Get to Know: Sagal Muse, Founder of Muse Avenue Magazine

Sagal Muse is a Toronto-based marketing professional, entrepreneur and artist. Upon graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business​, she dove into the startup world, and began working on a B2B branding and illustration company out of her hometown’s accelerator, Communitech. Today, she is launching Muse Avenue, a digital fashion and lifestyle magazine for Muslim and women of colour.

How did you get started?

I started my entrepreneurship journey right out of business school in 2016. I specialized in marketing and was having a hard time finding a job in my field. Two days before the deadline, I learned about a startup incubator run by my school through Communitech and applied last minute with an illustration and branding related business idea. I was a part of that program for almost two years and created illustrations for small companies to use on their marketing material. By the end of year two, I realized that my passion lay in creating art with a message rather than just art used for branding purposes. This realization came to me when I created several illustration pieces for a Muslim brand called Black Orchid. The response I got after creating illustrations of diverse Muslim women was a lot more fulfilling for me than anything else. I then started to think about new startup ideas where my mission could be to inspire and empower this group of often neglected women. I explored ideas like a subscription box which soon became a modest clothing line called House of Maaliya. It was interesting because I created a small digital fashion magazine as a marketing tool to engage my customers at the time. The magazine was just a free add on to the clothing line I created, not the actual product. However, the response I received once the clothing line and magazine came out was very interesting to say the least. Everyone who followed House of Maaliya was talking about the magazine and its impact rather than the clothes. They were excited that there was finally a magazine they can refer to for modest fashion options, created by women who look just like them. I also personally realized that I enjoyed making the magazine way more than creating a clothing line. So a few months later (in January 2018) I completely revamped my idea by scrapping the clothing line, changing the name to Muse Avenue and solely focusing on creating a fashion and lifestyle magazine editions for young Muslim and women of colour living in the West.

What inspired you to create Muse Avenue Magazine?

Besides my startup journey I was inspired to create Muse Avenue magazine because of the lack of representation in the media. Sure there are many Instagram influencers who are Muslim or of colour, but I felt like that wasn’t enough. I grew up reading magazines and blogs and everything I’ve ever read or the influencers I grew up looking up to never resembled me. I could never look at a fashion spread without thinking something like, “if I made the skirt longer or the shirt less sheer then it would fit my modest style”. Likewise, I would rarely read a lifestyle or career story about an inspiring woman and see myself in her, because she never represented me the way a Muslim or women of colour could. Needless to say, there was always a lot of imagining going on.

Outside of my design and business related work, I also mentored teen girls who were primarily Muslim and of colour. Whenever I shared these experiences with them, it saddened me that years later they could also relate. So my biggest inspiration for creating Muse Avenue magazine are the young girls growing up today. I want them to have a go-to fashion and lifestyle platform where they feel inspired to dress modestly and where they feel empowered to achieve their dreams.

Can you speak to the importance of representation in the arts, specifically in fashion?

For so long there was a lack of representation in the media to the point where it [made] many young minority women feel less then or not beautiful enough. In terms of fashion, being modest was not a cool trend like it is now, so many young women struggled to find a balance between mainstream style and modesty. Today, we live in a world full of Muslim and coloured Instagram bloggers who have become token representatives of our communities. As much as I adore these women and will always cheer them on, I believe that representation is not limited to having a token woman representing an entire community of women. That token woman, I would say, is a trailblazer, change maker and a gateway to creating more opportunities, but the struggle for pushing for representation does not end with them.  Muslim and coloured women who have a platform or have the skills to make a change and open the door for even more of our community members should do exactly that. Representation in industries such as the arts means that a young girl can physically see someone doing what she always dreamed of and not only has role model to look up to, but a possible connection to help her get there.

Representation in fashion means that women of all ages can look at an image in a magazine and feel good about their look and style rather than being bombarded with subliminal messages that they need to look a certain way to fit in. In a nutshell, there are a million reasons why representation is important, but if I were to summarize it I would say without representation in the media, a whole community of women are robbed of the ability to see themselves as being more than what they are normally exposed to. Representation expands one’s mind, gives one hope, and inspires and empowers women to be more than they thought they could ever be.

