Negative to positive: Muslim portrait series a photo opportunity to fight racism

Asmaa Ali was hurt and outraged when photos of herself and other young Muslim women were used to incite hate and Islamophobia online.

Edmonton's Asmaa Ali created the project after experiencing Islamophobia online

Asmaa Ali photographed six young Muslim women from Edmonton for Flip the Script, a portrait series that challenges racism and Islamophobia. (Asmaa Ali)

Asmaa Ali was hurt and outraged when photos of herself and other young Muslim women were used to incite hate and Islamophobia online. 

"My first reaction was hurt," Ali said. "Next was some anger mixed with a little bit of fear as well." 

The women in the photos were participants at the 2019 Daughters of the Vote summit in Ottawa in April, where Ali represented Edmonton-Griesbach as a delegate.

The event encourages young Canadian women to take part in politics.

It was wrapping up when Ali discovered that a far-right political group was using her photo to spread anti-Muslim hate speech on Facebook.

Asmaa Ali was inspired to create a photography project after being the target of racism and Islamophobia on social media. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Her picture was part of a collage of six hijab-wearing Muslim delegates from Alberta. It included a caption questioning their ability to represent Canadian women at the summit. 

The comments accompanying the post were the most troubling, Ali said. 

"A lot of people that were making judgments on us and saying that we don't represent Edmonton, and Edmonton doesn't look like us," Ali told CBC in an interview on Tuesday. 

"It was really difficult to read and discovering that was really hard."

Ali reported the post, and it was eventually taken down. The page where the post originated was shut down but has since reappeared under a slightly different name. 

After returning home and speaking with family and friends about the incident, Ali decided to channel her feelings into an art project. 

"I wanted to express what I felt and how it made me feel through my favourite medium of expression which is photography," Ali said. 

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      She created Flip the Script, a series of portraits of young Muslim women from Edmonton who have experienced racism and Islamophobia. 

      Each photo is accompanied by a message of hope from the subject. 

      "I want people to see six women that have decided that they can control the narrative, six women that are trying to inspire people to have hope," said Ali. 

      "The fact that you do face racism and discrimination is acknowledged, but you also have the space to tell your own story too."

      Her work will be presented Sept. 13 at the Green Room, an Edmonton Muslim youth centre that promotes community involvement. 

      The event will also allow people the opportunity to share their own stories of overcoming hate, Ali said. 

      "It's important for people to understand that there's hope at the end of this and that despite how dark, difficult, and toxic this social-political climate can be, this is something that could create hope."