She Speaks We Hear

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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  


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All Women Who Cover Their Heads Are Nadiya Hussain

Nadiya Hussain on winning the Great British Bake Off

Nadiya Hussain on winning the Great British Bake Off

Nadiya Hussain. There you go – crystal clear. If I had written it, nobody would have believed me. Nobody could see her skill. Nobody can see past the fact that she wears a headscarf. Muslims and non-Muslims alike. If this isn’t the proof then nothing is. When you wear a headscarf – nobody can see past it. Your intelligence, humour, talent, beauty is nothing. You wear a headscarf.

So I have been following the media intensity around the Great British Bake Off winner myself. For my personal Muslim friends on Facebook, it’s all “yay, a Hijabi won”. For the mass media, “congratulations, a Bangladeshi Muslim woman has won”. And now the backlash, the media scrutiny of the BBC, was it a political move. Was it a politically correct move? Move over: she won because she was the best baker, but does anyone even care? Did anyone even notice? Did anyone even notice that the other two contestants massively screwed up on the day? Nobody noticed at all. The headscarf masked that all.

Nadiya Hussain isn’t the only one. Yvonne Ridley is treated the same when she decided to cover up. Award winning journalist – well that was back then, before the head scarf came on. Now, you’re just a good obedient wifey. No? Really? You are still involved in journalism? Well it’s just your hobby then? The only women who are successful in their headscarf appearance are those who are politically involved, or post vlogs about the latest headscarf fashions. Those fighting for equality and human rights, or those shovelling it onto their faces. And even then they are not taken all that seriously in comparison to their non-veiled counterparts. And where do the rest of us “in-betweeners” sit?

Women already have it hard, and it’s hard for them to be taken seriously. Just today Theresa May had to defend her “like” for trendy clothes, and that it was ok to be a fashionista politician. But the headscarf makes it harder. You’re not even seen as a woman then; you’re only seen as a scarfy.

“Nobody cares if you’re great at your job, or doing something pivotal in your society. You are masked by the veil; the head covering that speaks louder than your actions.”

The point I wanted to desperately portray in this article is that all women who cover their heads are Nadiya Hussain. Nobody cares if you’re great at your job, or doing something pivotal in your society. You are masked by the veil; the head covering that speaks louder than your actions. And let’s not blame our “white society” for this. The “black” community are just as guilty. So the veil is more than that, it’s not just a head covering. It sends out a message loud and clear. I wear a headscarf. And for your society around you, whether it be white or black will always judge you by your headscarf, and it’s never going to be a positive empowering image they portray.

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. The copyright remains with the author, any reproduction of this post should accredit She Speaks We Hear.
Image courtesy of the BBC


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20 Confessions of a Hijabi

By Robina Saeed

@ROBtotheINA

 

Image courtesy of Robina Saeed

Image courtesy of Robina Saeed

Last week marked my one year hijabiversarry so I thought it was time to write down those thoughts and experiences, both positive and negative I’ve had throughout my journey so far.

1) It’s a very obvious statement of who I am, so first impressions tend to be already forged and difficult to shift

2) It’s a privilege and responsibility

3) I love not having to worry about that food baby showing after a big meal

4) Or my hair having to be ‘on fleek’

5) It’s helped me to become more practising. I now feel comfortable stepping foot in a masjid, and it’s helped me to make practising friends

6) Hijab makes me happier. Because I know I’m representing Islam it makes me conscious to go that extra mile to smile at everyone and help anyone in need.

7) A lot of sisters who don’t wear hijab seem to think that I think that I’m a better Muslim than them

8) I get stared at. A lot.

9) But also respected more. Cat calls have been reduced by a percentage of 99% over the year.

10) I get stopped and searched at airports a lot more than I used to.

11) It’s my crown

12) People tend to have a pre conceived opinion of you because you’re a muslim women. So it’s nice to break that stereotype.

