Am I my image?

…., originally uploaded by asiya2.

I recently discovered that a photograph of myself(or the top of my head) that I had published on this blog, had been saved as a favourite by someone on Flickr. So I went and checked out their account and found that my image was one of just hundreds of pictures of women in hijab. Then, to my dismay, I discovered that the person was into bondage and discipline, there were also photos of gagged and restrained women. Obviously this person sees hijab as a kind of fetish, ah such irony! So I was horrified and blocked them from my flickr and removed my photo from their site. But the whole experience has left me wondering about the nature of photographic images.


Initially, I was ready to delete my entire flickr account and even stop blogging. But then I thought about it again and reminded myself that it was just an image, photographs are not real, although we sometimes give them far too much reverence. For years I didn’t put photographs up in my house because of the traditional fiqh ruling that images should not be displayed. We only have to look to most dictatorships to see the role that images play in state propoganda, there is wisdom in this fiqh perspective I think. But on a personal level, I think it comes down to intention. We just have to maintain an awareness that images are just reflections, they are not real and they have no inherent power of their own. We should not invest too much in them. It’s interesting that when most people are asked what item they would rescue from their house if it was burning, they reply, their photo album. It is as if memories can’t exist without the visual reminder, tangible evidence that the event actually happened. Someone that I am close to wants to document everything “special”, if something funny or beautiful happens and it is not recorded, then it is a major dissapointment, a lost opportunity. To me, it seems like a removal of the event from ‘reality’, into the realm of ‘ideas’. Once a memory it is more special than it was when it actually happened.


In Islam we are encouraged to live in the present. It is in the ‘now’ that closeness to God is most possible because we are less veiled by all the mirages of our “selves”, our memories, precious and feared, our hopes and dreams. So perhaps part of the wisdom of the prohibition of images was not just the danger of the image itself being worshipped, but the more subtle danger of what the image represents forming clouds upon our capacity to be receptive. We become absorbed in our created world.


I have to say that I am fascinated by photography and embarrassingly, I love to see photos of myself! But it’s not an expression of vanity, it’s because I feel disassociated from my own image. It’s a kind of detatched fascination. I know that a reflection of my physical self is just that, it is not me. It just interests me to try and see what other people see, how I am from outside myself. But of course, this is impossible, I cannot be an observer of myself.


I don’t think I would be comfortable with posting photograps of myself if I wasn’t a hijab wearer. It is a barrier that I need, it does enable me to have ownership of my body, because whatever you imagine, you perverse individual who stole my image, it remains entirely that, your imagination. And your imaginings have no bearing on me. I have control over my physicality and it is not yours for the taking. Actually I’d like to thank you, because you have reminded me of why I wear hijab in the first place.



8 Responses to “Am I my image?”

  1. Krista Says:

    I am fascinated by this post, and your thoughts on image. As always, you’ve really made me bend my mind in a new direction. That is always a welcome thing.

    Now forgive me for my indulgence (I am so guilty of everything you speak of here) but I have to say, this is a stunning, beautiful image of you. For whatever it’s worth!

  2. shaz Says:

    you look beautiful, mashaAllah.

    very thought provoking and insightful post. I still don’t put photos up in my home, I think I don’t like the idea for the same reason you outlined here, I think that it can get to an obsession, especially depending on the person. I am a person that loves photography, and I could see myself easily becoming obsessed decorating my home with ‘perfect’ photos. sometimes getting the perfect photo ‘of’ the moment can make us miss the moment! really, photos are totally given too much significance, it’s not a big deal.

  3. Asiya Says:

    I’m guilty of it too! and perhaps I’m being a bit untruthful when I said vanity doesn’t come into it, I went through lots of shots and cut out all those with double chins and wonky eyes, before feeling happy enough about this one to display it! So obviously I am more connected to my image than I’d like to be!

  4. Achelois Says:

    This is an interesting post. I tend to be very possessive about my photographs and the photographs of my family. I hold photography exhibitions and am possessive to the point of obsession that no one should try to take photos of my exhibits from their cell phone. Similarly, I worry about others looking at my children and misusing their photos.

    Last year my laptop contracted a virus and pornographic webpages would just pop up from nowhere while I would be working on MS Office (and not even surfing the Net). Anyway, one such webpage opened with a picture of a completely naked woman wearing nothing but a hijab. And the woman happened to be my student!! She had put her photo on some alumni site which was stolen and just to add spice to the pornography business men use different heads on the same (and few) naked bodies that they have. The title was something like “c*** s***ing Arab girl is ready for you”!! I showed her the website and I swear I will never see a more devastated girl in my life. She was so upset it was expected but still unbelievable. She said she could see herself looking like a slut and it was unfair. Technology has advanced so much pornographic sites can detect your local area and send you related websites. During the time my PC had the virus, I received many Arabic pornographic links!

