She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


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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.


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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.


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For Almost 30 Years I Wore A Headscarf

Image courtesy of Khashayar Elyassi

Image courtesy of Khashayar Elyassi

For almost 30 years I wore a headscarf.

For almost 30 years I believed it was an integral part of my faith and I would be disobeying god by not wearing it.

For almost 30 years I believed that if I didn’t wear one, I would be constantly harassed and pursed by men – my beauty needed to be concealed.

For almost 30 years, I was misguided.

I cannot pinpoint when I decided or started to doubt my headscarf. I think it was when I was watching my cousin coming up to the age of 9 – the obligatory age for wearing it. A few years prior to that, I saw my cousins and the family around them start the brainwashing process

“ooh you’ll have a big party with lots of presents when you start to wear one”

“you’ll be more like mum, I will start treating you as a grown-up”

“It’s haram you have to”

And I could see my poor little cousin, she wasn’t having any of it. I could see her sorrow at being the only girl in her school wearing a scarf. I watched her in silence, and decided to do my own research. And that’s the beginning of the journey.

“This is the first misconception when wearing a scarf – a woman is so beautiful that she must be covered.”

My first realisation. I am not beautiful.  This is the first misconception when wearing a scarf – a woman is so beautiful that she must be covered. I watched my western friends, they didn’t dress immodestly. They just got on with their day. And most importantly, they weren’t harassed. Did I really believe I was more attractive than all of them?  No, I am not. So why was I wearing it?

I put my theory to the test, one day whilst at a conference in Vienna, I stepped out of my hotel room with no headscarf on.  I looked around. Nobody could care less. I was actually quite taken aback, where were the wolf whistles? The harassment? Why wasn’t every man in the room looking at me? In fact it was far worse – why was everyone IGNORING ME. I just blended in.  I am not used to that. When I enter a room, a bus, a train carriage, a shop, everyone looks at me. But nobody did. And I tried hard to make eye contact, yet nobody looked my way. I was moments away from going up to the nearest man and shaking him and asking him “why haven’t you fallen madly in love with me?” Until I pulled myself together. I was dressing how I always dress. I just lost the headscarf and the world around me changed. My scarf was meant to make me gender neutral, a eunuch. But it didn’t, it made me stand out even more. I walked through the lobby then out in the street. I put on my shades and walked to the nearest supermarket – everyone was getting on with their day. No stares. No pointing. I grabbed my shopping and went back to my room, and put my scarf back on.

It took a few more months after that to fully remove the veil, and the reactions, stories that follow are too detailed to put into this article. So there is more to come. However, it is a decision I never regretted. I am still not fully out – I still live a double life. Many people still don’t know. I put it on in community and family based events. My cousin is still being pressured to wear it. At times I think I should say something to save her. At times I think I should keep quiet and let her find her own words to fight her battles.

by The Undercover Feminist

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

Image Courtesy of Khashaya Elyasi on Flickr  


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It’s Because You’re Ugly

'Ugly Betty' TV Series, image courtesy of KOUTA

‘Ugly Betty’ TV Series, image courtesy of KOUTA

Setting the scene. It’s breakfast. We all silently munch away. Silence is broken.

“Did you know that another girl has taken her hijab off”

The Females pipe up.

Sighs

Tuts

“And from such a respectable family”

More sighs

More tuts

I stuff another piece of toast in my mouth. Best keep quiet.

The Misogynist of the family speaks up.

“It’s because she’s ugly. She’s desperate to get married”

Can’t keep quiet any longer.  Swallow and I draw a breath to speak up. I get a sharp glance from The Matriarch. When The Misogynist speaks, nobody can argue. The sharp glance turns into pleading eyes.

“Please; keep the peace”. 

Begrudgingly, I continue munching, unable to swallow from the shear rage burning inside.

That’s why, she’s ugly and wants to get married. 5 years on, she is still not married. 5 years on, she works for the UN? Travelled the world, even has her own flying license. Why is it all about marriage? Why is she such a disgrace? She took off her headscarf? And the critics include the women?  Where is the sisterhood? I often think to myself – how did we get to this situation?

Judging and critising each other is easy. We don’t live each other’s lives and face each other’s problems. The decision to remove your headscarf, especially in our community, where it’s been on since the age of 9 mustn’t have been an easy one.  We underestimate that decision this one woman took – and in fact hundreds of others have taken like her.  Spending most of your life covered under a veil then removing that is the equivalent to deciding to go out without your top on. You feel naked.   But there must have been good reasons. Yes, these girls are respectable and educated. Maybe they realised, like others have, that the hijab is becoming obsolete. Its meaning diluted? Its feminist ideals indoctrinated in our early Islamic education a lie?  It’s now a homing device, the “X” that marks the spot. The visible invisible. You are a muslim, everyone knows it, there is no denying it covered up like that. And in this day and age, where the anti-muslim sentiment is growing, maybe people don’t want to be labelled as such? Maybe I don’t want to be beaten up on the way home? Maybe, just maybe, I will be looked at and judged less if I didn’t’ have it on.

by The Undercover Feminist

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

Image Courtesy of KOUTA on Flickr