What do you hope to achieve with creating a digital space like Muse Avenue magazine? Why is it important to share this work online?

My mission will always be to inspire and empower young Muslim and women of colour in all areas of their lives, while providing them with resources and tips to advance their careers, wellness and style. My vision is to become a global publication house that develops various forms of inspiring and empowering content and events for young Muslim and women of colour living in the west. Lastly, it is important to share this work online because this a struggle that young women from all over the Western world – and now with globalization, the Eastern world – experience. I hope to be able to create a community through Muse Avenue magazine, where young women from all over can come together collectively and feel inspired and empowered, while also making a safe space to discuss important topics that affect us all.

What are some of the issues you’ll be addressing in upcoming issues?

Some important issues I will be directly or indirectly addressing are:

– The representation of Muslim and women of colour in the media, arts, general careers, and fashion

– Diversity within magazines, not just in race, but also height and weight (i.e. the use of real women rather than industry specific models)

– Career challenges that Muslim and women of colour face (and tips and advice to counteract them)

– Diversity in beauty

– How to live a healthy lifestyle

– Exploring and cultivating a more creative lifestyle when this group of women are typically hindered from doing so

– Showing how modest styles can fit anyone’s wardrobe no matter if they are Muslim or not



Subscribe now to Muse Avenue to get access to the digital magazine as well as free and exclusive content.

All images courtesy of Muse Avenue.

Labour and Beauty: Looking Back on My Grandmother’s Life

By Shazlin Rahman

Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the second in the series.

In my ten years of living in Canada as an immigrant, a woman of colour and a Muslim, I’ve experienced various forms of discrimination. I’ve had someone tell me I don’t have to wear the hijab because I’m “in Canada now.” I’ve had to start my university studies all over again because my five years of postsecondary education from outside of Canada weren’t recognized. I’ve had people curse and toss a cigarette butt at me when I was out walking with my visibly Muslim friends. I now work at a nonprofit that addresses issues of race and inclusion, where I vicariously  experience the trauma of others on a daily basis.

All of this took an emotional, mental and physical toll on me. I began searching for representations of strong, trailblazing women as role models as a source of strength and healing early in 2017. Little did I know that I’d find it in someone close to me: my late grandmother, Mok.

Mok died of old age in 2012. Given the distance between here and Malaysia, returning for her funeral was out of the question and I never got the closure I needed. In grappling with my fear of forgetting her altogether, I began asking my mom about Mok—about her childhood, her marriage to my grandfather, and what she was like as a young mother. That was when I became fascinated with the collection Mok’s old batik sarongs my mom had brought back with her from Malaysia. The sarongs were valuable artefacts of Malay culture—my culture—in general and of Mok’s life in particular.

A little over a year ago I began reflecting on Mok’s resilience and ingenuity in the face of poverty through short stories; I also created artwork and sketches based on her collecting of batik sarongs. The more I explored what she meant to me, the more I discovered there were lessons hidden among different moments of her life that are deeply relevant to who I am today.

There are no records kept of her birth—which is common at the time— but Mok must have been born sometime in the early to mid-1920s. The fifth child of fourteen, she was born into crippling poverty, in one of the poorest parts of British-occupied Malaya. With a husband who was largely absent, her mother was kept busy providing for the family and Mok had to learn to fend for herself from an early age. She married my grandfather in her late teens, had three daughters and fostered multiple children despite being very poor. Working from home, she took on different jobs to make ends meet, including making batik sarongs.

I discovered that the adversities Mok overcame in her life–starting almost a century ago–are now sources of strength for me as a millennial Muslim woman of colour living in Canada today. Aspects of her life illustrate what resilience looks like for women like me. Here are three of them:

Mok’s house, viewed from the front yard. (Photo by Asad Chishti)

Mok’s House

Both my grandparents had very little when they met each other, and they brought even less into their marriage. My grandfather was a rickshaw driver and Mok helped out at her mother’s food stall at the city market in Kota Bharu, Kelantan on the east coast of Malaysia. Their first house was a simple wooden platform with rattan-woven walls and a thatched roof, built on stilts about four feet off the ground to protect against the monsoon floods. There was no electricity, no indoor plumbing and housed a single space that was sectioned off into areas for sleeping, cooking and dining. My grandparents and my aunt, the eldest of Mok’s three daughters, gradually saved up and expanded the house to include more rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. After my grandfather passed away in 1989, Mok kept the house in pristine condition for decades after, often making necessary repairs herself. “Mok’s house” as my cousins and I called it, was our favourite refuge from the city during  school holidays.