    My point is, while women want to think their bodies and faces are theirs, men have ways to prove otherwise no thanks to technology. If anyone used my photo like that or even stole it or saved it without my consent, I would see it as “virtual rape”. I see it as violation of my privacy which someone invaded and was not meant to invade. I’m a bit crazy like that and so I don’t use my real name on the Web or the real names of my husband or children. I never put photos after that incidence. Imagine what pedophiles can do with our children’s photos?! Allah forbid!

    Another thought I never shared with anyone before – remember I told you the day I quit wearing hijab? That day I also realised something which had a powerful impact on me. Remember that I still wear hijab sometimes in certain situations. And all the time I wore the hijab I realised I didn’t wear it for Allah, I wore it for men. When I wear it now, I wear it for men. See, a military uniform is worn for the state, a school uniform is worn for the school – both are worn to be identified with an institution. Similarly, hijab is worn to be identified as Muslim. This is the main purpose as given in the Quran. I don’t wear it because I want to show that I own my body; I never wore it to show that even if I believed it to be so. If I owned my body I would have had to choice to decide whether or not I wanted to wear hijab but when I wore it I didn’t see it as choice but as religious compulsion so where was my choice in it? However, unlike the military uniform, hijab is considered a debatable subject because there are just as many non-hijabi Muslims as hijabi Muslims and I realised that day that I wore the hijab for the men who created fiqh and who interpreted that khimar meant hijab and not only a cover for the breasts. I was scared to annoy God because I was reading that some men think Allah will be annoyed if I didn’t accept their interpretation. When I read the Quran myself and the history of the language and Arab culture I seriously doubted if the order to ‘cover up’ actually translated to hijab and I felt hijab was high-jacking my religiosity.

    Anyway, one last point about creating images – it was not allowed to create images because the Arabs had very strong tendencies of paganism and worshiped any statue or image they created. I think we could have learnt a lot about the history of Islam from images but I totally understand why it was banned. However, if you visit the ME you will be shocked to see how much the Arabs are still into photography and revering their dead. Images of dead rulers are EVERYWHERE! Someone once emailed me cautioning me after my father’s death that I should not put up his photos in my house. I’m not into people photos much but I was surprised to know how quickly people jump to conclusions that I may start worshiping my dead father! My old man has been gone for almost four months now and I think I saw his photo just twice since his death!

    Sorry about the long comment, Asiya!

  5. Asiya Says:

    Dear Achelois, your long comments are always welcome! That’s a horrible example you gave. It is something that I’ve thought about a lot, but i guess that’s what I was trying to express with this post, that whatever is done with my image, it will always remain an image. However someone may photoshop it or use it for dubious purposes, it is just a reflection, it has no soul and therefore can’t be hurt! A while ago, I took up an offer to have “free” photos taken of my kids, they were expecting that I would buy them. But they were so badly taken, I said no. It was difficult to walk away and leave them there, knowing they would be shredded. And the fact that it was difficult made me realise how much value we place on photos. I decided then that I was going to change the way I thought about photos. I still love them, but I try not to forget they are just an empty reflection.

    It gets murky when it comes to using images of other people. For example, I don’t post pictures of my friends on my site because I feel that it is not courteous to use their “reflection”! And I often wonder with my kids if I am being unfair to them. I may end up deleting this site. But I guess I have an alterior motive in showing our boring home life! Aside from talking to people I really like and find interesting, I want to let the world into the home life of a Muslim family. Perhaps I’m not so conventional, but it’s fairly evident that the weirdness in our family is not caused by religion!

  6. Asiya Says:

    I wanted to add that this doesn’t mean that I don’t think images should be treated with respect. Basically treating an image with disrespect i.e. putting your feet on it, spitting on it etc is meant as an attack on a person and for this reason, it shouldn’t be done. But if it is done, we should remember that it’s not harmful in a real sense. The problem is with situations such asw the one you outlined, which could have harmful consequences for the woman involved because of the reactions of people thinking it was really her.

  7. Asiya Says:

    and I have been thinking of you a lot regarding your Dad’s death. People stop giving condolences but that doesn’t mean the hurt is gone.*hugs*

  8. Achelois Says:

    You know I’ve been dreaming about my dad every day! I miss him so much. Every night I think about him and wonder when will this pain lessen?! I’m beginning to worry I’ll forget how he spoke, smiled, ate, kissed us. I want to hug him again.

    My daughter was asked to model for a cereal commercial once and Abi refused for the same reason you point out. He said people will shred and throw the cereal boxes and will spit or walk over them.

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