Makkah Ali and Ikhlas Saleem dove into the very big topic of ethical fashion on their podcast, Identity Politics. Today, we’re chatting with Makkah about her journey into podcasting and her biggest takeaway from The Fabric of Our Lives episode.
Makkah, how did you get into podcasting, and what do you like/dislike most about it?
In late 2015, Ikhlas was toying around with the idea of starting a show. I thought she would be great at it and when she launched in January of 2016, I listened to her first few episodes, offered feedback, and came on as one of her first guests. We had so much fun working together that she invited me to permanently co-host with her and the rest is history.
I love being able to play a small role in creating space for smarter, more nuanced, more intersectional conversations between Muslims than we are used to seeing in the public sphere. Muslims in the media have primarily been given a “respond to Islamophobia” slot for the past 20 years and our show uplifts who we are and what we care about outside of the white gaze.
I dislike influencer culture and have a really weird relationship with social media and personal branding as a concept. But unfortunately, in order to get the word out about something like a podcast, you have to be willing to sell yourself as a product. I don’t have the stomach for it, and unfortunately our show doesn’t reach as many people as it could because of that!
What is the goal of your work at Identity Politics, and how do you see its role in today’s political/social landscape in America?
Our ultimate goal was to see Muslims in the media that actually looked and thought and talked like the people we knew. When we looked around, we were seeing people speak about “Muslim issues” with flat portrayals of our community that didn’t reflect our rich diversity. Muslims are not a monolith and we need to talk about how the way we understand and experience our Muslimness is also influenced by our race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and so much more. As the most diverse faith community in the US, we wanted our show to highlight both the breadth and the depth of perspectives in our communities.
The The Fabric of Our Lives episode was up my alley for so many reasons. (For those who haven't listened yet, Makkah, Ikhlas and Hoda tackle understanding the very complex topic of ethical fashion). What drew you to this topic? What was the most surprising thing you learned during your conversation with Hoda?
Hoda is such a masha’Allah human and we were thrilled to have her on the show.
I think we all have a lot to learn about the connection between capitalism and fast fashion and exploitation.
Hoda posed the question “What does it mean for our spirituality if our hijabs are made in sweatshops?”
That question really shook me and renewed my commitment to being more intentional, whenever possible, about what I put on my body and how to limit my contributions to the oppressive conditions of other Muslim women around the world.
I was so pleasantly surprised to hear in this episode that you have tried Sukoon products! Can I ask: was it important to you that we produce our clothing ethically when you made your first purchase? Has that perspective changed after your conversation with Hoda?
It was a huge factor in my decision to support (and keep supporting) Sukoon! We’re in a moment where many folks have confused representation with radical change, which it isn’t. Having a seat at a table that is inherently oppressive is not a win for anybody. Plus our presence at these oppressive tables can be used to legitimize really horrible policies and practice. I’ve purchased my fair share of modest apparel online and half of it shrinks after one wash, the other half falls apart after a few wears, and a lot of it is produced unethically. I think we say more than enough about Nike in the episode, so I also was not about to run to order a Nike hijab when those came out either.
My Islam is one that requires me to minimize suffering whenever and wherever I see it and I’m currently at the beginning of a long journey of implementing that concept in the clothing I wear. When I saw the care that went into the design and production of Sukoon activewear, I was intrigued and relieved to see a fellow Muslimah carving out a welcome alternative to the subpar options we are usually given. So thank you for doing that, because for real you don’t have to. You could have just made a cheap product and sold it at a high markup for profit like everyone else, but it was clear to me once I slipped on my first few Sukoon products that you were operating on a different plane.
What is your relationship with fitness? How do you feel like it fits into your identity, faith, community?
My relationship with fitness will probably always be aspirational. I am by no means an athlete, just a person trying to express my gratitude to Allah for the body He has given me by using it. I spent most of my life doing the bare minimum to pass gym class, but after college I realized the habits I formed in my 20s would impact my health in my 30s onward. I ran for years, but after more races than I can count and completing a full marathon I decided to try for a new challenge. In recent years I’ve focused more on strength training, boxing, and various dance classes.
Maintaining an active exercise routine is actually directly tied to when I am able to maintain an active prayer and spiritual routine. Doing one gives me the energy and motivation to do the other, so they are very interconnected in that sense.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share about your story or your work with our community here at Sukoon Active?
Makkah Ali (@msmakkah) is an Atlanta naive currently living in Chicago. She co-hosts bi-weekly podcast that features conversations at the intersection of race, gender and Muslim life in America. If you haven’t tuned in already:
“Identity Politics is reshaping the conversation on what it means to be Muslim in America.” —Images and Voices of Hope
“The podcast is a lot like the two 28-year-olds who run it — alternately light and serious. They don’t have to ‘code switch’ — or change how they communicate — they can just be.”—NPR