13) It’s a part of my identity

14) It keeps my ears nice and toasty in winter

15) The loose airy clothing keeps me cool in summer

16) People think I’m 20 kg heavier than I actually am

17) People automatically think I was forced and are surprised when I explain it was my own choice

18) My hijab is used as a piety meter

19) Apparently I shouldn’t *insert sin here* because I wear Hijab

20) I’m not perfect and don’t need to be to wear hijab

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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Why don’t you make your mother wear the Hijab?

by Inayah Zaheen

@inayahtweets

Inayah pictured with her mother; image courtesy of Inayah Zaheen

Inayah pictured with her mother; image courtesy of Inayah Zaheen

A few months ago we were invited to someone’s house for dinner where I was asked a question by one of the guests:

“Why don’t you make your mother wear the hijab?”.

I love wearing the headscarf – to externally be dressed in a way that enables me to maximise on worship (stop, drop, sujood almost anywhere!), but also to be able to walk down the street and very visibly be noted to be a Muslim woman. I chose to wear it not only to follow the wisdom and instruction of my Creator, but also because I believe it represents something greater: that I am not defined nor measured by social standards of beauty. I won’t lie and pretend it isn’t difficult at times, but I love to reflect on the story of Ibrahim AS, (a prophet mentioned in the qur’an), and how he was willing to sacrifice his own son in his love for, and faith in Allah. While I can by no means equate covering my hair in public to a sacrifice so great, for me this difficulty was made easier when reminding myself that although I love my hair (not that I’m now bald), my love for Allah has always been, and should always be far greater.

I am 22 years old, and I started to wear the headscarf when I was 19, after many months and years of contemplation, consideration and prayer. It is not wholly unusual in my extended family to choose to wear a headscarf, but it is also not the norm. When faced with the above question however, my answer was prompt: my mother is a million times a better Muslim than I am, when I reach her level, I’ll find myself in any position to give her advice.

My mother, wears hijab in every single aspect of the concept and word – without physically wearing a headscarf. My mother lives and breathes Islam, she has the most beautiful sabr and patience that I have ever seen, after her first child died, she grew in imaan and faith in Allah’s plan and in love for Allah. She is also beautifully humble, modest and loving and of course – Jannah is beneath her feet! She works as a mother with all her passion, and as a doctor with all her dedication. Her determination, strength and beauty are wonderful, and I love her dearly. She is not the only one I know like this – there are many friends of mine who are so humble, modest, kind, wise and genuinely representative of Islam in their every action and word without physically wearing the headscarf, that I find great role models in them, and aspire to have that degree of wonderful character and piety. I am by no means undermining the headscarf and outer hijab, but at the same time I have a request for my Muslim sisters and brothers: please do not undermine the equal importance of inner hijab.

Image courtesy of Kasha Halford https://flic.kr/p/51Do2

Image courtesy of Kashi Halford https://flic.kr/p/51Do2

It only takes a few seconds to scroll on instagram and see the array of hateful and judgemental comments against sisters – headscarf-wearing and non-headscarf-wearing. Sometimes it truly makes me want to cry – at which point did we decide we could demean and belittle others, based on our perceptions of their practise of Islam? Headscarf, no headscarf, half-headscarf, or even bikini – nothing legitimises being rude and disrespectful to any human being, let alone a Muslim sister. Of course, giving advice is important – but when we are so obsessed with Islam’s teaching on dress, why do we not extend this to observing Islam’s teachings on etiquettes in giving advice? On top of this, while Allah is the best judge of intentions, ask yourselves this: is my intention by writing this “advice” in a comment to make a point, boost my ego, or truly inspire hearts and minds with the words of Allah and the Prophet Muhammed SAW?

Instead, let us take lessons to always learn from one another – such an approach can only seek to increase our humility. Instead of: what can I point out about this sister that is bad/worse than me, let us ask: what is this sister doing that is better than what I do? How is she practising Islam in a way I can learn to practise Islam? Perhaps she gives more charity than I do, perhaps she listens with more sincerity to others, perhaps she never backbites. When I look at my mother, there is an infinite list of things I can learn from her, and I love that about her.

Ultimately, Allah is the judge of everyone, and He is the most JUST of judges. All I’m asking is, let’s increase in love for one another, seek out to find the good in one another, and always remember that Allah knows us all infinity times better than we know ourselves.

