One day, while browsing Facebook, I came across this image. I was immediately drawn to it and found myself wondering, “Who is this cosplayer?” I quickly discovered that her name is Dalia Ashraf, an Egyptian artist who enjoys making costumes, modeling them, and just so happens to wear a hijab. For those of you wondering, a hijab is a veil that covers the head and chest, and is worn by some Muslim women.
I thought that by incorporating the hijab into her cosplay, it was beautiful and brave in terms of artistic expression. However, after exchanging brief messages back and forth with Dalia, my assumptions were debunked. I discovered that not only did she want to be recognized simply as a cosplayer, but that, to her, there is no option to remove the hijab. According to Dalia, “My hijab, skin color, and how I look are all things I can’t change, but through my cosplay, I can make many people love me!”
Today, Dalia is a 26-year-old Muslim woman living in Cairo, Egypt. She recently won first place at Heunicon 2016, one of the largest conventions in Egypt. I began our conversation by asking questions about her personal life, career, and what’s on the horizon for her work.
[Author’s Note: In many places, I have edited graciously for spelling, grammar, and fluidity.]
Alyssa: Is there a large population of gamers in Egypt? If so, what is the gaming culture like there?
Dalia: I was born and live in Cairo, Egypt. I think that there are many gamers here in Egypt. There’s really no difference between cultures. Although, I do have to say that there’s a lack of technology and internet access in Egypt, so gamers find it hard to reach the maximum level of expertise!
Alyssa: How did you first become interested in doing cosplay and/or gaming in general?
Dalia: I have only been interested in gaming for one year and I discovered it through one of my friends! So, it’s important to note that I’m still a beginner in the industry, but I have enjoyed every moment so far.
Alyssa: What is your favorite part about cosplay?
Dalia: My favorite part about cosplay is going to the events! I think cosplay events are a place to share happiness and creativity. There, I have some of my best moments and I love to see people’s reactions when they see me for the first time. When I get positive feedback on my outfits, it makes me feel better about myself! I also love meeting new people and listening to what they think about my work.
Alyssa: Can you tell me more about Heunicon, where you won your first place award? What type of convention was it? Were there a lot of people?
Dalia: Heunicon supports costume playing in Egypt, including, but not limited to anime costumes, gaming costumes, and comic-based costumes. Heunicon also supports dancers and artists. At the last Heunicon convention, I won first place! It was truly an amazing experience! Because of my win, I received a ticket to compete in the Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) in Dubai on April 7, 2016. I am really excited about it. The event will be full of cosplayers, so it will be more difficult, but definitely worth it!
Alyssa: I noticed that you were dressed up as Vi from League of Legends. Do you play any other games besides League?
Dalia: Unfortunately, not at the moment. I will start learning some more games after I finish my PhD degree.
Alyssa: What subject is your PhD in? How about your other degrees?
Dalia: I graduated in 2010 from the Cairo University Art Department. Now, I am an Assistant Professor of drawing and painting! My masters is in primitive art.
Alyssa: In his essay for The State of Play, Hussein Ibrahim talked about what it’s like to play the “targeted” faction in a variety of shooters. Along with Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Germans, Arabs have synonymously been linked with the word “terrorist” in games. How do you feel about this stereotype?
Dalia: Well, to be honest, as an Arab I always find it offensive how they address us in video games. However, there are also many games in which Arabs are not the “bad guys.” I guess this image is due to the way Arabs are portrayed in the West. Westerners often stereotype or relate Arabs to terrorism, which is completely not true. We are completely against violence and all forms of terrorism!
Alyssa: You said that there are several games where Arabs are not portrayed as the “bad guys.” Can you share some of them?
Dalia: Ramzi’s Rumble is the first game that I can think of offhand. Also, in most MMOS like Silkroad Online and League of Legends, there are Arabic-themed characters that are not portrayed as the “bad guys,” but rather as a dignified class in the game.
[Author’s Note: Ramzi’s Rumble is an indie game that deliberately depicts a simplified take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more information on the portrayal of Arabs in Ramzi’s Rumble, you should read “Ramzi’s Rumble: Arabs in games are rarely shown as the good guys.”]
Alyssa: Lastly, have you suffered any negative comments, not only as a woman, but also as a Muslim in the gaming industry?
Dalia: To my surprise, no. I think all people see me as a creative because I cosplay with my hijab. I feel like I now have more and more support and love than ever before! I want thank everyone from all countries who support me!
Alyssa: Go get ‘em, Dalia. We wish you luck at MEFCC!