She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


2 Comments

Islamic feminism – what’s it all about? Here’s seven reasons why Muslim women are demanding faith-based change

Islamic feminism is a term that for some may seem like an oxymoron. Isn’t feminism a secular movement? Aren’t feminists often fighting religious orthodoxy? Well the truth is that feminism is about women’s choice, women’s empowerment and women’s equality – for women of all faiths and none. 

For women like myself who identity with a specific faith tradition, we don’t see God as patriarchal, we don’t believe that our divine Creator is a misogynist and we don’t see our faith at odds with gender equality. Of course not! I certainly for one wouldn’t be a Muslim if I ever thought that was true.

However, what is true, is that just as in secular spaces – women of faith are often ignored in mainstream narratives and face a range of discrimination simply because of their gender. As a Muslim woman, hand on heart I can say that Islam has been interpreted into patriarchal spaces and according to the socio-cultural norms of certain societies, to the point that women are not always given an equal space, voice or allowed to progress and enjoin in their full spiritual, social, economic, political, cultural, sexual and emotional rights. 

Abhorrent practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage represent a host of gender-based violence and discrimination, stemming from social and cultural attitudes and norms which are often used in the name of Islam. When it comes to gender equality practices like these are often denounced within religious circles but the story sadly doesn’t end there in acknowledging what is and isn’t ‘Islamic’. These practices represent the worst forms of gender-based abuse that some Muslim (and non-Muslim) women and girls face. On that scale of misogyny, there are still a host of others problems in more faith-based spaces which affect the daily lives of Muslim women. These relate primarily to a lack of inclusion and diversity and the inability of the community to allow women to enjoin in their rights as enshrined in Islam itself. 

These issues of course all stem from the same culture of misogyny, sexism and misogynist interpretations of Islam (whether interpreted as ‘culture’ or ‘faith’). 

However, as feminists, egalitarians and seekers of justice, this is where Islamic feminists come in. Islamic feminists such as Amina Wadud and Sherin Khankan are re-interpreting and refreshing Islamic theology, Qur’anic readings and Muslim narratives to be more egalitarian. This is of course not to change Islam into something new but to follow its true original egalitarian form relevant in today’s modern context and to re-establish the role of Muslim women in Muslim spaces.  It involves working to eliminate socio-cultural practices within Muslim communities which harm women and girls (and society as a whole) to ensure that our rights are fulfilled through the provision of critical services. 

Beyond the violent, often-denounced cultural (non-Islamic) practices such as FGM and child marriage, I’m going to explain the more subtle issues which stem from the same core but are so often ignored. Let’s see why we’re fierce and proud Islamic feminists, and what the issues on the ground are. Read on to find out! 

1. We often have no visible prayer space

The sad truth is that for Muslim woman, both here in the UK and abroad, adequate prayer space is often lacking. Some mosques literally have no space for women at all, whilst other spaces remain much smaller and often ‘out of sight’. (Of course it is acknowledged that men are obliged to pray at the mosque on Friday unlike women.)

As journalist Remona Aly reports, research has found that here in the UK for example, out of a total of 1,975 mosques, a staggering 28% of do not offer space for women. What’s more, 50% of all South- Asian run mosques (South-Asian being the largest ethno-cultural grouping of Muslims in the UK) do not allow women in their space. 

According to Aly: “When mosques do offer it [a space], the access is restricted, and often does not even include a prayer space, but rather a teaching space, such as a girls’ madrasa (religious school).” 

This is a shocking problem and what’s more, when it does come to prayer space, I personally object to being separated by a screen or hidden away in a smaller room on the floor above or an area hidden away behind the men’s space. I would prefer to be in the same physical wider space but with designated areas for men and women. However, even for the most conservative of Muslims, the current facilities on the whole are not adequate. 

This is where Open My Mosque was born. Striving to open up mosques to women, to enable mosques to be less male-dominated and to let the message be known. This initiative is spreading the message that we want to pray in mosques and that we want to also have a greater role in these spaces too! It’s our right and we need not only decent physically existent spaces but inclusive, adequate, welcoming spaces. Find out more about the crucial campaign here.

2. Female faith leaders are few and far between

When I was studying Islamic Feminism for my Master’s degree, I came across the incredible Amina Wadud – a Muslim scholar and imamah (female imam). She has led prayer in mixed spaces and sadly come under fire by many Muslims for it. However, she is leading the way in a very small field. 

Whilst women back in Prophet Muhammad’s era were far from being relegated to the private sphere, excluded from spiritual spaces, sadly the same cannot be said for the Muslim world today as a whole. In addition to often having limited/no prayer space, women are almost entirely excluded from leadership roles, from grassroots level on mosque committees to further up the ladder in wider-scale national committees. 

However, there is hope. In addition to Amina Wadud and her inspiring work, other leading figures such as Sherin Khankan are creating crucial change. Sherin is a Danish-Syrian imamah,offering new narratives on Islam. She critically launched the Miriam Mosque to offer female-led Friday prayers, an inclusive community space and critical access to services for women. Sherin is vocal in declaring that ‘Women are the future of Islam in her latest book, and has growing support.

Meanwhile in Morocco, whilst not recognised under the title of imamah, the government commissioned morchidat (female spiritual leaders) to help empower women across the country and re-establish a more tolerant, open and egalitarian form of Islam. You can find out more about these incredible women in the film ‘Casablanca Calling’, which I definitely recommend seeing.

3. We are critically lacking in female scholarship

Again, whilst we’re lacking in female imams, we’re also lacking in female scholarship. As women, this means that when we wish to seek spiritual advice and practical guidance on everything from periods or fasting and prayer to marital advice, we are forced to seek male counsel. 

Now there’s obviously nothing wrong with male scholars but within such a narrow range of scholarship, we are lacking a nuanced, diverse range of teachings and opinions. At the same time also failing to offer adequate understanding and safe spaces to sometimes incredibly vulnerable women affected by sensitive, often gender-specific or incredibly complex issues across genders. We are simply pushing women out of the main sphere. The result is a narrow range of scholarship and a lack of nuanced understanding of a gender and culturally diverse faith community. 

This is completely at odds with Islamic tradition. Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha was a renowned scholar and for every Muslim, regardless of gender, it is our duty to learn and to access the means to learn and educate ourselves throughout our lives. Male-dominated scholarship fails to address the needs of the community and leads to a gendered-hierarchy of power. This is where scholars such as Amina Wadud – a fully identifying Islamic feminist – are reclaiming this space. However, we need more! For an insight into her work I would definitely recommend her book ‘Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam’. This book gives a great overview of the real message of tawheed (oneness of God – monotheism) and where Muslim women stand theologically in comparison to the socio-cultural reality today. 

4. Violent interpretations aren’t being challenged

Whilst we’ve come a long way in denouncing certain practices as un-Islamic, there are still some issues being swept under the carpet. The issue of domestic violence and verse 4:34 of the Qur’an is one clear issue that is not being adequately addressed. Now, whilst no level-headed Muslim following the teachings of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would ever hit a woman, we’re still not really getting to grips with this verse.

