Huda Fahmy is a cartoonist who is using her Instagram platform to create cartoons about her daily experiences of being a Muslim women in the United States of America. She tackles issues like the Islamophobia, bigotry, and discrimination that she faces in her everyday life with a constant touch of humour in her work. The Daily Vox team spoke to Fahmy about her work.
So when did you start with your comics?
I started in March of 2017 exactly a year ago. What inspired me was when Trump was elected and there was a lot of vitriol and negativity that was spread about Muslims. This was nothing new. It just happened to be louder and, because of that, there was this open call by these agents for any Muslim story. I’d always wanted to write so I started to write these stories. This was longform; no cartoons, just writing my stories which happened to be funny and just about my daily life as an American Muslim who wears the hijab. So nobody really caught on. One of them actually said nobody knows you; nobody is going to care about your stories. I was like you were the ones asking for the open call. I didn’t want to give up. My older sister said you’ve loved drawing comics, would you mind drawing a comic using one of your stories. A light bulb went off in my head – why don’t I just turn my stories into comics? Everybody loves comics and that’s where it started.
I started posting very crudely drawn comics onto my Facebook and eventually Instagram and I started to get better with my art, teaching myself how to use a Adobe Illustrator. Slowly, in less than a year, it reached over 100 000 followers and now it’s at 158 000. It’s amazing because I didn’t expect it to blow up this big. I wanted it to because I wanted to tell this story but that’s kind of what inspired me. I just wanted to balance out like hey this is our story, you don’t get to tell our story. We’re the ones that live it everyday, we’re the ones that need to be able to tell it. I was really tired that other people were getting to tell our stories or profiting off us. We never got a chance to tell our stories in the way that we wanted to be represented. And when I say we, I’m talking about myself but I can’t help but feel that other people must feel the same as well.
How important is for you to be in charge of your own narrative?
It’s incredibly important. It’s one of the driving forces for me to draw and write. There are a lot of stories out there about Muslim women that are two extremes. The story that these women are submissive or tortured or involved with terrorism. Then there’s the other side of the spectrum which I didn’t identify with which was the liberal, didn’t wear hijab which is totally up to them, that’s their choice. I just personally did not relate to that. That was not my struggle. I didn’t have issues with the hijab. I didn’t have a problem with following a more conservative practise of the faith and still living my life in America. So those were the other extremes. So I said great for them but that doesn’t tell my story of how I feel. So wanting that balance with telling those stories. Yes there are those women who are being oppressed because of their faith and they’re being forced into it and that sucks, and their stories should be told. And there is of course the story of the woman who doesn’t wear hijab or who wants to be much more liberal in the way she practises and again that’s her story and she can tell that story. I wanted to provide the story of the Muslim woman who does wear hijab, who wear the abaya (long dress), and lives her life more conservatively but it doesn’t affect her. It doesn’t stop her from doing anything. We still live our lives. I’m not oppressed by it, it’s my choice. So it was very important for me to make sure that that story was told.
Who does the white character, Susan, in your cartoons represent?
She represents every person that has ever said a microaggression or flat out just said something rude or inappropriate whether they meant it or not. She is more than one person which is why sometimes she seems nice and other times she seems she did not learn her lesson. To me that represents those people that think they’re learning by doing or asking but they go right back to their old ways and refuse to change. It’s a battle with her because sometimes I’m so frustrated by her lack of development because she never learns. Somebody once asked me why does she have to be white, like not all white people are like that, and I totally agree. But everybody who has ever said those things to me happens to be white. That’s just the reality of my life. I don’t get this from black people, Latinx or Mexican or South East-Asian. I don’t get this from anybody except her, white people.
This just goes back to being made to feel so “other.” No matter what I do, I can’t seem to be seen as an American who also happens to be Muslim. I love being Muslim. I love being American. The two are not mutually exclusive. So, though you may have good intentions, please stop telling me I’m welcome here. This is my home. (Pt 3)
How does all the ignorance about Muslim women out there make you feel?
It makes it so frustrating and that’s why I have to tell my story with humour. It just seems so ridiculous that we’re still having this conversation in 2018. There might be too much information. There are some people who are so determined to stay ignorant even when they are faced with the facts. Even when someone like me is telling them I am not brainwashed and this is my choice, they still come back and say no you’re just saying that – you’re trying to make me feel sympathy for you or you’re going to try and convert me. And I’m like what are you saying? I am telling you no, that is not the case and they still refuse to believe. Like I’m literally just telling my story – you can take it or leave it. I have no intention other than making you see the world from someone else’s perspective. They think there’s some much deeper agenda.
Your comics have a wide reach. Did you expect this?
One of the most pleasantly unexpected things that has come out of this is how many people can relate to my problems because I thought it was such a niche issue. I thought it was such a specific audience who were going to relate like hijabis who follow the religion in this way and live in America. There are people from all over the world who are sending me messages about how they can relate to his person and it made me feel less alone. It has created this whole community where people are really supportive and they are sharing their experiences in the comments or in direct messages. It was so nice that people all over the world can have this connection. I’m blown away and I’m so excited.
Where to next for you?
I just got picked up by a publisher and I’m really excited. I’m actually going to be publishing a book. Hopefully it will be coming out by the end of the year. That was one of my biggest goals. It was my five year goal plan and it happened very quickly. That will reach a bigger platform, I hope. I’m animated on in the ToonStar app and something that I really hope to do is get an animated series and that’s something I hope to see in the future.
It’s such a big responsibility when you reach a platform this big. I recently did a story about it when I feel terrified that I’m going to mess this up. Like the bigger you get, the more responsibility you have to your audience. And while I try not to make my cartoons reactionary, I want to make them true my voice. I’m constantly afraid that they’re going to pull back the curtain and see that I’m a fraud. I feel like I was much more comfortable drawing before I had so many people following me. Like I get a lot of messages saying you have this platform, you have to use it for good and I’m like oh man what do I do.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.