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The Irony of Oppression

According to Google, the definition of oppression is the prolonged, cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority. And according to UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, the burqa is a symbol of oppression and is the latest headline act (so to speak) of the party’s attempt to gain favour. Politicians have used Muslim women as targets for criticism as well as scapegoats for a few years now, however Nuttall’s main points (in his thoroughly inaccurate and logic-deprived argument) are that the burqa poses a security risk, prevents integration and is oppressive against women.
Has Paul Nuttall or indeed anyone else for that matter harboring these views on a public platform ever considered having a normal conversation with a woman who wears a burqa? One tired rhetoric that has been regurgitated constantly is that this garment denies women a voice because their faces are fully covered and it therefore has no place in modern British society. In actual fact, what denies Muslim women in Britain a voice is not providing them with a public platform to verbally discuss their thoughts, concerns and opinions. Faces may be covered, but I’m pretty sure that vocal chords are not. Yet, there are people who make those decisions for us every day and decide that because of the way we choose to express our faith we’re automatically oppressed, repressed…any other form of “essed”.

A classic example? David Cameron. He wasn’t talking about the burqa specifically however there was the classic “Muslim women are traditionally subservient” – I’d love to know how many of us told him that in order for him to reach that conclusion.
It’s the same notion of a decision being made for us without a) our consent or input and b) the most BASIC forms of research. By basic research I mean a conversation, a real, human conversation. A great portion of society love to talk about Muslim women in Britain, but not talk with Muslim women in Britain.

This stems back to an equally infuriating trend where as Muslim women, our bodies and choices are constantly used as political canvases without us having any say in how the picture is painted.

That’s the first step in bringing people together, actually sitting down and being willing to find out about what you don’t know. As far as I’m aware there haven’t been any conversations between Muslim women and Paul Nuttal but somehow he has given multiple TV interviews and stated that the burqa hinders integration, which made me think of visibility and the fear of the unknown. The general consensus is that we’re afraid of what we do not know and what we cannot see, with the burqa it’s a case of “I can’t see your face, therefore I can’t make an instant summation of your identity but I’m not sure about saying hello either”. At the same time, there’s also this constant need to know why Muslim women in Britain do (insert anything here).

And funnily enough, “because it’s my own personal choice and how I choose to express myself as a Muslim and connect to my faith” hasn’t been deemed acceptable. This deepens the irony even further due to ignorant press publications (yes The Sun, I mean you) constantly demanding us to answer for our choices as individuals.
If we choose to wear the hijab or burqa, it becomes everything that defines us and we’re ‘victims of oppression’. If we don’t, we become examples of women who have ‘broken barriers’ and have opted for a more modern way of life. If we wear make-up, we’re not modest enough. If we don’t wear make-up, we don’t make enough of an effort to present ourselves. If we’re practising Muslims, we apparently don’t integrate with society. If we speak out against prejudice, injustice and stereotypes we’re told to calm down and not be so opinionated. If we choose not to because we know that we will receive verbal backlash, we then become mere doormats who have been silenced by the ‘archaic’ rules of our religion.
Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Second question: has any harm ever come to anyone in the UK (this article is strictly about the issue in the UK and is not speaking on behalf of other countries) due to a woman wearing a burqa or hijab?
This stems back to an equally infuriating trend where as Muslim women, our bodies and choices are constantly used as political canvases without us having any say in how the picture is painted.
In the aftermath of the attack in Nice last year, The Sun published a column written by Kelvin Mackenzie with the headline “Why did Channel 4 have a presenter in a hijab fronting coverage of Muslim terror in Nice?”. To quote the article, he pointed out that the journalist covering the attack “…was not one of the regulars – but a young lady wearing a hijab. Her name is Fatima Manji and she has been with the station (Channel 4 news) for four years. Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?”
The full article is attached below, but let’s delve into exactly how McKenzie’s words exemplify Muslim women being used as political canvases:

“Not one of the regulars-but a young lady wearing a hijab” – So according to Mackenzie a Muslim woman wearing the hijab is not to be considered as regular, but something that unequivocally removes her from the rest of society.
“Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?” – So just because Fatima Manji is a reporter who identifies as a Muslim, that automatically puts her in the same category as a terrorist who carried out the attack. Right. Got it.

