Going viral: how social justice spread in my social media use

When I launched my YouTube channel in 2012, I had no intentions of touching controversial matters: I simply wanted to provide simple tutorials and resources for new hijabis. I was a new hijabi and, on top of the lack of styling resources, I quickly found myself ill-prepared for just how controversial hijab itself would be. Within the first months, I allowed myself to be swept into endless debate on the appropriateness of coloured hijab or of being a feminist hijabi or a hijabi who supports the rights gender and sexual minorities. Everything from how, where and who with I wore hijab was dissected and often criticized.

As my hijab became increasingly controversial, I began to flirt with the idea of supporting on video controversial causes. My first non-tutorial video A Muslim Message of Peace on Spirit Day went mostly unnoticed except by a few supporters and even fewer detractors.

I received a number of requests for more personal information and I began filming the now-deleted “Get to know me” series (now available in FAQ format only). It is the “Get to know Me: Why I still celebrate Christmas” that convinced me that I had hooked an audience that wishes to see me succeed as a Muslim, albeit only in the way they believed a successful Muslim would behave. This was an audience of conservative/traditional Muslims who bought into more tribal views of Islam than my own views. I knew they were listening and the feminist, anti-homophobia activist in me had messages to convey.

I created the Costumed Hijabi series (now Cosplay series) to provide cosplayers – most specifically hijabi cosplayers – with hijab-friendly costume options. It is discussing the series on social media that the conversation began on designing hijab styles on request. A friend mockingly suggested that I should design a hijab style for men. Another added that what [some] men needed was a blindfold not a hijab. Lastly, one linked me to an Egyptian campaign against sexual harassment.

And there it was: it was funny, it was clever and it had a cause.

I filmed Special Hijab Tutorial for brothers and it became a modest overnight hit collecting 10,000 views in its first 24 hours. This is how I learned that women’s rights messages were infectious. With the right cause and the right format, one can reach out to the whole world and spread social justice awareness. I made a number of other “funny” videos but without the same purpose driving them forward, I have lost faith in their purpose.

My video was shared on a number of well-known hijab styling and Muslim-issue blogs. I have made the virtual acquaintance of a number of renown social justice activists.

I attempted to recreate the Hijab for brothers phenomena by creating what I perceived like other witty videos. I would be tempted to blame the quality of the filming or of the acting for the failure of the later videos, but I would be lying to myself if I didn’t admit the original did not have the same serious shortcomings. I can only attribute this success to the cause and how close to home it has hit most women; Muslim, non-Muslim, hijabi, non-hijabi – we all gravitate in patriarchal societies that monitor and dictate our dress and behaviour to some extent.

While I have received negative feedback from a few women, I have been overwhelmed with the support of the majority.

I hope I can find inspiration and, through humour and wit, further women’s rights and other social justice concerns relevant to Muslim women in Canada and world-wide. I hope to bring forward much-needed conversation and hopefully I can do so in a light-hearted way as to not overwhelm a world already filled with negativity.

Social justice has shaped my life in meaningful ways and I was a fool to think that it would be any different on social media.

Peace and blessings everybody!

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