First Thoughts on SAL.AM Magazine

SAL.AM magazine is “a freely distributed, quarterly lifestyle magazine, targeted at Muslims”, according to the magazine’s website. The original idea was to have a paper magazine, which is why there’s a mock-up featured on the site.

I am not comfortable with this woman’s body on the front of the magazine, with her head cut off. salam1If a non-Muslim magazine does this to a woman’s body, it’s sexist objectification. If a Muslim magazine does it, it’s halal? No, ma’am!

Since I first visited, SAL.AM has decided to become an online-only magazine. This doesn’t solve the problem, however. The website has both male and female figures without their heads, but the majority of the pictures are of women.

Removing someone’s head from the picture reduces them to a body; no matter how covered someone is, when you remove their eyes as a focus point, the body then becomes the central focus of the viewer’s gaze. Isn’t this the exact opposite of what loose clothing is intending to accomplish? Despite the looseness of her clothing, a viewer’s eyes will still follow the lines of her body.

salam2

I realize that it may be done done as part of a specific interpretation that regards human representations as forbidden, but then why even have a body there in the first place? Why not just work harder on the graphics, or include some cool tessellations (I am just smitten with tessellations)? Technology allows us cool flash players and sparkly graphics and such; why should we need to use someone’s body (especially without their head…that seems especially eerie)? Or as SISTERS magazine did, why not create cartoon representations of people without faces (I’m not a huge fan of that, either, but at least a real live person isn’t being objectified). The designers of SAL.AM’s website also designed SISTERS covers (you can see it in their impressive porfolio here), so it’s an avenue they’ve explored before.salam3

SAL.AM Magazine is slated to be released sometime in December.

All images designed by iGraphic; all images via SAL.AM magazine.

Update: SHIT! The website is down and I am the jackass who linked to the pictures instead of saving them. Sorry. I’ll try to scout them out and get them back up.

Update II: Well, everything seems to be perfectly normal now. Just in case, I saved and re-uploaded the pictures so this won’t happen again, enshallah. My apologies if anyone was temporarily unable to view the pics.

  • Deborah

    Maybe they couldn’t decide whether to show a woman wearing hijab or not, so they just decided it was better to have no head at all.

  • Melinda

    I agree. Having consistently decapitated models is a bit disturbing.

  • Sobia

    Me too. This is a bit creepy and unnerving. And yes, the hijab in all the pictures is obvious and easy to see.

  • cycads

    The objectification of the headless female body aside, what is perhaps a little refreshing here is there isn’t one face that represents Muslim women. Typically in beauty/fashion magazines, white women become the defining image of acceptable and marketable beauty. Here, because there isn’t a face, or head, a Muslim woman may look like any woman, albeit with a hijab.

  • http://www.shadjar.wordpress.com Inal

    Beyond knowing this is a UK based mag- what else recommends it? Don’t necessarily like subscribing to something I have no idea how is written and the flavor of the articles…

  • Mariam

    I agree with cycads. The lack of faces gives a sense of universalism. It also reminds me of those HP computer ads for some reason. I actually think it’s pretty cool…sorry.

  • Zara

    Actually, when I first saw the pictures, I thought of the HP ads too! Perhaps I’m not analyzing the images thoroughly – I took a class on semiotics a couple of semesters back and ever since then, I vowed to observe more things simply at face value so that I wouldn’t end up in a mind warp of overanalyzing every time I saw something on TV. I don’t think the magazine intended to objectify women in these images; I think the magazine was attempting an innovative way to depict Muslim women beyond the hijab.

  • http://www.souvenirsandscars.wordpress.com souvenirsandscars

    Interesting take. Has anyone tried contacting them regarding their intentions with depicting only headless people?
    btw. There’s a picture of a headless guy on there too. The one where he’s holding a sign that says “Advertise on Sal.am.”

  • Sarah

    @ Cycads and Mariam – I personally don’t think cutting off the head in this case gives a sense of universalism. It might have if it was done differently, but this mag consistently show a particular kind of Muslim woman – always a hijabi, always wearing a particular kind of dress, which looks like a jilbab. That in no way represents the majority nor the true diversity of Muslim women. Instead, they are using the “symbols of Islam” – hijab and jilbab – to represent Muslim women in particular and Muslims in general. That to me does say objectification.

    The fact of the matter is that if they showed another kind of Muslim woman, who didn’t wear hijab and was wearing a button-down shirt, there’d be nothing explicitly “islamic” about the image, and it seems that they want it to be explicit. Yet ironically, the one image of the guy doesn’t scream islam – there’s no long beard or thobe, just a button-down shirt and a hint of brown skin, which apparently is enough for the representation of Muslim men. double standard?

    If they really want to portray universalism, they should show all different kinds of people of diff races, backgrounds, dress, etc., because that truly challenges the efforts of the media to portray muslims as a monolithic group.

  • Sobia

    I agree with Sarah on this one. It isn’t universal. It may have other benefits or positive points but universalism is not it. There might not be one face that represents Islam but there is one body here (that appears culturally specific too). And that is fine if that is what it is meant to do and these images are only meant to represent one image.

  • http://www.themuslimah.com Umm Layth

    Bismillah

    as salamu ‘alaykum gals

    I don’t know but when I first found the site I didn’t think anything of the images. When I go to Shukr Clothing’s website I see the same thing. When I go to other clothing websites online that are made by non Muslims I also see the same. It’s not a problem for me and I actually really liked their idea.

    I don’t understand what exactly is wrong with the images of a woman with a headscarf and an abaya. Firstly, this is someone else’s magazine and as much as they want to please the audience they must also do what they believe (though I have no idea why they choose the images or anything). And who knows what they will offer when it finally comes out and in later issues.