Mok’s house, viewed from the back yard. (Photo by Asad Chishti)
One of the two original school buildings of the “People’s school”. (Photo by Asad Chishti)

The “People’s School”

Although Mok never learned to read or write, all three of her daughters went onto become university educated. This is an incredible achievement, considering how poor the family was and how so many families did not educate girls beyond the primary (grade school) level.

This Sekolah Rakyat or “People’s School” was built in 1949 and it was the first school in the village where Mok lived. It was a community effort spearheaded by activists who would later become part of the fight for the country’s independence from the British in 1957. The first school building was a simple wooden rectangular building with a thatched roof, and it was divided into sections for different grades. A terrible storm later destroyed it, and the school was rebuilt in 1950 as two buildings—one for classrooms and the other as a canteen—not far from Mok’s house.  There were no fees, and everyone in the village was encouraged to attend. The teachers included those who had been educated up to the second or third grade, were able to read and write and were therefore qualified to teach. My aunt, the eldest of Mok’s three daughters, remembers standing in the corner of a classroom listening to the lessons before she was old enough to attend. She was always welcomed by the teachers and was never told to go away. Following Malaysia’s independence, the school was absorbed into the public school system, rebuilt and renamed Kampung Sireh Primary School. The original school buildings, rebuilt in 1950, still stand there today.

One of the two original school buildings of the “People’s school”. (Photo by Asad Chishti)
Close up of one of the two original school buildings of the “People’s school”. (Photo by Asad Chishti)
My aunt Hasiah, and Mok’s eldest daughter, shows me a few of the many batik sarongs from Mok’s personal collection. (Photo by Shazlin Rahman)

Batik Sarongs

Batik sarongs are the quintessential clothing item for women in the Malay archipelago. Batik is a technique where motifs are drawn or printed on fabric in wax and later filled in with fabric dye. Parts of the fabric that is covered in wax will resist the dye, thus creating a clear outline of the motifs. My curiosity about Mok’s life was sparked by the collection of batik sarongs she left behind. I learned about Mok’s work in colouring batik sarongs at home when she was a young mother, like many women like herself at the time, and later involved her three daughters to supplement the family income. Batik manufacturers would typically employ men to draw or print the motifs, and women like Mok would do the work of colouring the motifs in the comfort of their own homes. According to my aunt, it was this work that generated the surplus income that helped them slowly break out of the cycle of poverty. On my recent visit to Mok’s and my hometown of Kota Bharu, Kelantan in east Malaysia, I discovered the industry has remained largely unchanged: batik-making still came out of small, home-based operations, men were still primarily hired to draw the motifs and the colouring was done by women, often those who lived close by and were therefore able to care for their children and their homes while working.

A batik colourist at work at one of the many small batik workshops along Pantai Cahaya Bulan road, a popular tourist attraction in Kelantan, Malaysia. (Photo by Asad Chishti)

Although batik is one of the state of Kelantan as well as Malaysia’s most popular cultural exports, this value is not reflected in the remuneration given to the women in the batik industry, nor in the conditions in which they work. I explore this gap in the relationship between Malay women’s labour, beauty and the batik industry through my upcoming photo essay with photographer Asad Chishti. You can see more of my reflections on Mok’s life, batik sarongs and the batik industry at and @hersarong.

When I began my journey over a year ago to reconnect with my late grandmother and, by extension, to my Malay culture, my connection to those two aspects of my identity felt tenuous at best. Now, I’ve found a reservoir of beauty and life lessons that will remain relevant regardless of whether I’m in Canada or Malaysia.

