Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Interview | Lisa Vogl-Hamid




Hi Everyone. This is by far the most exciting post that I have the infinite pleasure to bring to you. I had recently contacted Lisa Vogl - Hamid from Lisa Vogl Photography through facebook and literally jumped up and down, clapped my hands and ‘eeked’, when she responded leaving me with her email address.

For those of you who don’t know who she is, Lisa Vogl-Hamid is an American revert, hijabi and a brilliant photographer. She is one of the women that has inspired me along my hijab journey at the time when I searched for hijabi’s around the world. And, with her being a photographer, she further piqued my interest. I have been following her work ever since and thought that if she has inspired me so tremendously how wonderful would it be to inspire so many others through my blog.

After my initial email requesting an interview, we emailed each other to arrange a video chat. Lisa was very courteous and helpful. She agreed to do the interview as her way of spreading the Deen and I remain so humbled that she extended herself to little old me!

Unfortunately, with the time difference being 6+ hours, it took me a bit longer than expected to get the interview out, but finally, here it is.

1.           Salaam Lisa, Could you tell us a bit about yourself for those of us that don’t know?

I am an international wedding and fashion photographer. I have a degree in photography from Daytona State University and a B.A in Marketing and Cultural studies from Chatham University. I grew up in Michigan USA to Christian and catholic family. I’m 1 of six children.

2.           Six, children that must have been something growing up! But, tell us a bit about your upbringing and whether it was fairly religious or not?

My upbringing was not religious at all. My mother has always believed in God or she likes to say a “higher being” but she tends to stay away from organized religion as she thinks it divides people and causes hatred between one another. I think this is due to her upbringing. She came from a strict conservative Baptist family that I believe was so strict that it pushed her away from religion. My father came from a devout catholic family. He goes to church every now and then and holds pride in his catholic identity but never forced it on any of his children. He would tell me that religion is personal and believes your relationship with God and journey in religion develops over time. I however always had a need for religion. Neither one of my parents influenced me it was something with in me that had a need to get close to God through religion. As a teenager I was quite involved in the Christian church. I’d attend church on Sunday, go to church camps and Good news on Monday (and church group that does bible study)

3.           Ok, What then drove you to Islam?

In one word I’d have to say Christianity led me to Islam. I had such a passion for Jesus’ message so I followed what he really taught- To believe in One God. 

When I was 19 years old I decided to take a year off of college. I did an internship at Walt Disney World the first half of the year. I also took on a 2nd job at night. I saved all my money and decided to use that money for travel. I’ve always been a very adventuress and free spirit type of a girl I would and still do things that surprises my mom. I called her up and told her I was going to travel through Europe and through a friends connection move to Morocco for a short time. It was a trip that changed my life. I wanted to go to experience a different culture but it was Islam that was left in my heart when I left that beautiful country. My experience there was much different than a normal traveler. I lived with a native Moroccan family in about 300 sq feet with a family of 4. We had no hot water and no toilet. Everything that was a basic necessity to me became a luxury overnight. It changes you and makes you appreciate the basic things you have in life. However, that clearly was not related to Islam. But what I loved about my experience is the mother (who was also a widow) had so little in life compared to me and many of my American friends yet she was so devoted to her religion. It was very beautiful to see. As some one who loves and was always curious of those who were “different” than me I wanted to live just like they did. So I asked to wear the Abaya and Hijab to fit in and to show respect. I lived with them for 3 months and then came home.