It’s all a matter of interpretation and logic. For example, the violent interpretation of Surah 4:34 declares:

“The good women are obedient, guarding what God would have them guard. As for those from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them, and abandon them in their beds, then strike them.” (Translation: Talal Itani)

Now, in an attempt to supposedly correlate the clear non-violent example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) regarding his wives in reference to this translation, varying interpretations continue to permeate discussions around the topic. Of course, no level-headed scholar condones beating one’s wife. However, some scholars claim via interpretations of this surah and related hadith, that hitting which is ‘not harsh’ or does ‘not cause injury’ or carried out using a ‘light’ object such as a miswak (traditional toothbrush/stick) to offer a ‘warning’ or form of ‘metaphorical hitting’ are acceptable. This is clearly morally (and theologically) wrong and normalises unhealthy dynamics between husband and wife. Yet I’ve heard it in conversations at lunch tables.

The fact remains; if we are to take God’s message seriously and if we believe in mutual respect between husband and wife (and men and women as a whole), then we must address these issues. In relation to the topic, in the book ‘Leaving Faith Behind’, co-author Aliyah Saleem (now an ex-Muslim), describes how even a ‘metaphorical’ form of hitting as a response to the meaning of Surah 4:34 to her, constitutes emotional abuse. Threats of power, domination and violence in any form are wrong and do not exemplify a relationship of respect, love, understanding and tolerance. As a Muslim I can wholeheartedly understand why she found this unacceptable and am angered that such apologetic interpretations are presenting such an abhorrent view of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. God is simply greater than this.  

Within the Muslim community however, Islamic feminists, rather than trying to explain such translations, have however offered their own more appropriate translation to help address such inconsistencies. In her translation The Sublime Quran ‘(2007), Iranian-American Muslim author, translator and psychologist Laleh Bakhtiar translates the Arabic word ‘daraba’ (the term in question often translated to mean ‘beat/hit/strike’) as ‘go away’. This crucially and logically refers to a last commandment of eventual separation during conflict with your spouse after everything else has failed. This naturally fits into the verse and its increasingly separatist stages: first advising, next not sharing the martial bed and then ‘daraba – walking away. 

Of course, for the sceptics out there (including native-Arabic speakers), it’s also worth pointing out that Laleh’s translation of the Qur’an is used in various mosques and universities and was even adopted by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan. Yet why are we not talking about this instead of ‘lightly touching’ with tissues and miswaks or emotionally abusive power dynamics? Indeed, we’ve still got so far to go.

5. We’re tired of the hijab-hype

Image credit: https://www.freepik.com/index.php?goto=74&idfoto=3033344

Hijab, niqab, headscarves, veils – yes, the issue of covering is perhaps one of the most talked about with respect to Muslim women, in Muslims and non-Muslim spaces. Now, whilst this an issue of Islamic theology, the issue of how much a Muslim woman should cover, from which age and how she should or should not cover her body (and in particular head) is one that is over-dominating discussions on Islam. 

Firstly, despite the mainstream dominant narrative that women are obliged to cover their heads and bodies (with other interpretations mandating or encouraging the use of the face veil) there are various interpretations on head coverings. Secondly – and it should go without saying – this is a private matter between a Muslimah and Allah Almighty. The choice to cover or not cover should remain the woman’s sole decision devoid of outside influence or pressure. However, we continue to be inundated with talks of hijab and covering, with males often dominating the conversation. 

Not only is such behaviour a frank example of mansplaining on behalf of laymen in the context of non-scholarship, it’s also a clear example of (un-theological) double standards. Whilst men are also commanded to act and dress modestly and ‘lower their gaze’, we often hear a lot less of this in comparison! In fact, in her book ‘Inside the Gender Jihad’, Amina Wadud describes this reality perfectly. She outlines how the concept of hijab (head and body covering) has become a form of unofficial ,over-dominating ‘sixth pillar’. 

As both a hijabi and non-hijabi (I am now an ‘ex-hijabi’), it has honestly pained me (and continues to!) to see a lack of respect in some circles around the issue of women covering, not covering or no longer covering. We only need to think of the abuse that Muslim fashion blogger Dina Tokio received after removing her hijab to understand this. 

The sexist attitudes monopolising an area of personal observance and religious interpretation can again be fully observed in comparisons such as these of ‘good pure covered Muslimah’ versus ‘unveiled impure Muslim’ which make my blood boil.

I have myself seen such examples across social media, which are not only shared and pushed by men but also women. With male leadership, male scholarship and a male-dominated public sphere, both men and women are subject to such bias. Yet we’re also seeing clear examples of mansplaining amongst this policing of women’s bodies in relation to covering and hijab. 

Regardless of the perpetrator, this exemplifies a clear unhealthy policing of women’s bodies which we know is not only present in faith-based contexts. As Muslim women, we must reclaim our agency, our privacy and our right to choose to cover or not cover with full respect and independence (from men and women alike). 

6. Our sexuality is closeted, sensualised and shamed

Just as our bodies are policed in the name of modesty regarding hijab and body/face coverings, with modesty related to how we behave with the opposite sex (although a spiritual commitment), Muslim women are also subjected to ‘shame culture’ in relation to their sexuality and sexual behaviour. 

Think about how often we’re taught about a women’s right to sexual pleasure? Ask any scholar and they’ll make it clear that it’s our right. They do indeed encourage healthy sexual relationships for both spouses but it’s just not acknowledged enough in Muslim spaces. What however is talked about with another mansplaining double-standard is women’s virginity. 

Yes, again; what should remain between Allah and his follower (and is relevant to both men and women), has become the ‘ticking time bomb’ of shame, honour-related loss and ‘decency’ and causing fathers to want to marry their daughters off as soon as possible in some cases.

Just take a look at this tweet by a Muslim male: 

Yes, a tweet, that has (as of 9th March 2019), over 3,000 likes and 1,619 re-tweets written by a Muslim brother who seeks to shame women into submission through yet another reminder of how we should wait for marriage. Yet, as a Muslim woman I resent being compared to a juice carton. As a Muslim woman, I ask why are you talking about this? As a Muslim woman, I ask again: why the constant emphasis on a woman’s virginity on behalf of Muslim males? Why the double standards? Why the singular narrative? Why the publicising of women’s virginity yet the closeting and shaming of women’s sexuality (in halal settings)? 

It’s simply not good enough! It’s not good enough to believe in equal standards for women in regards to chastity and the right to sexual pleasure, it’s actually now time to talk equally, to share equally and to have a healthier narrative around these issues. Women, as human beings and Muslims have sexual needs and rights, and as Muslims, we (regardless of gender) submit to Allah alone in heart, body, mind and soul. 

7. Divorce is our God-given right

Divorce is another God-given right that must be obtainable and freely accessible in both theological and legal settings (yet not undertaken lightly). However, getting a divorce for Muslim women isn’t as easy and accessible as it should be. Cultural attitudes, ‘shaming’ those who wish to leave their husbands and those who have indeed divorced, mean that actually accessing divorce is incredibly difficult for some Muslim women.

At the Miriam Mosque, Sherin Khankan works to ensure that all Muslim women have access to divorce if they need it. Yet with male prompted divorce or divorce notification via text message or WhatsApp in Saudi Arabia or India for example, things are far from equitable, rational and fair for many Muslim women. 