And then there’s this: “Who was in the studio representing our fears?”
This is probably the most dangerous and divisive phrase in the entire piece. Why would the fears of a Muslim for the safety of fellow human beings be any different to the fears of the general British public? Or do we not count as being part of the general public? All of this this was pinned on just one individual who was doing her job like everyone else.
Despite this, a journalist found herself questioned, scrutinised and placed next to those terrorists simply because of the fact that she was wearing a hijab.
Muslim women in Britain did not have anything to do with these so-called categories or separations being created. Too often do we have parts of our identities be it our faith or the way we choose to live as women taken away from us, then thrown back in our faces as the reason for why there’s ill in the world today or why we can’t achieve our goals.
We do not need to be told by the likes of Paul Nuttall and his ilk that our ways of life or a garment expressing devotion to faith are symbols of oppression.
Because like the very definition of oppression, this constant exercising of so-called political authority on behalf of Muslim women living in Britain today without listening to what we have to say has been prolonged, cruel and above all, unjust.

by Raisa Butt

Raisa is a London born -Hong Kong raised – Pakistani currently working as a secondary English teacher but her love for writing both creatively and academically has never wavered. Her particular interests lie in exploring concepts of gender, feminism and multiculturalism in works of fiction, non-fiction and in the pieces she writes about wider societal issues which affect young Muslim women today.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

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What are British Values?

By Anjum Peerbacos


David Cameron visits the Harris Academy in Bermondsey

David Cameron visits the Harris Academy Bermondsey where he meets with students and teachers.


“Eating Fish n Chips Miss” was the response when I asked my Year 9 class. I posed this question as David Cameron has asked teachers up and down the country to teach our young people “British Values”, but as a person born and bred in Great Britain, I’m not entirely sure what he means.

Do I agree with the Year 9 students? Is being British eating fish and chips on a Friday? Well then in that case I’m very British, the school canteen serves fins and chips every Friday and the alternative can be limited. Or is it going to a sporting event and standing and swearing your allegiance and loyalty to the Queen as the national anthem was blasted out of the speakers in the stadium. I did this yesterday at the Olympic Park whilst watching a basketball game with my family. Is this being British or instilling British Values?

Or is it supporting team GB regardless of the catastrophic defeat which they claimed! Every basket, foul, challenge roared through the supporters in the crowd. Is this being inherently British? If so then that’s a big yes for me.

Or is it supporting Andy Murray at Wimbledon, or Mo Farah at the Olympics? Tick

Or is it merely putting the kettle on in a crisis? Or when celebrating? Or having a chat with friends? Or having tea and cake in the afternoon? If that’s the case then I’m definitely British. The afternoon tea and cake is a staple in our household, so that must put us high up in the Britishness stakes.

Or is it the painful politeness of being trodden on and then apologising to the person who has done the treading?

Or being so extremely excruciatingly close to someone and still not uttering a word, in other words, on the crowded underground train during rush hour. Sounds extremely British. Then again, by that measure, I am definitely British.

Or is being British never crying in public, “I don’t cry, I’m British” taken from the children’s movie “Planes”. Yup not me, cry like a baby behind closed doors but never, ever in public.

The list could go on and on, of course, but what does Cameron actually mean? I actually believe that the tolerance and acceptance and the humanity in Great Britain makes it Great. Charity events, humanitarian aid, people feeling persecution from all over the world being able to seek refuge here; that’s what makes us Great Britain. Having an understanding of the value of human life, all human life makes us Great Britain.


Anjum Perrbacos is a mother writer living, teaching and learning, in 21st century London. Of Asian origin (beige- ish), wearing a hijab – not a terrorist! A Londoner through and through and proud to be so. Currently Vice Chair of local Constituency Labour Party. Promoting Political engagement within diverse communities. You can follow her on Twitter @Mammaanji or Facebook:
Image credits: Number 10 on Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

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#TraditionallySubmissive – An Interview with Dr Sukaina Hirji

Dr Sukaina Hirji organiser of Twitter campaign #TraditionallySubmissive

Dr Sukaina Hirji organiser of Twitter campaign #TraditionallySubmissive

Last month the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, wrote in The Times newspaper that a significant number of British Muslim women could speak little or no English language. He wrote:

“Consider this: new figures show that some 190,000 British Muslim women — or 22 per cent — speak little or no English despite many having lived here for decades. 40,000 of these women speak no English at all.”

In his piece, which was just over a 1000 words, the Prime Minster put forward that British Muslim women are dealing with a variety of injustices and challenges – from Forced Genital Mutilation (FGM) to gender segregation and isolation – the root causes of which could be attributed to what he described as “passive tolerance”, by wider society to some cultural practices.

