It was big. It was glossy. It was colourful. It kinda looked like LouLou or Glamour or some other teen girl magazine… except that it had… it had… it had a hijaabi on the cover! It was… Muslim Girl Magazine.
“To Enlighten, Celebrate and Inspire.”A magazine for Muslim girls in the West, showcasing their realities and encouraging them to greater heights.
I admit it, I'm a sucker. They got me at 'Muslim Girl Magazine.' I grabbed it, stared at it some more, and then folded it to my chest with the kind of emotion you usually feel when you've finally met someone whom you dreamt of for years, and now here they are right in front you. And then I had to fork out sixteen dollars to take it home, but what the hey. My joy at finding a fancy magazine aimed towards, and featuring, Muslim girls blinded me to any concern about dents to my wallet. There was also some vague notion about my duty to the readers of MuslimMatters to bring attention to and analyse relevant media issues… but mostly I was just excited.
I paid. I took it home. And then I experienced the sinking feeling of disappointment that you experience after you find out that the person you dreamed of meeting, whom you've now finally met, isn't really what you were expecting or hoping for after all.
Before I launch into a ruthless and scathing critique, let me first say that I think the premise of the magazine is wonderful, and I commend its creators for marshaling the resources and talents to put together such a professional and high-quality publication. The layout is fantastic, the photography is top-notch, the entire thing is impressive and, at a glance, it's almost everything I dreamed that a Muslim girl's magazine would look like.
Until you get to the content.
The Good Stuff
Let me be fair and at least give credit where credit is due. The magazine begins with an editorial introducing the issue's theme, which is Ramadhaan. Features included in the magazine were the “Ask A Girl!” column's thoughts and tips from readers on how to kick bad habits during Ramadhaan; medical experts' suggestions on how to eat well, stay healthy, and benefit from fasting in every way; a reflection on the spirit of Ramadhaan; and a report on the growing phenomenon of high school and university Fast-A-Thons, sponsored by the Muslim Students' Associations. Fun pieces included a “Ramadhaan I Am” quiz, a “Top 10 Ramadhaan Resolutions” list, and short anecdotes submitted by readers about their Ramadhaan experiences with friends, family, and school.
Additional pieces of the magazine also caught my interest, and I read them carefully. The “Muslim Girl Mailbox” surprised me somewhat, as it revealed how diverse the magazine's readership really is - from an Indian Catholic girl and a non-hijaab wearing 'average Muslimah' to munaqqabaat. An interview with a Muslim girl studying martial arts with her father and uncle was enjoyable, as it reminded me of my own brief stint in the field. Also appreciated was a full-length interview with sister Ingrid Mattson, who had just been elected as president of ISNA, as well as a short article titled “Finding the Prophet in His People,” by sister Ingrid herself.
Other commendable sections included a Health & Lifestyle Q-&-A column, a feature on cybersafety for Muslim girls, and a full-length report on the admirable work of a Muslim girl who single-handedly founded a non-profit charitable organization for Iraqi children whose lives were devastated by the war. A multi-cultural recipe corner had me drooling. Finally, the travel section was great (a tour through Turkey), and I really liked a cute little page titled “GirlSpace,” about the girls and their relationship with their masājid.
The Bad Stuff
With all the good stuff in the magazine, I thought at first that the bad stuff would be minimal, or at least easy to gloss over. As I kept going through the magazine and thinking about its readers, however, I just couldn't let it go.
First of all, I was disappointed with the fashion spread. I'm as taken by sparkly shiny pretty things as the next girl out there, but personally I didn't think that a fashion spread featuring made-up, de-hijaabed girls was quite appropriate. Okay, I get the whole “not all Muslim girls wear hijaab” and “modesty is the key, just keep covered and you can still look gorgeous!” thing, but I still don't agree with it. There are many other ways to showcase pretty clothes with showcasing the pretty girls along with them.
What I found even more upsetting, though, was the inclusion of product and media reviews that not only mentioned, but praised, musicians and other other dubious, if not outright haraam, characters/ behaviours. There's an entire spread on “Grammy Award-winning Songwriter Zuriani Zonneveld,” a page dedicated to music as part of the “Hot List” section, and a review of the TV show “Gossip Girls.” As someone involved in trying to encourage young Muslim girls to not listen to music and pursue more halaal forms of entertainment, I didn't appreciate this publication – which should be helping me out here – giving a totally contrary message.
Nor was I impressed with “Muslim Girl of the Month,” and “Muslim Girl International,” where the girls featured weren't exactly what I'd encourage my girls to look up to and follow. No doubt, it's great that Muslim girls are getting more exposure and in a positive light, but I for one do expect that practicing Islam is one of the main requirements in order for someone to be considered a role model.
The magazine has a lot of promise and potential and does deliver some measure of material that is quite impressive; however, it also has an undeniably “progressive/ modernist” slant to it which I find a major drawback. As much as I love seeing a magazine aimed at Muslim girls, employing techniques that other mass media use to draw in the readers, I would be very, very hesitant to recommend this magazine to Muslim girls. It may, perhaps, be a way of inviting and attracting the attention of those interested in Islam, or those with only a tentative connection to the Deen; but I do think that for the majority of Muslim families who are trying to encourage their daughters and sisters to be stronger, this isn't the best magazine for them to turn to.
While I think that MGM is indeed a ground-breaking publication in that it's dared to try something utterly different from the mainstream media in terms of content while relating to it in style, the mentality behind it isn't one that I support. Inshā'Allāh, I hope that in the future there will be more Muslim-centred publications that combine a solid, more Deen-y agenda with an element of fun and fancy, that can have a greater, more positive effect on the Muslim girls of this Ummah.
Next up: A review of SISTERS magazine!