Even here in the UK, many Muslim women also have difficulty obtaining a divorce. With a society that prizes virginity, one twice-divorced Muslimah journalist Saima Mir explains that despite the Islamic permissibility (with Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah being a divorcee herself), this wasn’t enough to “stop the gossip as her ‘value’ had ‘fallen’”. When the early women of Islam had no stigma or shame attached with being a divorcee or requesting a divorce, where are we as a faith-community when women nowadays continue to suffer in abusive, loveless marriages or are deemed ‘used goods’ unworthy of re-marriage? 

Logic and God’s words state that divorce is our right and we must ensure that not only is this rightful service available to all women but that men cannot and do not continue to abuse their right to divorce at the detriment of women. 

Now of course there are many, many more issues which could have been covered here, but the underlying narrative of women being the ‘bearers’ of honour and the public sphere being a place for male dominance is what continues to perpetuate these practices, problems and trends which on a higher more severe end of the scale lead to some of the abuse highlighted earlier such as FGM and child marriage. As Muslims, both men and women, we must reclaim the rights of women within faith spaces and our wider lives and for this reason, the work of Islamic feminists is critical.  

God is neither male or female – of course God is not human – but we must stop interpreting and living out Islam through this male-dominated, misogynistic lens. Women are being excluded, women are suffering and last of all, we have narrowed, boxed in and misrepresented the beautiful message of Our Creator – The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate, The Loving and The Wise, into something that is lacking His beauty, justice and mercy. 

Actions speak louder than words. We must reclaim the narrative, preach and live a more inclusive, egalitarian form of Islam – the original Islam of times ago, nuanced and perfectly adapted into the modern era, which clearly puts women firmly at the centre, not on the sidelines. 

By Elizabeth Arif -Fear

Elizabeth Arif-Fear is one of our regular contributors and author of ‘What if it were you?’ which is available to buy on Amazon.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. The images used in this piece have been sourced and chosen by the author.


Leave a comment

Hijab Shaming: A Favourite New Hobby For The Haram Police

Image credit: Dina Tokio YouTube

Oh, to be a Muslim woman in 2019.

When it comes to the world of online social media hijabis, a new phenomenon is sweeping the digital sphere: Hijab Shaming by the online squad, referred to as the ‘social media mullahs.’

In the current post 9/11 political narrative, the Muslim community is generally experiencing a number of vicissitudes of life, especially Muslim women who choose the hijab, face a plethora of struggles in their daily life. Islamophobia, prejudice and physical violence has led many women to remove their hijabs to ensure safety from discrimination. However, there has been a recent trend of Muslim women relinquishing the hijab, simply because they no longer connect with it.

This has split the Muslim opinion and unsettled the Islamic patriarchy, one that roams the corners of social media to police the styles of hijabs worn by women. These men (and some women) view hair as a sexual feature and deem those who choose to display it as ‘immoral’

With a growing niche market online, these shamers typically look for hijabi bloggers on Instagram and Twitter. They then proceed to harass, verbally abuse, bully and target those they view as breaking from observing the protocols of ‘proper’ head covering etiquettes. They see this as an affront to religion and God and most importantly, interpret this as a woman compromising her ‘modesty’.

Recently, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the creator and force behind the well renowned blog MuslimGirl.Com, took to her social media and website to express her anger at this odious behavior.

Amani has categorized such behavior as ‘sexual harassment’ and chauvinistic pietism. She stated:

‘A recent wave of highly visible hijabi influencers have been taking off the scarf, provoking shock amongst their followers ……………. ‘Let’s call attacking Muslim women for their hijab what it is: sexual harassment………

The fact that we simply don’t, and often can’t, police Muslim men’s religiosity publicly is what makes hijab policing an inherently gender-based double standard.’ (MuslimGirl.com ‘Hijab Policing is Sexual Harassment. Period.’)

However, this new religious mob mentality has taken a further disturbing turn.

In her article, Amani discussed the recent case of high-profile Instagram influencer Dina Tokio, an incident that illustrated the sinister and threatening nature of hijab shaming.

After years of donning the hijab, Dina no longer felt it necessary to covet head covering 24/7, instead opting to wear it part-time. When she revealed her hijabless new look to her 1.3 million Instagram followers, she received a barrage of abuse, death threats, verbal and sexual harassment.

Some of the vitriolic comments and comminations she received ranged from being called a porn star, to being accused of being mentally sick, labelled a disgrace and in some instances and the most disconcerting, some hoping her family die painfully and slowly.

Many, including myself, are questioning how something as personal as a hijab, which is a decision solely based on the individual freedoms, has become a favourite metaphorical blood-sport for the Islamic social media police? The simple answer is that toxic masculinity and religious cultural constructs have been major contributing factors. These must be addressed and dismantled.

When paricentric forces within the Islamic world create such a dangerous discourse, Muslim women can become public property to disparage, judge and exploit. They become fair game to anyone. It then creates a platform for opportunistic institutions, groups and anti-Muslim organizations to instrumentalise that dialogue for personal gain.

In a world where hijab wearing women are caught in-between the realms of western Islamophobia and patriarchal fanatical misogyny, Muslim women have become the ultimate political pawns in the battlefield amidst a power-struggle.

Whilst one group uses bigotry fueling stereotypes to deem hijab wearing women as oppressed, the other uses religion and intimidation to control the bodies of Muslim women. Both are two sides of the same coin seeking to regulate the decisions of these women.

A sad realization is that, it is 2019 and Muslim women are still denied agency over their own bodies.

By Saira Mirza

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


1 Comment

Your individual middle path: 10 must-read pieces of advice for female converts to Islam

I’ve been a convert Muslimah for over six years now and whilst some people were more surprised than others when I told them I was converting, I can tell you it’s been (and still is!) a big journey – a rollacoaster of ups and downs, highs and lows, smiles, tears and things I’d never experienced before. But subhanAllah, it’s been a great one!

Now, whilst each journey and each person is unique in themselves, there are however some key pieces of advice, experiences and insights which I feel are truly like gold dust for converts to Islam – many which apply to any faith background. As I’m a woman and there are also some quite gender-specific issues at hand, I’d like to present my ten must-read pieces of advice for female converts to Islam. To help tackle some real issues affecting both converts, non-converts and even non-Muslims. Take a look!

1. Follow your individual spiritual journey

I really cannot stress enough that your conversion and the way you live Islam is about you and Allah and no one else. Obviously, it will impact upon others and you must deal with other people respectfully but what I want to address here is the big fan-fare and pressure about “setting a date”, going to the mosque with a big crowd, doing everything all at once or according to X, Y and Z says.

STOP! Slow it down, put on the brakes. You are in control. You’re doing this for you and no one else. You don’t need to scare yourself into some big ceremony if that’s not what you want. Islam is so easy. When you’re ready – and only when – you can take your shahadah at home alone (just you and Allah) or you can do a more formal procedure. But do NOT feel pressured into doing something you’re not comfortable with.

2. Don’t rely on Sheikh Google

It’s been said countless times before and it’s more relevant than ever today. The internet is a lonely, dangerous place of extremism, mis-information and intolerance vis-à-vis other Muslims (Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi, Sufis etc.) and non-Muslims).

