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Cairo’s Muslim Youth

Olivia Arthur documents how young Muslims living in Cairo are promoting a positive message of moderate Islam

Olivia Arthur

Olivia Arthur Hala dons a pink hijab for a date on Valentine's Day. Muslim women's attitudes about the appropriate amount of make-up to wear and the proper amount of hair to reveal vary widely. Cairo, Egypt. 2009 © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos

The change in attitude towards religion in Egypt can easily be seen in the streets of Cairo. “You hardly see any women without the hijab these days,” complained my (Christian) translator. But for the young women who fill the cafes and shopping malls with their brightly coloured headscarves, this is not a regressive, conservative change. It is more about showing a sense of pride for their religion and reaffirming their Muslim identity.

Olivia Arthur Veil Shop. Forty years ago Islamic dress was rare in Egypt. Today, more than 80% of the women are estimated to wear the hijab. Cairo, Egypt. 2009 © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos
Olivia Arthur Nagla at a shopping mall in Cairo on Valentines day wears a red hijab bought especially for the occasion. Cairo, Egypt. 2009. © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos

Islam has long been influential in Egyptian society, and in 1980 an amendment to the constitution declared that any new legislation being considered must be done so in accordance with Islamic Law. But the changes in society that have taken place in the past few years have come not from the government but from general population and in particular the young.

Olivia Arthur Weekend. Girls play on fairground rides at the Gezira Youth Center in Zamalek. Cairo, Egypt. 2009. © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos
Olivia Arthur Activist in a Veil. Dalia Ziada, a champion of women's rights and free speech, translated a comic-book history of Martin Luther King into Arabic in order to promote civil disobedience. She is also (...)
Olivia Arthur Asmaa and her friends take each other's photographs on the Qasr el-Nil Bridge. Cairo, Egypt.2009 © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos
Olivia Arthur Karate Kid. Norhan, 10, returns from a training session at Shabab El-Gezira youth center. Cairo, Egypt. 2009. © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos

Young Muslim activists grown out of this new feeling of religious pride, are promoting a message of moderate Islam and using cinema, TV and the internet to spread it. Mostafa Nagar, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, writes a blog called Waves in the Sea of Change and Dalia Ziada, a Muslim feminist who started a human-rights film festival in Cairo are two examples.

Olivia Arthur Magda Amer, a female preacher, teaches students how to learn the Koran by heart using the methods of 'mind-mapping' at the Haj Ahmed Uthman Mosque. Cairo, Egypt. 2009. © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos
Olivia Arthur Activist in a Veil. Dalia Ziada, a champion of women's rights and free speech, translated a comic-book history of Martin Luther King into Arabic in order to promote civil disobedience. She is also (...)

Their belief is that Islam today is often misunderstood and distorted and they would like to show that religion is not incompatible with the modern way of life that so many young people in their country currently enjoy.

Olivia Arthur Women and their children afetr a karate training session at Shabab El-Gezira youth sports center. Cairo, Egypt. 2009. © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos
Olivia Arthur An Egyptian woman watches her children playing football at Shabab El-Gezira youth sports center. Cairo, Egypt. 2009. © Olivia Arthur | Magnum Photos