According to The Telegraph, he also reportedly “privately suggested that one of the main reasons young men are vulnerable to radicalisation is the “traditional submissiveness of Muslim women”“. These particular comments were met with incredulity and ridicule by many British Muslim women and beyond. Dr Sukaina Hirji , organised a Twitter Storm, under the hashtag #TraditionallySubmissive (the hashtag itself was coined by author Shelina Janmohamed) to respond to David Cameron’s comments. The Twitter campaign resulted in over 30,000 British Muslim Women (and men), tweeting furiously at the Prime Minister.

At She Speaks We Hear we loved reading the tweets by thousands of inspirational Muslim women, who took part in the Twitter storm to tweet their photos and stories @David_Cameron. So we thought it would be awesome to speak to Dr Sukaina Hirji, the woman who organised the #TraditionallySubmissive Twitter campaign. The hashtag campaign made global headlines, and positively raised the profile of everyday Muslim women everywhere. See our interview with her below.

SSWH: So Sukaina, please tell us a little about yourself.

SH: I was born in Birmingham, my parents moved to the city from Tanzania after marriage. My father had moved to the UK originally in 1973, where he obtained a degree in Pharmacy from Sheffield University. Like many at that time, my parents came with very little, but through sacrifice and a great deal of hard work, they put my two younger brothers and I through education, as well as instilling in us the importance of contributing and giving back to society. We moved to north west London in 1991, where I completed my schooling, and in 1999 I started my medical degree at the University of Manchester. I have to say that the five years I spent at university were fantastic. It was a wonderful experience living ‘up north’ and the university itself offered me not only a fantastic education in my chosen profession, but also in politics and campaigning. The 9/11 attacks on the world trade centre took place during this period. The subsequent war on ‘terror’ and the involvement of students like myself in the anti-war campaign was significant and empowering.

I graduated in 2004, and married my soul-mate in 2005.

I qualified as a GP in 2009, and have since been working in Hertfordshire. I have three wonderful (albeit very active) sons!

“I took the Prime Minister’s comments on all fronts very personally.”

SSWH: Why did you organise the Twitter Storm? What was it about these particular comments from the Prime Minister, alongside his policy to teach migrant and Muslim women English, that motivated you to organise a campaign in response?

SH: I took the Prime Minister’s comments on all fronts very personally. He suggested that up to 22% of Muslim women are unable to speak English. To add insult to injury, he then loosely linked this issue to FGM, forced marriages and radicalisation. Let me deal with all these issues separately.

With regards to learning the English language, I and all Muslim women would have welcomed an initiative from the Prime Minister had it been universal and pledging significant levels of funding for English classes for all ethnic minority groups. I certainly do not take any offence at being given an opportunity to educate and empower individuals. However when a policy such as this is targeted at a specific group, the issues conflated and linked with other complex factors, then it becomes unacceptable.

Female Genital Mutilation is by no means a practice exclusive to Islam. It’s practice predates the advent of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Egypt, where this practice is particularly common, it is carried out by the Coptic Christians as well as the Muslims. Muslim scholars of the highest rank have openly condemned this practice. Amongst these, both the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University in Egypt and the Grand Marja Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq have issued rulings condemning the practice, saying that it has no place in Islam.

The Royal College of General Practitioners have stated in all their training material that FGM is NOT a practice linked with ANY religion! FGM should absolutely be eradicated, and should undoubtedly be condemned regardless of who practices it.

Forced marriages again are a very emotive issue, and the PM again has enforced a negative stereotype by linking this to Muslim women. Islam does not condone this practice and it is not specific to Muslims. However it’s tradition is rooted very deeply in culture especially within the Indian Subcontinent. Many people are also unaware that it is also practiced in other communities, for example amongst the Irish traveller community, Eastern European communities and also some Chinese communities from the mainland.

Finally, the PM mentioned in his article that there is no evidence of any association between radicalisation and Muslim women who are unable to speak English. Yet he still made an association between these two issues. Radicalisation is well-known to be a very complex problem and a whole range of factors are thought to contribute towards it. Radicalisation is frequently linked to Islam and Muslims, but we see within Britain and across the Western world, the rise of the far-right, and radicalisation within these communities. The horrific attack in Norway by Anders Breivik, when he killed 77 innocent people, the intimidation by the English Defence League of Muslim communities and the ‘Christian Patrols’ carried out by groups such as Britain First are all examples of this.