Shazlin Rahman is a Malaysian-born, Toronto-based freelance writer and artist. She has six years of architectural education from Malaysia and Australia, a degree in Journalism from Wilfrid Laurier University and M.A. in Communication and Culture from the interdisciplinary joint program at Ryerson/York. Shazlin uses photography, abstract art and creative nonfiction to engage her audience in conversations about the resilience of women of colour.


How one photographer is changing representations of Muslim women

Earlier this month, Getty Images announced a new partnership to promote positive images of Muslim women online. Muslim Girl founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh identified how a Google search result for “Muslim women” only showed one-dimensional stock footage. There’s a lack of creative images that portray positive representations of Muslim women and truly show the diversity of their lived experiences.

Alia Youssef, a Toronto-based photographer, saw this problem and set to solve it through her work. She started capturing images of Muslim women, from all backgrounds, in spaces that are meaningful to them. It’s as simple as showing a scientist in her lab as she prepares experiments. Or an athlete that is getting ready to train. The common feature is that all the women are Muslim, and shown in unconventional ways. Well, unconventional if you are only used to seeing tired tropes and stereotypes that completely miss the diverse experiences of muslim women’s lives, and further dehumanizes them. Below you’ll see some of the portraits that comprise Youssef’s The Sister’s Series, which will be shown at the Ryerson School of Image Arts on May 4th.

Soad, an environmental design student.

“The hearts of all humans are my nationality: a quote from the poem Jawaz Al-Safa by a dear poet to my heart, Mahmoud Darwish.” Was Soad’s answer to my question “what’s your nationality?” It gets better — when asked her what sect of Islam she is she responded, “Love”. (Alia Youssef)

In Youssef’s words:

“From pre-19th century imperialism to Trump’s Muslim ban, colonial representations of Muslim women have circulated in literature and media time and time again. These representations depict Arab women as voiceless, oppressed, demure, and helpless, essentially complete victims of their patriarchal societies. This one-dimensional image is stamped repeatedly on the bodies of every single Muslim woman, all 850 million of them, Arab or not. This “sameness” has had a part in motivating a 42% increase in the number of hate crimes against Muslim women in the past three years and has become the basis for widespread Islamophobia.

The Sisters Project counters the idea that Muslim women can be painted with one brush by humanizing and diversifying the narratives of Muslim women. The project asserts that agency and individuality is broadly present in Islam, intrinsically and extrinsically, in the everyday lives of women across the globe. The portraits that make up this project show Canadian Muslim women doing and creating, showing their abilities, and excelling on all levels in their communities. Whether a kinesiology student considering medical school, an ESL teacher who eases immigrants into Canadian life, or the program manager of Ecotrust working tirelessly to preserve the British Columbian rainforest, these women make up the fabric of contemporary Canada. This project subverts labels and false associations, counters voicelessness and lack of agency, and shows women in control of their lives.”

Amal, 22-year old Somali-Canadian

When I asked Amal how she thinks she’s perceived she responded, “To be honest, being Muslim is one thing, but being a black muslim woman is the most powerful combination of things and it scares the hell out of people.” (Alia Youssef)

Dina, 22-year old kinesiology and health science student at York University.

“I think I am perceived as if I am in a shell. I know nothing. People get surprised when they  see how well I play tennis, or that I speak three languages, or that I ride bikes, or that I sing, or that I do anything normal people do.” She wants to instead be “perceived as someone who can do anything, can speak about anything, and someone educated that knows what I am talking about.” (As told to Alia Youssef.)

Randa, Kinesiology student from Egypt.

“When I asked Randa what she thinks the biggest stereotype of Muslim women are she responded, ‘That she is severely oppressed, which is the biggest joke too. Every time I hear this I laugh, I laugh at the ignorance.” (Alia Youssef).

Sahar, 33 regulatory affair specialist in pharmaceuticals from Iran.

Sahar told me if there is on thing she knows for sure it is that, “we are nothing – everything is nothing but love.” (Alia Youssef)

Lobna, 19 year old student at York University.

