This month’s Official Hijabi of the Month of March is the exceptionally talented Ala Hamdan, one of our favorite Muslimah icons.
Ala Hamdan is an award-winning filmmaker. She has received awards on national and international levels for her short films, advertisements, and PSAs.
Before entering the film industry, Ala started as a photographer, where she also received awards and participated in photography exhibitions in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey and The United States. After directing a few short films, she went to Florence – Italy to study film directing at New York Film Academy (NYFA).
She works with online platforms and networks such as Aljazeera, Mawdoo3.com, the UN, and Save the Children.
In her works, Ala focuses on humanitarian causes, uplifting causes, and social awareness; she also blogs and V-logs about her journeys around the world.
Some of her PSAs reached over 6 million views via social media and were screened during international conferences. She also directs a web series titled (While in..) documenting her travels and experiences. This project is close to her heart as she is the one filming it with her own professional camera. Ala is also frequently invited to several occasions as a speaker on topics like New Media, Social Media, Women in Media, Islamophobia and Youth Empowerment, because of her vast experience and brilliant insights.
She has toured the US and around the Arab/MENA region. Ala constructs filmmaking and screenwriting workshops with her husband – Tareq Baddar -, he is the producer of most of her work.
We had a chat with Ala Hamdan to discover more about her journey, challenges in the media, and career tips & advice.
When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
When I was about 13 years old, my mom sat me down and said: “Did you think about wearing Hijab?”. Personally, I never actually thought about it. I was in a Taekwondo team, and aiming at the black belt. At first, I struggled, I felt Hijab took me away from what I love the most, then I realized that the society did not deal with Hijab well. There was a stereotype that came with Hijab which is that you can’t do sports, you can’t be an artist, you can’t be in media…etc. Since then, I decided I wanted to break this stereotype to become one of the first Hijabi filmmakers.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Wear it because it represents something you deeply believe in, and it says what’s in your heart about Islam without you saying a word. Don’t look at it as an obligation, rather than an identity.
Describe a typical day in your life as a travel filmmaker.
Before a trip, I make sure I pick colorful and joyful outfits, personally, it makes me feel better from the inside and I believe it also makes people see the hijab from a new perspective.
Then I collect my gear. I always have everything charging a night before the trip. I use Canon mostly. It’s important to have a backup battery and a backup hard disk, these things might be too expensive in different countries.
I plan my day from early morning to late night, I use every minute to discover new places, meet new faces, and film new angles probably never shot that way before. I also love hearing about the history of an area, or a personal story of a person before I film him/her, I feel my footage are more realistic and deeper when I give that person 10 minutes of my time.
A few months ago while working on a project I met my husband, Tareq Baddar, who is a film producer. He became my travel partner as a producer and editor. Editing needs a very unique and patient character, and luckily Tareq was that person and he edits my travel films, picks the music and adds the sound effects needed.
What or who is your biggest inspiration?
It’s hard to pick one. On a religious level, I keep reminding myself that one of the most important Islamic scholars of all time is a woman, her name is Aicha. On another level, Bobby Fisher, an American Chess player, his story of winning and losing and then holding the world champ’s title always inspires me. He worked day and night until he finally realized his dream.
As a prominent hijabi personality in the media, how do you overcome the challenges and obstacles?
Whenever I face obstacles because of my Hijab, I consider them a challenge right away. I work harder and put more effort to prove that I deserve this job/position/title/spot/opportunity just like everyone else. I SHOW rather than just TELL them. This is actually a rule in the filmmaking world (Show don’t tell).
I remember once, a women in Italy stopped me as I was directing a short film, she said: “I love how you carry your religion around with you”. This touched me.
What is your best career tip/advice?
Along the path to your goal, some will throw stones, others will throw words, keep your head high, your mind clear and remind yourself “No one can stop you unless you let them”.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the Muslim world today and how do you think we can overcome it?
Self-presentation for Muslims is one of the biggest challenge facing the Muslim world today. Despite the New Media, and the different online platforms Muslims can use to reflect the real identity of Islam, we are still way back in this area. We lack professional filmmakers -a gap I am working on filling, we are behind in the news industry, and Muslim barely have any professional TV channel that represents who they are to hopefully break those negative stereotypes about them.
I feel Muslims sometimes invest in the wrong spots, like building an expensive mosque, or having an expensive Eid gathering, while I see this money is more useful in training workshops for the youth, scholarships opportunities, and building media platforms rather than keep denying what other channels say about us. We need to become proactive. An action, not only a reaction.
Favorite Quote or Hadith of the Prophet?
Prophet Mohammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “If the Final Hour comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it.”
It simply says, never stop giving this world all you got until the very last minute. Never stop inspiring others!
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