Please, get offline (no – not all of it is bad) but speak to people on the ground familiar with your cultural context, seek out good sound scholars and confine in trusted friends and neighbours. Also remember that your non-Muslim friends and family are wiser than you think. Plus (most importantly) – a little common-sense goes a long way!

3. Accept that it’ll take a few years to figure out “you”

As a convert, you enter Islam with one thing in mind and then as you travel along your path you realise just how complex the Muslim community and how diverse the faith is. Now, you’re still the same person inside but things will change and of course, we can’t do everything at once and no one will expect you to.

However, you’ll find that whilst people will reassure you of this that we ourselves put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Yet, Islam is a life-long journey of learning. We’re always developing socially, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually as people and our life circumstances and life-experiences change over time. Add on top of this one crucial thing: there are many different “Islams”. No two Muslims are the same. There are different schools, sects and practices and even if – like me – you avoid all of that, you’ll still come to realise (even if you knew this anyway) that there is no one Islam.

Over time, you’ll find out more about you, how you relate to Allah and what your faith means to you. This doesn’t happen overnight or stay the same throughout your journey but don’t panic – it’s normal! You’re observing, growing, learning and discovering! Don’t change yourself to fit one person’s interpretation of Islam and don’t forget who you are and what first attracted you to Islam!

4. Cover (if at all) when you’re ready

Whilst the majority of scholars believe it is obligatory to follow the rules of hijab in relation to covering our hair and bodies, there are two important things to point out here:

 

  1. There are other interpretations relating to covering and modesty in terms of cultural relativism and metaphors surrounding the non-physicality of “covering”
  2. If like me you believe in hijab in terms of covering your hair and body with loose transparent clothing then do it when you’re ready

Either way, whether you wear a headscarf is not a marker (or the be all and end all) of whether you are or aren’t Muslim! I’m not here to mock hijab but simply highlight that it is one part of many people’s way of living as a Muslim but it’s not the only or singular way to do so.

Islamic feminist Dr Amina Wadud in her book Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam cites how the hijab has almost been (wrongly) taken as a sixth pillar of Islam and this is definitely true. Wearing a headscarf is a visible public sign that you are a Muslim but should be taken as an individual personal step and act of spiritual devotion. If – and only if you do decide it’s for you – do it when you’re ready to take this next step, knowing the changes that will happen, the responsibility you’ll take on in becoming a public face (willing or not willing and for better or for worse!) with full pride, confidence and sincerity in what you’re doing.

5. Don’t be afraid to be you

Again, I must emphasise that your journey to becoming a Muslimah is about you and Allah. It’s a spiritual journey of faith. With that in mind – and whilst I recognise that it takes a while to build in self-confidence in our new identity (longer for some than others) – be happy with who you are. Don’t forget where you’re from. Don’t feel you have to “follow the crowd” or your friends’ school of thought and above all else – don’t put yourself down.

The “Well, they know more than me, I’m just a convert” line is a dangerous thought process. Each person is an individual and just become someone grew up a Muslim it does not mean that they have a deeper or even clearer/more nuanced understanding knowledge of the faith (and the social, spiritual and lived experiences that come with it) than you. In many cases, their experiences are often relative to being in a Muslim –majority family/community and related to their cultural context. Trust yourself!

6. Don’t rush into marriage

Marriage is a big step for anyone regardless of their faith. Now add someone who’s still learning, still discovering “who they are” and at the same time also still navigating the socio-cultural complexities of the Muslim community, then things become a lot more complicated!

Not only do ritualistic traditions, terminology and practices vary in language and format from one cultural community to another surrounding marriage itself but there are also some real issues here to consider and deconstruct: cross-cultural barriers (or if you’re marrying a convert there are other issues to think of), theological differences/approaches and sadly misogyny and sexism within the religious and cultural practises of some members of the Muslim community.

So before you investigate all of this: take time to know who you are, be confident in you and then approach slowly and with your eyes wide open. On top of that, remember that things are not always as they seem. When you finally do decide you’re ready – or think you’ve met the precept match – ask questions (lots of questions about approaches to faith, housekeeping, raising children, education, work, theology etc.) and find out more about your potential spouse from friends, family, neighbours and community members.

Changing your faith/belief system and getting marred are two of the biggest decisions you can ever make in your life.  You need to know yourself first and foremost and what you want from life and therefore what you want from a husband. Likewise, he too also needs to know what he can expect from you and who he’s potentially marrying – so take your time as much as possible. Do not rush but when the time feels right take the appropriate steps.

7. Don’t feel forced to accept other cultures

Whether you’re marrying into a new culture or mixing in new diverse socio-cultural circles, remember that your faith is Islam and your culture your own – not Arabism, not Desi culture, no anything else etc. (unless in fact you were Hindu or an Arab Christian etc.!). Now, don’t misunderstand me. The cultural diversity of the Muslim community is amazing and do make the effort to reach out, meet new people and above all be tolerant and open to new experiences and cultures. However, don’t be forced to accept a cultural interpretation or practice of Islam that is either inappropriate (“haram”) or “not your thing”.

Your culture is important too.  Many Muslims from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds perhaps tend to believe that (mono traditional) English culture is “haram” as we have to give up drinking for example or as they may underestimate its diversity, tend to believe that we must give up the culture or that there is nothing left for Muslims. This is false. Every culture is an expression of its people. Islam is a faith and is lived through a culture.

So don’t feel you have to adopt Pakistani clothes to be a good Muslimah rather than simply please your new British-Pakistani husband. Enjoy new clothing if it makes you happy but you can also wear a denim skirt and blouse if that’s what you’re into. Feel free to mix it up. In mixed marriage in particular, there’s much fun in sharing cultures but also compromise and respect to be made – three needs to be give and take of both cultures and room for both. Respect, tolerance and understanding are essential.

8. Listen to your inner conscience

Islam is about moderation – the middle path – and the sad thing is that this is often simpler than many people realise and create for themselves. Off the middle-path, people can find themselves with over-zealous rigid forms of practice promoting intolerance and even violence. Let me say this honestly and openly: extremism is real, intolerance is real and it’s not as rare as people may think.

Please, don’t lose yourself on this fantastic journey. It’s easier to do than you may think. Allah Almighty is with you and he wants the best for you. Treasure your friends and family, hold on to the people that got you this far. If they’re not adjusting well to your new faith – be patient. Remember Islam is not black and white – neither is life. There are so many little things to navigate and your non-Muslim friends and family will be learning too about the new Muslim in their life. There are many scenarios small and large that may arise with new questions and thoughts, such as:

Do I buy my Muslim daughter a Christmas presents?

Do I go to my parent’s house at Christmas?

My Muslim friends are shocked that I stroke my aunt’s dog…

Remember, it’s not you (Muslim) versus them (everyone else). You have different history, different family, different challenges and different experiences to many (non-convert) Muslims. Educate yourself on the principles, the lived example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and lead on your middle path by adopting those principles in your context. Listen to your conscience (the God-given fitra inside), be kind, gentle, patient, don’t get over-zealous and lead with positive examples. Remember: Islam is a holistic approach to life and spirituality – not dogma. Don’t get lost in this and distance yourself from others and your former self in the process.

