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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.


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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.

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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.

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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 –

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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.

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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.

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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 –

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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 ;

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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.

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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.


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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 .

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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.


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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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The Betrayal

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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.


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The Joys of Shopping as a Hijabi

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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


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

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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.