When I asked Lobna how she thinks she’s perceived she responded, “I don’t think I am perceived as a Muslim woman since I’m not visibly muslim, people usually don’t guess my ethnicity, but, as a woman, I think I am more perceived on my appearance than I’d like to be. I would like to be perceived as a human being without judgemental tags, and for people to get to know the person I am instead of the person I appear to be.” (Alia Youssef)

In Their Own Words, Three Muslim Women Media-makers Fight Back

On February 21st, This is Worldtown held its first live event at DAIS Gallery part of our series: Women of Colour Speaking Truths in the Media. In our launch, Amel Monsur, Executive Creative Director of VICE, Ginella Massa, Reporter for CityTV News, and Eman Idil Bare of CBC, Teen Vogue and Muslim Girl took to the stage and shared their personal experiences as female Muslim media-makers in conversation with Sana Malik, This is Worldtown’s Founder and Creative Director. Their professional backgrounds are varied and range from working as Creative Director to Prince (the artist), to presenting as Canada’s first hijabi news anchor, to reporting in isolated Canadian communities. Each one of them provides a unique perspectives as they shape new narratives and tell stories differently. Below, you can read select excerpts from this conversation, where, in their own words, these women provide powerful counter-examples to one-dimensional portraits as they disrupt the media.

On fighting Islamophobia

Amel Monsur (AM): For me, I realized I would never be able to extinguish. It’s a virus. Anti anything flourished in a way, and it doesn’t really need things to inflame or sustain it. There’s this game, we would play, when I was younger where there were these hippos that would pop out of little spaces and you would just pound them down. The only way I could find myself finishing the game was I laid my whole body across the top of the game and just was like okay, I’ll take these punches, but I could never get it, with just the tools I was given and that’s what I think happens when we try to have a response back to things that are popping up and that’s generally my sentiment when it comes to trolls, when it comes to hate speech. You have your space, but our space is bigger.

My choice has been, while the warriors of hard news journalism have a task, through cultural content to provide all of the different composites and profiles that make up this really scary group that everyone seems to be very frightened of. And you realize, it doesn’t need to be, this “hi, I’m a brown girl and I like pizza too.” I don’t have to “me too”. I don’t think that’s necessarily where we are in our phases — this lifecycle now. Very much it’s a deliberate presentation of really engaging cultural content of people that happen to fill a specific profile. And the rest of it: it’s the other side that needs to normalize.

Ginella Massa (GM): As a visible muslim, on television, it’s in your face: I am a Muslim woman. I can’t hide it, I can’t tuck it away, it’s there. I’m not somebody who typically talks a lot about religion or about my faith. I let this do the talking, and I try to focus my attention as much as I can on being a good journalist. Because that’s the measuring stick that I hope that people will use when they watch me. That’s the ways I have been trying to deal with the ignorance and Islamophobia that comes my way — especially in the last months when I did get a lot of attention from anchoring when my name was everywhere and in all these news articles internationally, and I would get all these people saying and tweeting all these horrible things, and I would just come back and say: look, these folks are saying these really horrible things, not because they’ve read my work, or watched anything I’ve done, they just saw a headline and they saw my picture and they had a problem with it. If they have criticisms about my work, about the questions that I’m asking about the way that I’m covering an issue, I’ll gladly entertain that. But if it’s just about who I am or who I am presenting to the world, that’s not my problem. I’m here to be a journalist.

(Images by Andreea Muscurel)
Ginella Massa. Photo by Andreea Muscurel of The Like Minded.

On finding your voice

Eman Idil Bare (EB):  Growing up in Saskatchewan really played a big role in wanting to be a reporter, and how I wanted to present myself, mostly because I didn’t have a safe space. The mosque wasn’t a safe space. There was a lot of anti-Blackness. It made me realize how important it is for me to be comfortable with who I am as a person.

I always say, I write for my 12 year old self. I write for little Black girls. Because I want them to be able to say, “you get it, you get me. There’s somebody who looks like me, who’s talking about issues that a lot of people think don’t exist.” Like in the Muslim community, we never talk about anti-Blackness, and if you do try to talk about it, people either try to gaslight you or tell you there’s bigger issues that you have to talk about.

