Bikini model Maryam Basir is the only Muslim bikini model in the business. But her choice to model and show skin has caused some major debates about women within the Muslim religion. In the modeling industry, Basir has modeled for several ads that include Nike, DSW, and Macy’s. She has been described by designer, Juanita Reid, a young Jamaican-American designer, as being “a rare crossover. She’s proportional, but she has buttocks. That works for both races. And she knows how to wear a garment and make it look right.” Reid’s description alone raises eyebrows.
Many regard what the model does as a contradiction, as she claims to be a practicing Muslim. Within the Muslim religion, women are instructed to show extreme modesty when it comes to showing themselves, covering everything except their hands, eyes, and feet. Sura 24:31 of The Koran says, “lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty.” But like any form of Holy Scripture, it is up for debate as to what passages really mean.
According to Islamic law expert, Professor Asma Afsaruddin of Indiana University, “The Koran doesn’t specifically state that you must be covered.” “It talks about modesty. And modesty is a cultural concept. What is considered modest in some Muslim societies is not necessarily what is considered modest in the United States.” Basir’s father, who is an Imam, who grew up in Pontiac, Michigan and became interested in Islam in college, strongly disapproves of his daughter’s choice. He said, “You can’t just make up your own rules.” “It is un-Islamic for a woman to display her body. That’s not debatable.” As a result of his daughter’s choice, they have been estranged since she moved to New,to pursue her career. Imam Basir told The New York Observer newspaper that he fears for his daughter.
Basir became a model after a New York bank security guard told her that she was pretty enough to model. Basir has been modeling ever since. Although Basir has chosen to express herself through her modeling, she still holds that her faith is the most important thing to her. She told The Observer, “I’ve met models who were raised in Muslim homes, but say they are no longer Muslims.” She adds, “That’s not who I am. I pray five times a day. I fast on Ramadan and celebrate the holidays. On Fridays I go to the mosque for juma prayers. I give zakat (a required percentage of income to charity). I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs. It was important to me to marry a Muslim. And I definitely plan on making a haj, inshallah.” In regard to walking runways for shows the model said ,“Backstage at fashion shows, models often walk around naked. I cover my body.”
It is not just Muslim men that are opposed to Basir but women within the faith as well. A few years ago, Basir recalls a Facebook message that she received from a Muslim woman named, Hadiza. The woman called the model out writing, “We are both sisters in Islam.” “You are sending the wrong message to young Muslim females, as well as the non-Muslims, all over the world. The youthful Muslim women and non-Muslims admire you because of your position … Why are you lowering yourself, to become famous or selling your body and your soul for worldly gain. Islam is a religion of modesty.”
Basir replied, “What would you want for me sister, to stop modeling and acting, move back to the small town that I grew up in, get married and have kids, pregnant and barefoot, as long as I am covering my hair and not asking questions? If that’s what you believe to be right, do it for yourself … I am not one of those people (like so many who I have met) who have abandoned my Islam because of people like you who try to make someone feel as if they are not Muslim enough, or Arab enough…”
Asa Lovechild is an accomplished actress and singer out of New York City and a supporter of One Billion Rising