Additionally, later on in the week the PM suggested that he would consider deporting those (Muslim) women who came to Britain on a spousal visa and did not learn English within a certain time frame. A policy such as this will only seek to isolate the Muslim community further and do little to further the cause of integration and a strong society.

In my view the Prime Minister is a very politically astute individual and chose his words carefully, knowing that they would enforce negative stereotypes of Muslim women. I wanted to create a campaign that (for once) would show Muslim women in a positive and vibrant light, and as a significant part of British society.

SSWH: How did you feel about the reaction to the campaign? In particular the media coverage and response on Twitter.

SH: The response was phenomenal and totally unexpected. By the end of the storm at 9pm on the 24th of January, we had garnered 18,000 tweets, including support from JK Rowling who had retweeted a few of the fabulous pictures! A lot of Muslim men and non-Muslims also contributed to the lively campaign and many tweets praised our campaign for standing up to the Prime Minister’s remarks, and being NOT #TraditionallySubmissive! We had extensive media coverage in the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Guardian as well as Buzzfeed and BBC Radio 5live!

We also trended on twitter in the United States & Canada, and have received media coverage in those countries. Across the board I think we got over 30,000 tweets! Interestingly, the German media also caught onto the story!

SSWH: What do you say to critics who say that the #TraditionallySubmissive hashtag was a disservice to Muslim women who are caught up within traditionalist Muslim cultures and unable to to be socially assertive?

“This campaign showed that Muslim women are diverse and can defy this image.”

SH: I have to say their comments surprised me, particularly as some of these organisations claim to campaign on the issue of Islamophobia and women’s rights. This campaign absolutely was not about denying the existence of challenges that face the Muslim community. It was a protest by women who felt they had been misrepresented by the Prime Minister. Often when Muslim women are portrayed in the media, it is in a negative light, associated with oppression, concealment and lack of education. This campaign showed that Muslim women are diverse and can defy this image. Also it demonstrates that not all Muslim men are misogynistic and oppressive.

The phrase ‘Traditionally Submissive’ (which, by the way the Prime Minister has yet to deny using) is a very loaded term. It implies that Muslim women are inherently submissive due to the nature of their religion; Islam. It was wrong for the Prime Minister to use this term in reference to us.

SSWH: Are you against Muslim women learning English?

SH: Absolutely no! However, I’m against issues being portrayed in a misleading fashion, I’m against vulnerable groups being targeted unfairly, and I’m against policies that discriminate. And this initiative by the Prime Minister ticked all those boxes. We need properly funded English language courses for all newcomers to this country, not a paltry £20m thrown at Muslim women! I humbly request the Prime Minister to use this money alternatively on helping vulnerable families such as the Rutherford’s, who have been affected deeply by the bedroom tax. It is unacceptable that these devoted grandparents have to choose between a cut in their housing benefit and moving home, whilst trying to care for their severely disabled grandson!

SSWH: How do you think Muslim women who are dealing with serious challenges like FGM or forced marriage, can be supported ?

SH: ANY woman who is faced with these challenges should speak to her GP, practice nurse, social worker, or indeed get in touch with one of the many charitable organisations who work in these areas, to get support. I urge women to try and speak out about these issues so they can be dealt with. Communities themselves should also be aware of whether these practices are being carried out in their communities and try to support victims. These practices are not acceptable and should not be tolerated.

SSWH: Finally, who inspires you and what advice would you give to anyone who wishes to organise a campaign?

SH: My inspiration comes from Mary, mother of Jesus. Her story in the Quran is truly inspiring, from her birth where she was expected to be male and the Messiah, to becoming the first female servant of the temple, who then  gave birth to Jesus as a virgin. She broke all the cultural barriers that existed towards women in her time – God loved her and elevated her status for this. This is an example for all women to adhere to, and one that God promotes in the Quran; the most valuable and righteous of women are those who submit ONLY to the truth, and not to anything or anyone else.

I also draw a lot of strength from Syeda Zainab, the daughter of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib. Her courage in the face of extreme oppression and her eloquent response to the regime at the time put many men to shame. She is the embodiment of justice and courage.

Finally, I believe firmly in the utmost importance of education…for all, both men and women, to truly eradicate ignorance. To quote James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey  who said:

“To educate a man is to educate an individual, but to educate a woman is to liberate a nation”


Our thanks to Dr Sukaina Hirji for taking the time to speak with us.

