, whether it is in terms of life, religion, education or health. Lastly, be passionate about your dreams and goals, no matter how big or small they are and always trust God.

Ainee Fatima's voice has become a frontline impact to social change within the U.S. that equates towards good changes and a bridge between the prejudice and cleared misconceptions about young American Muslims. Her appearance on Seventeen Magazine is a visual that opens a perspective to a future generation. Surely, this is only the beginning.

Ainee is also an activist for Generation Change and columnist at MuslimGirl. You may find her at her blog Faineemae and Facebook Page Ainee Fatima. Read her hijab story here.

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1 comment :

    Sorry, had to all-caps it! This is pure awesomeness, loved reading it and getting to know her a little bit better. I also had no idea she was that famous face behind the aviators- I love it.