Upon return I finished college and went about my life. A few years later I realized I wanted to go to photography school as I knew I needed to be in a creative field. A few months in to school we were given an assignment to do a two-minute documentary on whatever subject we wanted. I decided to do it on the Hijab. I never really asked why women wear it, which was surprising considering I wore it myself for 3 months. I just looked at it as more of a cultural attire rather than religious. So to complete the documentary I called upon my really good friend Nadine (who runs Nadoona) to interview. I asked very basic questions, as I didn’t know much. Her answers are what inspired me to research about Islam. What I didn’t know was that the bible in fact orders women to wear the Hijab (Corinthians chapter 11 verse 6). My interest was sparked and I was curious to learn more. I then researched for about 6 months before I decided to take my Shahada on July 29th 2011. When you grow up in a culture or religion you don’t question why your parents live a certain way or why certain things are done. You just accept it as normal but when your faced with tough questions as I was it causes you to think outside the box and realize that the religion that I held so near and dear to my heart was not God’s true religion. The thing is that there is a misconception of todays Muslims as they think that Christians believe in 3 God’s. They don’t. I was a Christian for over 20 years and never thought of the trinity as 3 Gods because God can be in more places and different form at once. Where I was struck and realized that Christianity had made an error was that they believe the only way to heaven is by “accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and a savior.” And Jesus died for my sins. That’s what I had a problem with. Why would God who is the most powerful who created me not also be able to forgive me? I then questioned why children would go to Hell if Christianity was never brought to them. These were questions that Islam answered for me. I then came to know that the bible had been changed many times as the Quran and scientifically proven has not changed since it was written. And most of what Christianity was based off of was the Trinity, which was created by a man named Paul who had never even met Jesus.

So after my research it was clear to me that Islam was the final religion of God and the one I was supposed to follow. When I took my Shahada it was the best decision I’ve ever made Alhamduiliah.

4.           Masha Allah! How long after embracing Islam did you decide to wear Hijab?

This may shock most but I actually put it on several months before I converted. However, I didn’t have it on full time due to my situation. I was still in photography school when I converted. At night I was a server (waitress) to support myself. So during the day I would wear it and when I went to work at night I took it off. I felt a constant struggle as it felt like I was living a double life. It became very stressful for me as I felt I was sinning. However, I wasn’t married nor were my parents supporting me. As time went on it became more of a challenge to me. At fajr prayer I’d make Dua that God bring me a husband to support me so I then could wear the hijab full time or to help my photography flourish so I could quite my job and support myself. Alhmaduiliah God brought me both! I have an amazing husband now who supports me and I’m now able to wear my hijab full time. Although I have been pulling back on my photography quite a bit for the sake of my family the sacrifice is very worth it.

5.           So, how has wearing the hijab made you feel?

The first few days of wearing it was very difficult for me. Because as a born muslim you may not need to explain yourself as much for someone who is Caucasian and came from a Christian family people will naturally be more curious. So I was quite nervous at first. However, as my Deen became stronger you realize that when people ask why that’s not offensive no matter how silly or ridiculous their questions are, because that’s a chance to give Da’wah. That’s exactly what led me to learn about Islam and convert myself. Now I’m very confident with my hijab. I often wear a full abaya as well. The hijab in fact makes me more confident because I can show the world that I’m muslim where as a man may not have the blessing that we do. I’m proud of my religion and I won’t hide it.

6.           What were the challenges that you faced in wearing hijab in a Western Society?

I’ve only had a small amount of challenges come my way. There were just a few times when I had other women be rude to me and say racist comments. But I realize their comments are from ignorance and fear. Which is why I take it upon myself to try to spread what Islam is as much as possible. I think Muslims tend to think everyone will judge us and so we decide not to put the scarf on but I disagree. I believe most people are good by nature and accept us. It’s the few that make the rest look bad. Just as we expect them to not judge us, I don’t want to do the same and assume that they are thinking of me poorly because of the way I dress. And if they do who cares anyway! I have my hijab on for Allah SWT and am doing the right thing.

7.           That’s so true! I know from yazthespaz’s post of Aquila Style about your story, your mom felt like she lost you once you started wearing hijab can you tell us a bit more about this and how she has since come around if at all?