9. Come with no social expectations

Being part of a community is important but it’s not always that easy and building any bonds and friendships take time. For some – depending on their community and individual circumstances – their experiences may be lonelier, less positive and less social than others. For one, after all the excitement has died down at your shahadaah ceremony (if you have one), you may find yourself alone (again). You may need to prepare for potentially lonely Eids, racism and cliqueness. But remember this – everything will be ok. It’s great to have people to connect with on a faith-related level but friendship is also about more than faith. Keep an open mind and see how things go.

Try and connect with like-minded individuals – especially other converts as they will share similar experiences and many non-converts may not understand your needs and experiences. However, above all listen to your needs and wants and remember that just because someone is a Muslim, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be your next best friend. Put yourself out there (when you’re ready) and let’s hope that things get easier but don’t rush into marriage if you feel lonely. Above all, don’t distance yourself from good, honest non-Muslim friends and family. Faith is personal – that’s what has got you this far and that’s ok – in time the right people will come insha’Allah.

10. Don’t become a victim

Despite what some people may think, “The West” (whatever that is today!) and the government does not hate Muslims. Please don’t get caught up in political Islam. As a human rights activist myself, I of course support worthy causes and stand up for injustice but please don’t bring religion into it. Be an ally for every worthy cause, supporting people of all faiths and none!

As a convert with a different history, leave the over-zealous Islamist rhetoric, post-colonial and race-related baggage out of the picture! Do not fall into the “us” vs. “them” narrative and in fact, given your unique history and experiences, strive to become a bridge builder of positivity and unity!

So with these top ten tips of advice, I hope that your journey as a Muslimah (old or new!) is one of peace, love and tranquility! Salam!

By Liz Arif-Fear

Liz Arif-Fear is a writer and human rights activist. As founder of “Voice of Salam“(Voice of Peace), Liz writes on a range of social, political, human rights, intercultural and interfaith issues, aiming to spread a message of peace, tolerance and unity. Liz is particularly passionate about addressing key issues affecting women, children, refugees, migrants and ethnic minorities and addressing both extremist and Islamophobic rhetoric.

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


Leave a comment

Muslim Women: Enslaved or Empowered?

Women in Islam, often synonymous to the Asian concept of ‘purdah’, have been unveiled, ironically, by nearly every media house and spokesperson. Even laymen, with little to zero knowledge of Islam, claim with confidence that only a specialist would have, that Islam oppresses its women. In the vexations that surround topics such as these, Muslims often forget why they need to be discussed, in first place.

With the realization of feminism as an idea (realization because it actually always existed) things have gotten a little out of hand, a little misunderstood, as we know them. Every person who supports equality is a feminist, every man who is a feminist is scoffed at, and every other man thinks feminism is just a nice way of saying, “Men suck”.

This is where most ‘liberal’ minded people, without even understanding what the term actually means, declare that religion is anti-feminist. Simply because it dictates how women should behave and live their lives. What they don’t understand is that firstly, being a liberal automatically implies that you are at the very least, tolerant towards religion, and that religion by itself, usually dictates how BOTH men and women live their lives.

And because our existence solely depends on whether or not Islam is oppressive to women, it would be best to just move on to that part.

HIJAB

To be fair, behind every stereotype, there is a story. And behind this one, is the fact that millions of Muslim women choose to dress differently. Or, are forced to. Majority of the Islamic preachers and haters claim, that covering the head is mandatory in Islam. And yet, a large percentage of Muslim women, walk around with none. Why is the claim so strong? Why indeed do some women cover their hair ? A simple reason would be because there is mention of it in the Quran.

presentation1-e1520339560155

There are various interpretations of this verse, several being that this is proof enough for the requirement of a head covering. A more interesting interpretation of this verse , is that in 600 AD Arabia, there was a requirement to cover the head for either sexes, not because of religion, but climatic conditions. Sandstorms are a common feature within a desert, and what do we know about the geography of Saudi Arabia ? Nevertheless, some schools of thought are that the verses were revealed in relevance to the people of the time and the headscarf was a common accessory not just for Arab women but for women everywhere. The major emphasis though, lies with modesty.

Wearing a hijab does not guarantee you a space in Jannah and not wearing one, does not guarantee a space in Hell. It would be irresponsible on our part as Muslims, to say that. Another interesting fact is that the requirement of “hijab” is mentioned within the Quran for BOTH men and women, and for men BEFORE the women.

surat-an-nur-quran-24-30-islamic-quotes-about-modesty-and-lowering-the-gaze-001-e1520313126700

TALAQ/DIVORCE

An additional form of oppression, people claim Islam preaches, comes in the form of  the more commonly known “Triple Talaq”. Though this is something most muslims outside of the Indian subcontinent do not recognize, it remains a problem, because 10% of the world’s muslims come from here (172 million). In a nutshell, your husband, for some reason calls you up, texts you, or verbally says “Talaq. Talaq. Talaq !” and it is to be assumed that you and him are no longer together, therefore freeing him of any restrictions he could have had on your account. This leaves the woman stranded and detained from the man’s wealth, in a poorly state. This form of divorce amongst Muslims is popular ONLY in India now, being termed “Talaq e Biddat” in the rest of the world – (Biddah meaning innovation), and thus proving to be unislamic at the core, in that it just does not exist within Islamic Law.

The topic of Divorce in the Quran, has been spoken about in four different chapters, with the most basic statement being –

presentation11-e1520339543664

It would help to know that Islam came as a reformation for Pre-Islamic times, when women did not have the right to divorce, and were granted it by Islam. The concept of Khula is still much debated upon, and remains almost unknown to a large percentage of the world. Islam allows women to file for divorce, in lieu of some compensation (monetary), on several grounds, that are further classified into valid and unvalid. Impotence, cruelty, non provision and even sexual non satisfaction are some of the major valid grounds for seeking Khula.

SEX AND MARITAL RAPE

Speaking of sexual satisfaction, A Muslim woman is entitled to sex and completion by her husband, so much so, that if he is unable to satisfy her, she may file for divorce. Islam addresses sexual desires of women, just the same as those of men – stating that men should first ensure their women reach completion, before attaining climax themselves. Contrary to the depiction of sex as primarily a means of reproduction in the pre Islamic era, Islam acknowledges the body’s desire for sexual pleasure – for BOTH man and woman. Prophet Mohammad often emphasized on the importance of foreplay, and it is regarded an important Sunnah by several scholars.

This also negates the debate about marital rape, being that it is not counted as a sin in Islam. Despite what most of the Islamic preachers from the Asian continent claim, marital rape counts as a sin and act of violence towards the wife. A common verse used by these preachers and people wishing to discredit Islam is 2:223.

622bd9fab7caca6f44c79ec9c24481b6-e1520339367252

With regards to marital rape; emotional, physical and psychological abuse to your wife is forbidden. As per the marriage contract, neither husband nor wife can deny sex to the other, without reason. This being said, they are both to consider reasons for why the other denies sex. Since women are generically the more adaptive of the two genders, a majority of the guidelines issued in the Quran and Hadith, were addressed to men. One such being that if your wife refuses sex, ask her what her reasons are, and be kind to her, so that she may develop affection for you. A woman can demand her rights be granted to her at an Islamic court of Law, and even compensation with regards to marital rape.