To those who have been faced with similar questions, perhaps your answer will be different to mine – and that’s fine! But to those who have ever felt demeaned because of comments about hijab, know that no one can claim to speak on behalf of Allah, and He knows best what is in the heart. To those of you who genuinely give advice, keep it up. I’m sure you already do, but also take some time to listen to, learn from, and appreciate the story, the struggles and the heart of the sister you are speaking to.

So why don’t I make my mother wear the hijab? Because she already does. If Allah wills it for her, the beaming example of her inner hijab may one day manifest into outer headscarf, but for the moment, she is my mother, and heaven is beneath her feet.

I end with one of my favourite hadiths:

Taqwa is not in the length of your beard, or in the layers of cloth you wear. The prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, “Taqwa is here,” and he pointed to his chest. (Reported by Muslim)

And one of my favourite verses of the qur’an:

Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has gone astray from His way, and He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided. (Surah Qalam: Verse 7)

Inayah Zaheen, I’m 22 and I am a 4th year medical student in London. I take a keen interest in interfaith, community work and volunteering and I love learning about other people. She blogs at inayahthinks.wordpress.com

Images credit: Inayah Zaheen and  Sarajevo, Bosnia from Kashklick

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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Perks of Being a Somali American Wallflower

by Hafsa Guled

@QUESADILLABABY

Image credit: Chiarashine

Image credit: Chiarashine

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2013). I distinctly remember reading that quote on every corner of the internet in late 2014. It was typically accompanied with a black and white gif of a crying, dark haired boy mouthing the words stop crying, stop crying. The pure unfiltered agony and sadness radiating from my laptop screen captivated me. His hands were gripping at his face and I instantly needed to know his story. I was always a sucker for sad movies with morally correct lovable  protagonists. This is how I, a shy anxiety ridden Somali American hijabi girl, fell in love with a movie just by a mere silent gif found in the corner of Tumblr.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2013).

Growing up, I was taught that being quiet and shy wasn’t a desirable personality trait. Whether it was through well- meaning family members insisting that no job would hire a quiet girl or teachers putting me on the spot to read in class even when I slowly shook my head.

Not mention the constant media narrative of so- called oppressed hijabi women being pushed down my throat. I felt immensely guilty for not being like my other hijabi friends who had no problem speaking up. Every time I swallowed what I wanted to say, I personally felt I was contributing to the stereotype of all Muslim women being submissive and passive. That is why a movie essentially about a brilliant, fiercely loyal introvert resonated so deeply with 17 year old me.

Charlie, a fifteen year old freshman, is a quiet awkward boy who feels lost in high school. To the audience watching the movie from the outside looking, we could see that Charlie really doesn’t possess one bad trait. In fact, he seemed like the type of character you’d want by your side during a time of chaos. Unfortunately, typically in high school, character isn’t what counts. His struggles to fit in and yet stay true to his core, whilst in high school are universal themes that I, and nearly everyone, can deeply connect with.

For me, this film represented a realistic almost eerie coming of age story. It showcased the overwhelming sweet power of accepting friendships. It taught me that being quiet and reserved was something to celebrate. Perks let me know in many ways more than one that quietness was not equated with lacking in creativity and depth. Perks also helped me realize the parts of my being I loathed the most were actually the most wonderful aspects of me. It did all of that in the pretence of a teen movie.

A movie like this that encompasses so many heavy topics is truly hard to come by. As a director, Stephen Chbosky, really captured what it meant to be a teenager growing up. He cleverly captures the beauty of coming of age amidst chaos. The reason why the movie is so resonating is its ability to be unabashed and utterly honest in its portrayal of high school. Many teenagers can relate to Sam’s struggle of getting the perfect SAT score to make it into her dream college.

Charlie finds it challenging to find friends in high school. Mary Elizabeth tries to find the balance between being quick- witted while being vulnerable. Patrick struggles with violent, internalized homophobia from the boy he sees as the love of his love. And while all these aspects of the movie made it that much more real and heartbreaking to me, one scene in particular will stay with me for eternity.