Interview by Akeela Ahmed

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and interviewee, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image courtesy of Dr Sukaina Hirji @SukainaHirji







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How can I prove myself to be more “British” to live up to Mr Cameron’s standards?

David Cameron arrives at Qatar University 2011

David Cameron arrives at Qatar University 2011

My Reactions to Cameron’s new counter Terrorism Speech

by Robina Saeed


Ah Mr Cameron, where do I begin? I must admit I’ve never been his biggest fan. Under his leadership we saw austerity levels reach the highest they’ve ever been, support cut off to the disabled and homeless shelters and food banks pushed to breaking point. Now he’s done terrorising the most vulnerable in society, his new thing these days seems to be telling British Muslims to be more British and less…well, Muslim. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his Public speech outlining is new plans for countering terrorism.

As a young British Muslim woman belonging and identity have always been fairly wobbly concepts to me. Especially when I was growing up, the small town I’m from couldn’t get any less diverse.

My town has no mosque, no sparkly Asian clothes shop, or fruit and veg, cash and carry, in sight. Perhaps the only sign of “muslimness” is the odd halal takeaway in the town centre. My town was  also one seat away from voting in a UKIP majority in the local elections and even made it into the Guinness world book of records for the most pubs on a single stretch of road!  Growing up until I went to College I’d always been the only non-white person in class. The hostility however reaches beyond the towns demographics and planning.  From my grandma having rocks thrown at her for the way she dressed, or to having the words “PAKI TURF” spray painted in red on our front door my family and I have had more than our fair share of racism over the years. So although technically I was British, born and bred in a small town in Manchester, growing up I never felt British enough. I always felt slightly out of place.  In my eyes and experiences you will never be whole heartedly considered a true Brit, without any questions asked like “where are you from?” unless you are White.

Now after overcoming the difficult teenage years I feel British to my bones. It’s part of my Identity. An integral part.

Now after overcoming the difficult teenage years I feel British to my bones. It’s part of my Identity. An integral part. It’s not something I contemplate when I wake up in the morning when I put on my headscarf or drink my tea. I don’t think to myself “hmm am I feeling more British today or shall I act more Muslim”. It doesn’t work like that.  So how can I prove myself to be more “British” in order to live up to Mr Cameron’s standards? It’s an impossible task. Yet time and time again Mr Cameron has pointed the finger at British Muslims demanding we need to assimilate into British society more and show our British values. It’s confusing.

I also fear for the generation younger than me. Teenage years are a universal nightmare but I think, we all also agree that teenage years are fundamental in shaping a young person’s identity and worldview.  Differences in our appearances and beliefs are what makes life interesting, and these differences in identity should be celebrated and encouraged during childhood, not questioned. Imagine the struggles of a young Muslim child, now growing up in school. It’s a toxic environment out there. Whether we admit it or not, children have been born into a society where the word ‘terrorist’ automatically triggers the word ‘Muslim’. Growing up becomes even harder when the Media and your very own Prime Minister and his cabinet put your identity under the spot light. How can a child love and grow into his or her Islamic identity when it is portrayed as something unstable and easily warped by Mr Cameron?

In his speech Mr Cameron said the root cause of terrorism is extremist ideology itself. I would like to know from where he made such a bold claim?  Myself and the other 99% of Muslims worldwide are yet to come across anywhere in our teachings that encourage extremism. All the research I have come across also suggests Mr Cameron is wrong.  Counter-terrorism specialist Prof Andrew Silke says research shows that people are drawn to terrorism more because of “identity issues” than ideology. Interviews with Ex Al Qaeda members from the UK also all show that the draw towards extremism was identity based and a feeling of not belonging here or there.  In my eyes if anything, under this new strategy, more young Muslims are likely to feel out of touch with their identity and question it. They will either turn their backs completely on Islam, because of the constant demonization it faces, or do a 180, and actually be drawn to extremism.

Those are my reactions to the new counter-terrorism plans. Poorly researched, confusing and damaging to the youth.

Robina is an energetic 20 year old Human Geography student from Manchester. She enjoys writing in a matter of fact and casual tone, sharing insights in politics, social life, religion, peace and war.  She has a Youtube channel raising awareness of conflicts worldwide, as well as an easy-to-read personal blog ‘Robina Writes’. You can also follow her on Twitter @ROBtotheINA

Image courtesy of Number 10, David Cameron arrives at Qatar University 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.