PROPERTY INHERITANCE

This is by far, one of the most confusing rulings I have seen in the Quran. I stress this because I am a Muslim, and if I can get confused, I understand how a non muslim could.

presentation12-e1520396055289

This verse was significant in differentiating between women of faith and the disbelievers of Islam. Before Islam, Arab women did not receive any of the wealth their fathers left behind and so this caused a monumental change in the laws of inheritance – another reason for the men of Makkah to oppose Islam.

To further demean Islam, another verse from the same chapter of the Quran is used to cite how it downgrades women –

presentation13-e1520396269221

So the son’s share is equal to that of two daughters, which means that a woman only gets HALF of what a man does. Sounds unfair.

Let’s begin by observing how a man has to pay bride money to his wife to be. A previously agreed upon sum of money is paid to the bride (not her father) before signing the marriage contract. This money/land (any form of wealth) is to be used by the bride, however she wishes, and without considering any other person. She can use it as personal savings, or spend it all in one go. She can donate it to charity or invest it in a business, however she wants to.

A wife who inherits wealth from her father, is not liable to share it with her husband. And if said wife has an income independent of her husband, he has no right over her acquired wealth. A muslim woman is not responsible to provide for her husband, her parents and even her children. With rights such as refusing to breast feed her children, she also retains the right to receiving childcare from an ex husband (post divorce).

These provisions of division of property seem to favor a man, because they are meant to ease his burden, of being financially responsible for his wife, mother, daughter and sister.  Which is why the verse ;

presentation14-e1520425590951

The degree of advantage that is being referred to here is that of responsibility. In that men have more responsibilities as compared to women. A woman is allowed to be independent in Islam, and even THEN her father, husband or son are to provide for her. Not providing for her, despite all her wealth is a grave sin. Which is why a man receives double the share of a woman, to make it easy for him to deal justly with all of his affairs. It also helps to understand that a translation can only do so much to convey the actual message, a lot of the meaning gets lost in translation.

TESTIMONY IN THE COURT OF LAW

In 600 AD, Arab women were taught to believe that their existence was solely to obey men and submit to them. They were taught to serve men by means of food, clothing and care, along with sex, of course. Islam brought along rights for women, the likes of which had never been seen before. Some of them included the right to education, right to employment and business, right to own property and wealth, right to divorce and the right to appear in court.

The last one mentioned, became reason for widespread protest because up until then, women had never appeared in court. And to let them do so now, would mean a complete slippage of power from the hands of men. It was for these reasons that Islam took a gradual course to change things around.

presentation15-e1520485407745

This verse, if you haven’t heard of before, has been used on multiple occasions as yet another example proving islam as an anti feminist religion. After all, a man’s testimony is termed equal to that of two women’s.

The verse speaks with regards to Loans. Taking, lending and repayment of loans. At the time of this verse, women were not as financially evolved as the men, and so it is an interpretation that this ruling came to encourage more women to take part in financial affairs. And since they were new to handling money matters, two women were better than one, so there would be less of a chance to make mistakes.

Another interpretation of this verse is, that it is easier to manipulate a woman, by means of threatening her, which could also be a reason for encouraging two women, instead of just one.

A third interpretation is that women are generally more emotional than men, and so they possess the ability to sway a judge, by means of emotional coercion. Therefore, if one woman does so, the other would help rectify her error. This in no way means that the status of a woman is less than that of a man.

If we were to look at the Quran in entirety, we would surely observe how Islam has uplifted the status of women, equal to that of men (in pre islamic times) and in some cases even higher.

Paradise rests under her feet when she is a mother. And she becomes the key to Heaven for her father, when she is a daughter.

SOURCES

Islam HelplineIslam Online ArchivesHadith of theDay, DawnNewsabuaminaelias.comIslam.orgislamweb.comIslam.orgMuslim VillageTaha TestimonyMisconceptions about Islam. 

Author’s disclaimer – This post is my production after days of research. I do not claim to be 100% correct and humbly accept any faults in my interpretations of the above verses. Only Allah knows best. 

By Sharmeen Kidwai

Sharmeen is a 25 year old medical graduate, which makes her a doctor. She graduated in 2016 and has since moved to India, with her husband (2017). She is a Canadian by nationality, but was raised in the middle east for most of her life. She has always loved to write. Only recently though she has realised she can make a difference by choosing her words just right. She says she is “trying to do my bit for the world and those in it, little by little!” 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
If you would like to submit a blog post, sharing your experiences or perspectives, then please email us on shespeakswehear@gmail.com. You can submit poems, short stories or any other type of post! You can also submit anonymously too.


Leave a comment

Ofsted, hijabs and the hypocrisy of British values.

 

Apparently, many faith schools do not adhere to British values, states Ofsted in their annual report and little girls wearing hijab are rejecting British values and on the top rung of the ladder down to violent extremism with nebulous references to sexualisation.  Acres of space both in print and on line will be given over to debating Ofsted’s crusade to protect British values.

The Ofsted report is vague about what British values are until this paragraph; ‘Tensions between belief systems and British values create a motivation for some communities to try avoiding the educational and safeguarding standards that are expected of schools. While this manifest itself in different ways, the root cause is the same. This matters, because the British values of democracy, tolerance, individual liberty, mutual respect and the rule of law are the principles that keep society free from the radical and extreme views that can often lead to violence. (16 Annual Report 2016/17: Education, children’s services and skills).

As a parent carer of a disabled child I am more than aware of educational and safeguarding standards that are expected of schools especially in relation to children with disabilities. There are lots of them, The Children Act, Equality Act just two not to mention all the codes of conduct for schools and LEA’s. One thing that has become clear to me over the years and no doubt to hundreds if not thousands of parent/carers is that the education system, many schools, LEA’s and teaching staff have little or no idea about any of this legislation or of their legal responsibilities to disabled children and there is no motivation for them to do so. SENCO’s are supposed to have some training but I have met quite a few who have no idea at all. Even if they have and they are sympathetic this doesn’t mean that head teachers, teachers or governors are. Ofsted’s remit for SEN inspection lacks any real substance or backbone. Schools know they can easily evade their responsibilities.

“They are illegal, but there is little or no redress for parents or children”

The impact on the wellbeing and education of disabled children is of course immense. The abuse of disabled children is a common occurrence in state schools from the denial of an assessment that would enable access to support  right through to children with documented disabilities with EHCP’s/statements  being denied their  needs; children being actively prevented  from accessing medication and apparatus for breathing difficulties for chronic lung conditions, children with physical disabilities being made to take part in activities that will cause them pain, humiliation and make them physically unsafe. The teacher who decides that they know better than the EHCP/Statement and prevents the child with the bladder problems, well documented and advised to have access to a toilet, from accessing the toilet as what they really need is to learn is discipline and being made to wet themselves in class will teach them. The teacher who refuses to implement specialist interventions and strategies simply because they don’t do that. These scenarios, and worse, are played out up and down the UK day in day out. They are illegal, but there is little or no redress for parents or children.