AM: The twelve-year old me, at the time, was experiencing erasure in a way I was not prepared for, and I internalized it. What I would tell that 12 year old is, erase, bloom, erase, bloom, erase, bloom. You cannot be erased. And I would say that to all of the young girls that see you on TV, that read your byline, that wear your clothes. You don’t have to be excellent to be important. You have to be. 

Eman Idil Bare. Photo by Andreea Muscurel of The Like Minded.

On creating a new normal: 

EB: I want girls who have experiences like this regularly to know that they are more powerful than this. So I wrote an article about it. And there was one paragraph (that said) I don’t ever write for anyone other than young Black girls, and the reason I write is because I want young Black girls to know what power they have.

GM: Just existing in the space makes a big statement, so I try to let the work speak for itself. It was really exciting, but also really sad that it took so long, especially in this country where we talk about being multicultural and diverse and where everyone gets a chance and so on. But growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me on TV, and that can be really damaging in terms of telling you what you can and cannot do, what spaces you do and don’t belong in. People asked me all the time, did I experience racism? Or discrimination trying to get in this industry? It’s hard. I often have to say no, because it’s not blatant, it’s not in your face, because frankly no one can tell me we won’t hire you because of your hijab because that would be against the law. But that doesn’t mean those ideas don’t exist, and it’s certainly something that has stopped me for pursuing it seriously for a very long time bc you have those voices in the back of your head saying no one’s gonna hire you, no one’s gonna give you a chance, this is too big of a risk, don’t bother. So it took me a really long time to silence those voices and to say, no I can do this. I do belong here. But I often felt like I had to walk twice as hard to get half the recognition. It was really exciting for me to achieve that milestone.

AM: I was obsessed with finding out what was the most subtle way we were being influenced, and I realized it was the media and to be like, oh this person’s okay, she’s wearing a hijab and she’s on camera and this woman’s got a byline in Teen Vogue. And to end up infiltrating into people’s life, and you look around and you’re surrounded. And this is your community. And that’s what keeps me motivated, is to see the little things that are being planted.

On the burden of representing various identities: 

EB: I developed this growing up in Saskatchewan. (I told myself) I am the norm. I don’t care how other people see me, being a Black Muslim girl is the most normal thing in the world. So if my best friend is Russian-Ukrainian and isn’t asked to represent all people who are Russian-Ukrainian, then I’m not going to represent all people who are Ethiopian-Somali.

GM: I was feeling this burden that I had to give the right voice. I’m giving an opinion, but I can’t speak for all Muslims. At some point, I had to come to a place and say it’s okay, I can come to a place that speaks to only my experience (…) because if I didn’t speak up about these things, no one else would. There would be no one else to do it.

You do feel a responsibility to take those moments and spaces, and the little moments that you have. It’s a challenge, but you just have to remind yourself that I can only speak for myself and my experience. I don’t have to carry the Islamic faith on my shoulders, or all Black people my shoulders, not all People of colour on my shoulders. I can speak to what my experience is and hopefully that will resonate with some people.

AM: “I’m always tired.” You can’t say that, I’m so tired. I’m tired from questions, from micro aggressions. But then you get to a space, and you think: should this be a cathartic space? We know now that we’re not isolated, that we have each other and that there’s an entire ethos out there that represents and feels like us too.

I had been through all of that where I was identified as the only and was asked to represent everyone, and I had so many different sectors and profiles of people I had to represent and there was this self-imposed perfectionism that came with it and I thought I have to be double, quadruple, triple and I ended up paralyzing myself and I thought, I can’t be. And I don’t get to f*ck up.

A lot of times I would  go home and I would say, forget this, I’m not going back. No one gets this. You cannot change history and centuries of systemic Orientalism and exploitation. But you can. You can. Because everyone is seated in different pockets and together we’re this chain. And so I started being okay with the person who represented different things because then I get asked about female stories that go out, or I just offer my opinion. I’m fine with it now. I’m actually okay with it. I have given myself the latitude to make mistakes but I have people that I go to and I say: can you help me frame this in a way that it gets pushed through the system, because what are we here to do. To disrupt the system and create a new one.


Here’s are some highlights in a video of the event: