Recently, I had the privilege to conduct an interview with Huda Fahmy, my name twin who shares her life experiences as a modern-day Muslim woman in the American society. Her comics, which go by the name of “Yes, I’m Hot In This,” have seen much popularity in the internet world for the theme they carry.
Huda Z: What made you start doing comics in the first place and what keeps you motivated?
Huda F: It started when there was an open call for Muslim writers. I already had this passion for writing, so I collected a few stories that chronicled my funny, sad and frustrating experiences as a Muslim woman who was born and raised in America. These mostly humorous stories ranged from how it felt to be treated as a foreigner at first sight to witnessing other “exotic looking” people being harassed and making the choice to step in.
So, I responded to the open call and sent my stories to several agents and publishers. Nobody thought it was worth publishing. One agent told me that no one would care about my stories, because I’m not a public figure, and I needed to build a base if I ever wished to sell my stories. My older sister actually inspired me to turn my stories into comics and post them on Facebook, so I did.
Encouraged by my comic’s initial success on Facebook, I moved over to Instagram where the whole account just took off. I’m motivated by the idea that my comics are making a difference. I get DMs daily from Muslims and non-Muslims telling me that my comics are helping them build confidence and teaching them something new. Others thank me for dispelling the wrong beliefs they had about Muslims and Islam. It’s incredibly encouraging.
HZ: Is there an unpleasant feedback to your pro-Islam illustrations? If yes, how do you cope with it?
HF: Oh, for sure. The amount of unpleasant feedback has been insane. I especially find a lot of trolls in my comments and DMs, but honestly, I expected nothing less (especially in this current political atmosphere). I get all kinds of hate and usually it’s stuff about my character needing to blow herself up or comments that say Islam is a cult or that hijab is oppressive. I choose to ignore the trolls by immediately deleting any derisive, abusive or hateful comments. I’m glad to say that alhamdulilah (thank God) my skin is pretty tough.
HZ: To what extent do you find Muslim women like yourself represented in the media? How do you wish to improve it?
HF: So, “Yes, I’m Hot in This” really came from a desire to see more visibly Muslim women in media, specifically in comics. I follow several mainstream illustrators on Instagram, and every now and then, one or two of them would include a hijabi character doing normal everyday things. I can’t explain the joy I first felt when I saw a hijabi portrayed as nothing more than a girl with friends doing regular friend things. I wanted more. I realized I needed more. I want to see visibly Muslim women in comics, on TV, in cartoons, on stage doing stand-up.
Hijabi women are usually portrayed as submissive, abused, meek or brainwashed. And the narrative is almost always centered around terrorism. We aren’t portrayed as regular people doing regular things. No one wants to see that. We’re rarely seen as women who are interesting, funny, creative, smart or unique who just also happen to cover their hair and dress modestly. My comics aim to change that.
HZ: Do you find it hard to be a mom, a wife and a comic artist all at once?
HF: In the beginning, it was very difficult to find a balance between all three, especially the mom part. I was always on my phone checking, deleting and blocking trolls. It was also important that I engaged with my followers (because they’re awesome, seriously), so I was always responding to DMs. It became a strain. But alhamdulilah, every day I’m getting better at balancing it out. I make sure to keep my phone away from me while I’m with my son, and I check it every now and then. I try to keep up with my followers in the evening when he’s asleep. It takes work.
HZ: Every successful person has a real-life supporter. Who is yours? How do they support you?
HF: My husband, who makes several cameos in my comics, is a huge supporter of my work. He’s the one who checks my work for continuity or clarity. If the joke doesn’t make sense to him, he’ll say so, and I usually have to rework it. My older sister is also an amazing source of support. She was the one who actually put the thought of turning my writing into comics. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head when she suggested it, and to this day she’s been my biggest cheerleader.
HZ: There is a ‘Susan’ you feature in most of your comics. Whom does she represent?
HF: Susan is the embodiment of every kind of non-Muslim I’ve ever encountered. She represents the many who are willfully ignorant but also confused. She can’t help but be a nice person, because she wants to be friendly, but she also can’t escape regurgitating the stereotypes and labels she’s picked up from the media. I hate her so much sometimes, but I don’t want that hate to blind me from building a friendship that could potentially turn her entire world-view around. I’ve been called naïve and idealistic, but in my character’s world, it’s hopeful.
HZ: Is there any facility that you lack and would want to have in America as a Muslim?
HF: Oh my God, where do I start? I wish there were private rooms to pray when I go out to eat. I wish there were women-only salons with professional stylists so I can get a decent haircut. I wish there were more restaurants that served halal. I wish there were mainstream stores that sold hijabs and long sleeve, floor length dresses.
HZ: Some of your aspirations, maybe?
HF: Professionally, I aspire to one day become a published illustrator and eventually see my comics on TV. In doing so, I hope to encourage other Muslim women to delve into the creative arts and not be tempted to compromise their beliefs to please the masses. We are worth more than other people’s judgments.
HZ: Lastly, what advice would you give to the aspiring and developing comic artists who wish to start their work on social media?
HF: Draw and post every day. Even if you think your art looks like a dog took a poop all over it, post it. The first step is getting over your fear of exposing yourself to the public. Challenge yourself, do it for you. If you’re trying something new, you’re going to have to learn something new. Teach yourself how to use Photoshop or Illustrator or whatever drawing software you find that tickles your fancy. Don’t get stuck in a world of complacency. Always be critical of your work. Always strive to be better. Also, engage with and respect your followers! You should definitely show ’em some love!