My mom has come around Alhamduilialh. She has accepted that I’m muslim and that I have a muslim husband and dress differently than her. When I converted she didn’t care but she didn’t want me to wear the hijab because now it shows that I’m muslim. However, I’m a very strong minded person when I believe I’m doing the right thing. I went against my mother and wore it anyways. When a man converts you don’t see any physical changes but when a women converts and puts on the hijab she obviously looks different. So with that said, I know that my mother would go through her fair share of questions and although that’s not fair to her I had to wear it regardless. There are times where she just may not understand certain things and tends to fight them a little but all things come with time and I just have to show patience.

8.           So, in most western societies Hijab is seen as oppressive toward women, what can you say against this common thought and what in your opinion are the advantages of wearing the Hijab?

There are many things that I love about western society. The democracy and rights granted towards minorities/women and the general open mindedness of most but where we got it wrong is that western society oppresses women in their own way. They have turned the woman’s’ body in to a sexual object and use it as a commodity. The beauty business is a multi-billion dollar business selling women’s bodies. That is the biggest form of oppression that I have ever witnessed. Studies show that girls as young as 4 or 5 begin to have body issues and are unhappy with the way they look. This is because they see images of half naked women everywhere they go. And as a photographer I know first hand what you can do in photoshop and much of what we see isn’t even real. So we see images of women that no one can obtain. Not even the model in the images themselves. As we cover we protect ourselves from this form of oppression and people see us for who we are and not as an object or something that is a commodity.

9.           How has your dress sense evolved since wearing hijab and how would you describe your fashion sense?

 My level of modesty has improved over time. This is why it hurts me to see other women make PUBLICILY rude comments on social media or in other forms about other women’s hijab. I didn’t begin my hijab with a full abaya. It takes time and it has to come from within. We’ll in fact push women away from correctly covering with judgments rather than help them to move towards the right path. In fact, as I mentioned earlier I only wore it half the time to begin with as my life changed and as I became stronger in my belief in the hijab it went on full time. But with that said, I just like to be stylish. I cover but in a modern way. My style might be considered posh muslimah style.

10.       Lol, I like that “Posh Muslimah style”, What type of hijab style is your everyday and what is your favorite?

I actually love wearing turtle necks and wearing it turban style. I also love to wear it pashmina style.

11.       Who and What inspires you in terms of hijab and fashion?

My good friend yaz of course! Its funny how we met. We actually met through a mutual friend Nadine who I interviewed about Islam. I didn’t know of yaz at the time 2 years ago but I started watching her youtube videos and started learning different hijab styles from her videos. Now we’re great friends!

12.       I also love watching Yaz’s videos! What advice can you give to muslim women who are afraid or feel that they are not yet ready to wear hijab?

I would pose a question back to them and ask why? Why are you afraid? Of what others will think? Of not looking beautiful? Of being judged? Why sacrifice your religion for such minor reasons. The hijab raises your status as a woman. Imagine the reward for spreading Islam and that’s exactly what the hijab does as it’s a form of Da’wah. Be proud of who you are and be strong in your beliefs and you’ll feel even more confident because you’re staying true to who you are.

I am total in awe of this woman. Many of us struggle with the basics that our religion requires us to do. We see this happen so many times, but, how profound is it that someone who was not even born into Islam can see our beautiful religion this clearly. May we all be able to see it this way, In Sha Allah! One of the most important things that I have personally taken from Lisa’s interview is that when we cover, we protect ourselves and people can see us for who we really are, we can therefore be ourselves and there is no stopping us from accomplishing whatever we wish. Clearly, we can cover our hair, be stylish, still be true to ourselves, and at the same time be spreading Deen and gaining reward. Just how beautiful is that?

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for allowing me to tell my story!

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    1. This is such a beautiful and inspiring story. My mother works with and teaches women who embrace Islam (or New Muslims as she likes to call it) and we see the struggles they face, from their families and from society. Thank you to you and Fatima for telling this story.

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    2. Masha Allah... Truly inspiring.... :)

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  2. MashaAllah my God protect you and your family...

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