The educational establishment is actively geared up to not respecting the rule of law and indeed to evading it at every available opportunity. LEA’s  employ solicitors  at some considerable cost deliberately to enable them to do so and schools and LEA’s refuse to assess children on a regular basis  or even to implement the  EHC plan a legal document that LEA’s are obliged by law to do. Parents do not get Legal Aid, they are forced to defend their children themselves against these  state institutions with the inevitable impact on family life and the child.  Which brings me onto the Equalities Act (Education). Designed to protect disabled children (and others) from discrimination and promote inclusion; as yet I haven’t found one teacher who had any knowledge of the Equality Act or that it applied in schools. Oddly teacher training does not seem to include knowledge of the Equality Act which is baffling given as teachers and schools have a legal obligation to enact it. Values enshrined in the act such as tolerance, mutual respect and inclusion which are part of the law and British values apparently, are curiously absent from many state schools .

Toby Youngs comments on disabled children from a Spectator article in 2012 went unnoticed until the recent furore over his appointment  to a HE watchdog and the exposing of numerous tweets and articles, in this instance  his opinions on inclusion and describing SEN children as troglodytes. It is difficult not to highlight the fact that if comments like these had been made about children based on their skin colour or gender Toby’s comments would have been picked up on far earlier. The sad fact is many teachers, parents and wider society will tacitly agree with his sentiments; you might even call this a belief system.

It is hardly surprising  that the United Nations has roundly criticised the UK for its failure to uphold it’s own laws. As for tolerance and respect children with disabilities are far more likely to be the victims of persistent bullying in school  and hate crime. But why should children respect or tolerate disabled children when the adults and the state institutions that they represent don’t? Children of course learn from adult role models around them.  The belief systems around disabled children that dominate education provision and indeed government and wider society are as equally insidious as those referred to by Ofsted, as beliefs about disabled children have in the past lead to horrific violence  toward disabled people and it is relevant to note that this abuse was perpetrated by the state even in the UK .

images-5

Ofsted’s head scarf and British values remit is selective and divisive and says as much about the government ‘s agenda toward disabled children as it does about its agenda regarding Muslims, about who it exemplifies as a community incompatible with British values or who at least need educating in them and  a community who is simply excluded from consideration.    It has been widely reported that the Tories want to scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights based on British values – we are seeing evidence already of what this would look like. This dynamic should be ringing alarm bells, it is one that we have seen before in Europe.

Many parents of disabled children now live with constant anxiety and fear for their children’s safety and future at the hands of the state, I like many other parents will wonder when taking their child to school – how will they be treated today, will they be safe? Should I even have them in school any longer?  And if not, then what?

By Mrs Rumiyya

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


Leave a comment

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.


2 Comments

The Betrayal

image

Iranian woman removing her headscarf in 2015, against law which forces women to cover

I was betrayed as a child. Betrayed by those I trusted most. They were all in on the betrayal, but it was for my own good. It was to protect me. Or was it to suppress me? Either way, the betrayal was based on assumptions. Assumptions that I would be tempted by the evils of the western way of life. And to keep me in check was to convince me to wear a hijab from the age of 8.

I was not forced, let us be straight with that. I conformed. I conformed after a period of brainwashing that I see happening to 8 year olds today. I was under the belief that this would make me a woman. But what is far worse than that was that I was told a lie. I was told that it was haram for a girl or woman to not cover her hair. This betrayal came to me from my family, friends and teachers at Islamic school. And for years I never questioned it, why should I? I was told it so categorically, I used to fear having one hair show from my head under my scarf. Only as an adult, when I read it for myself, I realized it was a lie.
You can say what you like about hijab, but what you cannot say is that it is haram for a woman to not cover up. There is no order from Allah to cover your heads. And saying its haram is playing god, now none of us want to do that, right? If you wear it because you identify as a muslim, or it helps your cause please do it. But do not wave your “holier than thou stick” at me for not covering. Because in the eyes of Allah, I am doing nothing wrong. Hijab, when imposed on girls and women is nothing more than a means of social control. To stop those girls going astray in their teenage years. I was one of those girls. I wasn’t even given a chance to prove that my parents brought me up well knowing right from wrong. My parents must have had little faith in their upbringing of me… or they were more terrified of the West than I previously thought.

Now, I no longer cover, and I speak to my dad about his decision to make us cover. It was a community thing… he knows. He reads the quran. He didn’t get angry. There is no command for hijab.

By The Undercover Feminist

 

Image credits: http://tundratabloids.com/2015/10/october-11th-is-international-no-hijab-day/

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


1 Comment

The Joys of Shopping as a Hijabi

image

Mariam François, presenting BBC programme ‘The Muslim Pound’

My trip to Zara without the kids in tow!

Zara seem to have nailed it! I walked around the Brent Cross branch and wanted to buy everything !

This is incredibly unusual for me- generally I hate shopping. I find it awkward and cumbersome. I hate using the mirrors because I don’t see myself in that way- wearing a hijab or a headscarf.

I’m a British Muslim woman, but I’m also relatively concerned about my appearance and presentation. However in my head I look like me, without a scarf, looking pretty. So shopping and finding clothes that are both attractive and modest and appropriate for work or otherwise is a chore- I don’t enjoy it.

But something was very different today! I was in Zara and they had mange to make everything work. Dresses were long , and with sleeves; jackets were smart tailored but still modest. And cardigans… OMG cardigans …. I was in cardi heaven, I wanted them all in every colour. They were the right amount of smart, elegant and modest and even warm!

What had happened?? Had Zara taken notice of the growing number of women that want to dress smartly and elegantly and retain some class?

Or had they realised that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world that were ready and willing to part with hard cash to purchase the right style for them?

by Anjum Peerbacos

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

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author


Leave a comment

A Review of ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ by Ambreen Razia

Hounslow_girl_web_main_460_733_95_s

Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

This is a review of the ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ a play by Ambreen Razia, shown at the Ovalhouse on the 6th of May.

Ambreen Razia had the audience spellbound by her electric performance. From start to finish I could not avert my eyes or raise my glass to take a sip of my drink for such was her charismatic presence. She portrays a teen Hounslow girl who is refreshingly not meek. In contrast to traditional perceptions of Pakistani girls she is a tigress roaring with passionate cries for freedom. Ambreen’s character is sensitive, inquisitive and a spark once lit transformed into a fire. She stormed onto the set unfurling a myriad of difficult painful recollections, punctuated with kind relief from the tempo with humour that had the room laugh out loud.

The diary of a Hounslow girl is a play much needed for all who care about women and girls across our diverse communities. The more I listened the more I wanted to shout out in delight at the message expressed by a lone character narrating her troubled British teen Muslim existence from her bedroom. Ambreen focuses on her Muslim Pakistani identity but understands and relates the shared trials of London girls in general. London girls are diverse, unique individuals, each adding a different flavour to the culture and voice of this city. The play asserts the complexity of individual identity bound up with multiple mini communities all co-existing as one. Ambreen’s Hounslow Muslim Pakistani girl is significantly different to her peers but also very much just another Londoner.  Hounslow girl wants to speak, she wants her words heard – she wants to exist. She questions being singled out as a girl within her ethnic culture and Islamic community. She wonders why she must be held to account by her mother, sister, mosque uncle, Aunty Nusrat and God but denied the right to ask questions and search for answers on her own terms. We follow her tempestuous journey trying to be the perfect Pakistani girl for her mother while also trying to enjoy her friendships with girls her mother would rather dig a whole and hide away from. What is the place of a daughter born of an immigrant parent? This is the point addressed so clearly and passionately by Ambreen Razia throughout the play. Who gets to decide who Hounslow girl is and will be – her mother, her friends, her mosque uncle or her thoughts, actions, mistakes and solutions?

