In Kyoko Yokoma’s documentary Between Allah & Me (and Everyone Else) the director focuses her efforts on upending two cursory, but commonly held Western perceptions about Muslim women: that the hijab is a tool of oppression and all Muslim women share the exact same belief system. This documentary slashed away at these perceptions by focusing on four Muslim women from distinct backgrounds who have all made different choices for vastly different reasons in deciding the role the hijab will play in their lives. The fact that these women all live in Toronto, Canada shapes the documentary and provides insight on the experience of modern Muslim women living in a predominantly Western culture.
There is a lot of diversity in the lives of the four main subjects. Naima is a college student who decides to remove her hijab after learning about the concept of cultural baggage; Sara is a college student and activist who decides to start wearing the hijab again after a break; Shaila is a community leader running for provincial office who worries that wearing the hijab disconnects her from the non-Muslims in her community, but that removing it may cost her the support of her Muslim constituents; Farida makes the decision in her 40’s to become an observant Muslim, praying 5 times a day and wearing the hijab.
One of the most surprising commonalities found in most of these stories is the inter-family strife surrounding the hijab. While many of the women received mild dismissive comments from family members for wearing it, Sara‘s secular father became physically and mentally abusive. The relationship between Farida and her mother also highlights this strife as well as the diversity of opinions held by women of Islamic faith. When Farida makes the decision to starting observing the hijab in order to comply with Islamic law her mother is concerned that her daughter’s choice to “change the dress code” is unnecessary and in conflict with living in a modern society.
Each woman’s view about her relationship to the hijab evolves throughout the documentary. Regardless of whether they decided to wear or remove it (or something in between), in each case these women all assert their right to observe their culture and religion as they choose and to take control of how they present their bodies. This documentary is a powerful message in finding feminism in places you weren’t expecting.
This film is highly recommended for general collections as well as collections focusing on women and gender studies and religious studies.