Muslim Activists: Fighting Abuse With Fashion

Altamash Iftikhar by Kristen Minogue

A shirt that reads “I will appreciate your mind, body and soul” might seem more appropriate for a yoga class than a weightlifting session. But Altamash Iftikhar wears his to the gym all the time.

The 25-year-old medical student at Michigan State launched, an online nonprofit selling T-shirts against domestic violence last June. Iftikhar said he welcomes the opportunity to get more people involved, and the part-fashion, part-social action statement makes a good conversation starter. In this edited Q&A, Iftikhar dishes on life as an activist, an entrepreneur and a Muslim man in the battle against abuse.

What inspired you to start a nonprofit for domestic violence in America?

You have cancer, world hunger, AIDS, and all of them are causes that have already been brought to light to the public, and there were well-established organizations – and there was a lot of, I don’t want to say publicity, but there was a lot of awareness – and there was already a lot of money being raised and things being done to help those causes. But domestic violence is one cause that I actually came up with that really isn’t discussed in our society, and it’s actually a very, very common problem.

Has your faith as a Muslim impacted your stance?

Anything I do is a reflection of my religion. I’ve always been taught to stand up for what’s right and stand against what’s evil. I never was taught that you only do this for Muslims. If something bad’s happening to anyone who is a Hindu, a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, I don’t care. Their background doesn’t matter to me, because I’ve always been taught and raised that when you see something bad that’s happening you go and you stand up against it, and you stay. You either try to stop it, or if you can’t stop it, you should at least speak up against it.

Has it raised any eyebrows, either your being a Muslim or being a man taking such an active stance against domestic violence?

Obviously because I’m a man, that’s kind of a first mini-shocker. And I guess people don’t really know I’m a Muslim until I speak to them. And I’ve had many conversations with many people just on the street, and I’ll give them my business card, and because my full name is Altamash, they’re always like, ‘Oh, that’s a unique name. I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m Muslim.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Wait, but…’ And that’s where the eyebrow really is raised, because they’re kind of like, ‘Wait. I thought Muslims are supposed to beat their wives.’

People are surprised, but I think it’s great because at the same time it really opens up dialogue for me to try to teach people, ‘Okay, your perception of Islam is not 100 percent correct. Let me do my best to explain to you what Islam means to me.’

Do you think enough men are involved in the movement?

Obviously there are a lot of women involved in domestic violence because I guess they can personally relate to it. I’m kind of ashamed as a man that more men aren’t involved, because these are our mothers, they’re our sisters, they’re our daughters. I mean, they’re us.

Why T-shirts?

There’s the Gap RED campaign for AIDS, and then there’s Lance Armstrong’s yellow rubber band. I wanted to take the fashion concept of the RED Campaign and then I guess you could say the popularity of Lance Armstrong’s rubber band, and I wanted to do something like that for domestic violence. So I came up with this design of different phrases all over the shirt. The white shirts are for men, the black shirts are for women, just different phrases that men and women live by by buying the shirt.

What do you plan to do with your profits?

My long-term goal is to actually develop a scholarship fund for kids who grew up in houses where domestic violence was present, because a lot of these kids are at a much higher risk of getting either abused or locked up or incarcerated. And I want to hopefully try to give these kids a chance to get ahead in life and succeed against being part of a traumatic experience like that.


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