This project captures the stories of Muslim women and girls, and the individual ways in which they construct female identity and exercise religious freedom as a form of democracy and self-expression. Much has been written about Muslim women, their dress, hijabs, veils and more recently burqas (Shirazi, 2001; MacDonald, 2006; Haddah & Smith et al., 2006; McLarney, 2009), in the wake of the 9/11 events. Scholars have noted the increasing construction of hate, fear, and misunderstanding, as well as increasing incidences of “Islamophobia” through the construction of Muslims as “the other”. Others have focused on Muslim women’s negotiations of religious freedom and self-expression, concluding that they are either ‘betwixt and between’ or the synthesizers of two distinct cultures (Knott & Khokher, 1993). In California, particularly following the events of 9/11, there has been an increase is stigma, discrimination and a lack of understanding of Muslim women’s experiences (Hopkins, 2007). The use of the burqa and the hijab by some Muslim women can create tensions between dominant cultural values in California and Muslim populations who seek equal rights and freedom of religion in this state. Some view the veil as a symbol of woman’s subordination and Islamic fundamentalism that does not reflect the freedom and democracy these women practice.

This paper illuminates the experiences of Muslim women and girls in California, and how they navigate a terrain where they are constantly scrutinized, and often-times ostracized in public settings. As a means to foster community awareness, challenge stereotypes and assumptions associated with the Muslim faith, it presents the narratives of Muslim women and girls expressing their religious and gender-based identities in a democratic society, thus celebrating the empowerment of Muslim women’s freedom of religious self-expression in Southern California.

Author Biography

Theresa White, Associate Professor, Department of Pan African Studies, California State University-Northridge, Northridge, CA

Jennifer Maria Hernandez, Graduate Student, Department of Social Work, California State University-Northridge, Northridge, CA