“It is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike”

Take away the hijab, take away the clothes, lingo and ethnic markers and the audience can see this is a diary about a girl who is looking to live her life with free will as so many teenagers yearn to do. Ambreen Razia bravely channels the ferocity of the teenage ride with searing heart breaking truths but brings us safely to a comforting final reflection. Hounslow girl is defiant, rebellious and angry but she is able to feel compassion and empathy for her mother. Ambreen Razia has said she wrote this play for girls coming of age – I think it is more than that – it is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike. In the last tender moments of the play the stormy whirlwind unleashed by Hounslow girl in my mind slowed to a gentle meditative state. I drank my drink and reflected on the special moment I had witnessed – the coming of age of women much marginalised, misunderstood but more and more a liberated dynamic force.

by Nazia

@25nazia

Diary of a Hounslow girl is on national tour details blacktheatrelive.co.uk and will be showing at the Ovalhouse between Wednesday 3rd of  June to  Saturday  6th of  June, at 7:00pm.

Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

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


2 Comments

The Darker the Berry the Sweeter the Juice

by Hafsa Guled

@QUESADILLABABY

Image Courtesy of Hafsa Guled

Image Courtesy of Hafsa Guled

The first time I hated my skin color was in the ninth grade and it was just after biology class. We were in the brightly lit hallway, goofing off when we saw two of the upperclassmen leaving the bathroom while adjusting their make-up. The louder one, Mariam, whom I both admired and hated at the same time walked up to me, brandishing her lighter skin on her neck. Since she came back from summer break, her dark skin had mysteriously gotten five shades lighter.

Loudly, she gushed about how pretty her light skin was to anyone who would listen. It was interesting because I grew up with Mariam and just last year her skin was darker than mine. But thanks to the new girl, Z, who pressured the entire senior class to bleach themselves, things took a different turn. The same girls who didn’t think twice of their skin tone were now spending hours in front of the bathroom mirror glancing at their reflections, unsatisfied with what they saw.

Z, who herself had bleached her skin senseless, began comparing skin tones before gym class. The lighter you were, the nicer she treated you, but because I had a darker complexion, she did not like me much. “White hijabs would not look nice on you since you are too dark”, a direct quotation said by her that still sticks with me today.

She really put all her energy towards making me feel inferior because of my skin color.

I clearly remember standing in front of my locker pretending to reach for notebooks I did not need just to avoid Z. Her presence behind my back when she walked past every morning sent me on complete edge. My friends did not understand why I was so quiet and uneasy whenever I saw her. To me, she conjured up so many negative emotions and made me feel so small that it was hard to articulate. The amount of time I spent beside my locker attempting to look busy so as not to have to talk her was countless. Just the sound of her slithery snake like hiss of a voice was enough to make me shiver. She really put all her energy towards making me feel inferior because of my skin color. This was my firsthand experience with colorism in my life.

Soon, before my bus picked up in the morning for school I would stand in front of the mirror adjusting my hijab left and right trying to cover my face. I tossed all the white scares bought for me in the back of my closet. I didn’t feel like I was pretty or worth looking at. Another thing that confirmed that was none of the boys I liked liked me back. It was a never ending cycle. The effects of colorism were deeply rooted in me for many years to come but it first started in my own home.

For me, that was when I first started associating being dark with something gross and nasty.

My aunt and my mother both had lighting bleach creamers in their nightstands and would apply them religiously every night. My mom would say she was using it to ‘correct her uneven dark spots’ but I knew the truth. My aunt would say she needed to ‘return to her original skin tone’. For me, that was when I first started associating being dark with something gross and nasty.

Growing up as a kid I would overhear adults at the dinner table talking about certain divorces and family gossip. Occasionally I would hear things like, “[H]e can’t marry her skin is too dark, all the kids will be ugly” or “[M]y God you’ve gotten darker here’s a recipe for an all-natural lightening cream’. As an eleven year old, I never understood that way of thinking since my dad was dark as coal and my little sister was as well. But that was just the tip of iceberg unfortunately.

My own mother would tease my younger sister for her darker complexion by calling her “Sudani” or “darkie”. (Sudani meaning someone of Sudanese descent and darkie a shortened term for a darker skinned person). I remember one day when I walked in on my little sister crying, heeled over the toilet in the bathroom. With tears streaming down her face, she begged God that she just wanted to be light. Those were just the first few instances I had brushed with colorism but my journey with self- hatred did not start until late high school.

Self- loathing of my dark skin was all I knew for years. I spent countless hours of my life wishing I was as light as Sofia Vergara or Raven Symone. All around me light skinned women seemed to be making it far in life and had many doors opening for them. It got so bad that during my senior year of high school, I stopped showing my face to people. I desperately began covering my face with hoodies and beanies, pretty much anything to hide my self.

My self- esteem was at an all-time low all because I despised what my skin look like. Every night I would scrub my body until my fingertips would turn raw just at a shot of being one shade lighter. For me, being lighter represented things like youth, beauty, and likeability. All the light girls I knew were liked by everyone. I just wanted a piece of that. But over the years, my way of thinking slowly began to change for the better.

Accepting my skin tone has been a long, painful journey for me. Some days I wake up and feel a twinge of the hurt and self- hatred I carried for so long bubble up. But I am happy to say I no longer hesitate in wearing lighter colored hijabs. I mean of course it hasn’t been easy nor did it happen over-night. It was long nights of crying myself to self and sitting on the cold toilet seat not wanting to get up because it would mean catching my reflection in the mirror. Then slowly day by day not allowing my self to beat myself up over things I had no control over.

My one act of rebellion has been to wear bright, statement lip colors no matter how my skin looks. I have actually reached the point of self-acceptance where when I look into the mirror, I feel proud of my glistening melanin. I no longer see an ugly, blackened shell of a person but more of a darkskinned bombshell girl with an A+ personality.

I am able to say I love my blackness.

It hasn’t always been this way but thanks to several years spent on social media, internet friends, black pride, black self-love hashtags, and real life support groups, I am able to say I love my blackness. Spefically hashtags like #FlexinMyComplexion and #BlackOutDay taught my blackness is what makes me beautiful. Now, I love how my skin looks when the sun hits it, like shimmering bronze. I love how my eyelids twinkle and gleam when I blink. I love how my skin doesn’t age. I love how any lipstick color immediately pops because of my beautiful melanin. I love how white people gush and obsess about how clear my skin is considering their the ones that the media deems as most beautiful. I love how soft and sun-kissed my skin looks at all times, even in the winter. And best of all, I love every part of my blackness. Even the darker parts of it.

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