    The issue for me is that khimar or ‘hijab’ is part of a Muslim woman’s dress. So why would anyone have a problem with that?

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  • Sarah

    “I’m not saying that the magazine is actively sexualizing this woman, but it seems in their attempt NOT to sexualize or objectify her (by taking away her head but leaving her body posing), they have.”

    @Fatemeh: you make a very interesting point here. related to this is an issue that’s been festering in my mind lately – that the way muslims emphasize gender segregration and hijab, in an apparent attempt to show respect for women and not make them sexual objects for men to ogle, actually has the opposite effect. by making such big deals out of these issues, men and women are made Only to see other as sexual temptations, and the value of muslim women is reduced to the hijab. in an effort not to objectify women, they end up getting objectified anyway, just in a different way.

    it’s a common situation that when you try extremely hard to avoid something, you end up doing what ur trying to avoid. moderation is important.

  • Sobia

    @ Sarah:

    “in an effort not to objectify women, they end up getting objectified anyway, just in a different way. ”

    I agree with you. I have always seen this as having the exact opposite effect. In fact, I avoid many religious gatherings because personally I never feel more aware of my own sexuality as I do when I am around other Muslims, especially at the mosque (and especially when I have women telling me to cover this up or that up because men are around – personally it makes me feel dirty). Now, I know this will not be the experience for many Muslim women, but I also know that for many other Muslim women this will be their experience and those are the ones I am speaking for and about. I know a few other young Muslim women who feel as I do. The main reason I have been told for this segregation is that men will be checking women out if they are not segregated. This to me equals saying women are just sexual beings and that men only see women as such. I have always advocated for a promotion of healthy male-female relationships in which the two can interact without considering each other sexual beings.

    Great point Sarah.

  • Sarah

    Thanks Sobia, I’m glad you get what I’m saying. I avoid religious gatherings for the same reasons. But I do try to bring this issue up to people as much as possible now, because I’m realizing more and more how prevalent it is, and even worse, how people don’t think twice about this spastic hyper-sensitivity to sexuality. They see it as a good thing, an “Islamic” thing, without realizing the harm it does. But when I give this critical perspective at least some people think, “oh, i never thought of it that way”. We need to carry this issue up to the surface so we can deal with it.

    I think there are a growing number of Muslim women growing disillusioned by this problem. Four years ago I would’ve been one of those women defending this hyper-segregation, but now I’m very critical of it. Bottom line: extremes are never good. I agree with you that we need to promote models of moderation, of healthy male-female relationships where we can appreciate each other on a Human level (we manage to do it everyday with non-Muslims, don’t we?). I’m part of a Muslim book club that aims to do that, among other objectives, and I hope that eventually ours can become a model for more. Addressing this issue would help solve a lot of our problems.

  • Aynur

    I agree Sarah, I too would have been defending the total segregation 4+ years ago, but now I don’t see things the same way. I also avoid religious gatherings because of it. I find that men and women naturally segregate loosely in gathering, generally … which is a more comfortable setup.

  • Aynur

    ^^ I meant to say that I find that men and women segregate loosely in *non-Muslim* gatherings, generally.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    I’ve been enjoying this discussion and just wanted to add my thoughts.

    I have mixed thoughts on segregation. As far as praying goes, I like to be able to see the imam, so I’m not fond of women’s sections, however I’m aware they often exist for reasons of space (easier to add a floor then to expand the floor space). Actually, I do sometimes ponder the validity of prayer when you can’t see the imam and I remember an utterly chaotic Eid prayer, when the radio link broke down midway through the salah.

    I like women only gatherings, as it means you get to hear women speak! Plus, there’s a nice sisterhood vibe too.

    As for mixed gatherings, I prefer informal segregation, so there’s no barriers and the women naturally tend to sit in one area and the men in the other, but if you wanted to sit next to your husband or brother it wouldn’t be a problem. I find a lot of lectures and meetings I go to are like that and it allows for free discussion between the sexes, while still keeping some modesty.

    In summary, I guess I prefer modesty as a natural inclination, rather then something rigidly enforced with barriers.

    While I’m writing this, I’m aware that modesty is a very nebulous topic and it depends so much on people’s individual comfort levels.

  • http://sal.am atifa

    perhaps do a review on muxlim? http://imagesnap.co.uk/showpic-264/muxlim.png

    [This comment has been edited to fit within comment moderation guidelines.]

  • http://sal.am Laila

    muxlim is messed up

    i’ll just stick to salam (http://sal.am), it has more privacy option & segregations

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Deborah: When I look at the pictures, what is visible of the neck makes it appear that these women are wearing headscarves.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Inal: I can’t comment on the articles, because the magazine hasn’t debuted yet. But it’s free and online, and so all the subscription required is probably an email address. :)

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Mariam: There is nothing to be sorry about! Your opinions are as valid as mine. :)

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Umm Layth: I guess it just gets down to how representative of the Muslim population SAL.AM wants to be. Niqab is also Muslim women’s dress. T-shirts and jeans are also Muslim women’s dress. So are they going to show these, too?

    I think the one that got me thinking about this was the cover of the mock-up magazine, which was of the model’s entire body, The lines of her form (waist and hips) are fairly discernible, despite being fully covered. It reminded me of a Cosmo cover with no face and more clothes. I’m not saying that the magazine is actively sexualizing this woman, but it seems in their attempt NOT to sexualize or objectify her (by taking away her head but leaving her body posing), they have.

    THe point you make about online clothing stores is a good one. I think this gets down to audience: SAL.AM aims at a mixed-gender demographic while women’s clothing websites aim themselves only at women.


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