Image by myinfiniteabyss: https://instagram.com/p/2rJGEyN-3v/

Image by myinfiniteabyss: https://instagram.com/p/2rJGEyN-3v/

The moment when close friends Patrick and Mary Elizabeth talk poor, shy Charlie into stripping down into his underwear and getting on a stage to perform The Rocky Horror Show was hands-down the most riveting moment in cinema for me. Charlie loses himself in stage and even subtly flirts with Sam, his long term crush. We see him break completely out of character and it is truly awe inspiring. For awkward me, it let me know that getting out of your comfort zone is not always disastrous.

At the end of day, never underestimate that quiet kid in your class. They may be hiding a whole world your extroverted self might not be aware of.

Hafsa Guled is a 19-year-old aspiring writer and social advocate, and you can follow her on Twitter @QUESADILLABABY

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


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The Smiling Sister; Paintings of Hijab

by Roszeen Afsar

“The hijab is much more than the external solid scarf, but it is worn as an internal spiritual means of faith, these collections depict that so well.”   – Nargis Akhter 

Image by Rozseen Afsar

Image by Roszeen Afsar

The above quote is the feedback I received from a friend after I showed her the piece I’d painted of her [above] based on one of her photographs. The photo I saw showed her with a peaceful yet sombre expression I would imagine of a Victorian woman saving her smile, but looking satisfied and elegant in her pose, confident in her femininity, dignified as a woman. The collection of mine she was referring to was not only the painting I did of her or the plans I’d shared with her of my future work, but also another piece I’d made previously which was inspired in the same light; by the expression of another friend whose hijab was also intrinsically melded into her closed eyes and subtle smile. I painted what struck me, inspired by their essence, and with the sole purpose of trying to capture peace. Peace is feminine in my eyes. And so is spirituality.

Artistic depictions of Muslim women in history have consisted of Orientalist ideas mostly, often portraying the Arabian (which is the only ethnicity of the Muslim woman in Western stereotype) female ‘other’ as an erotic being, an object hidden behind a veil. Discussion of the Islamic woman is concrete, black and white. As material, physical and solid as the scarf around her head – just as my friend referred to in the above quote. Although I may in future discuss something I’ve painted or drawn as a response to secular opinion or critique of female autonomy in Islam, I didn’t begin my work that way and it is not what inspires me. First and foremost my inspirations come by way of…the innocence of the unguarded moment, the natural beauty of the created, the split second of a peaceful smile, a feminine confidence, the image of the soul materialised. It is therefore the painted or drawn face itself which takes precedence above whatever opinion or stereotype others may have, which speaks for itself, which stands on its own before whatever follows from it and not vice versa.

Spirituality, Muslim women and expression.

Image by Roszeen Afsar

Knowledge or appreciation of spirituality in this age is naïve at most and non-existent at least. It is not surprising that female spirituality is never brought up in discussions regarding Islam, but Rabia al Basri is the woman who immediately comes to mind when I think of it. Rabia’s earlier life was very much concrete; poverty placed her into slavery. She was a woman tied to her circumstances and could have become the helpless victim Muslim women are often depicted as. However, her hardships and worship led to her rising spiritually, they led to her certainness of being, so much so that she freed herself of her circumstances and was seen as a saint. I would give a great deal to be able to witness the way she was and the aura surrounding her as a woman in oneness with God.

Without even intending to seek, I believe I have come across drops from such an ocean of spiritualism and being, cast upon the faces of women around me. Though the moments are fleeting, they exist. The expressions which have inspired me are from the lives of real women. And what strikes me about them is that their expressions are both close and distant, just as every single soul is both alive in the physical, immediate realm, as well as in the metaphysical, experiential one. I believe that what inspires me to paint and create is witnessing the presence of being at peace – something I have seen in its purest in the feminine.

You can view more art work by Roszeen Afsar [Inky-Art by Roszeen] on her Instagram @InkyArtbyRoszeen and follow her on Twitter @Roszeen she also blogs on http://ispeakinwriting.wordpress.com/  

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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‘How Not To Wear A Hijab’

by Nabila Pathan

Amongst the plethora of Islamic chain messages I receive on a weekly basis, I can always guarantee, without fail, one or two “how not to wear Hijab” forwards. Don’t be amazed by my talents of predicting a pending message. Be dismayed at the whirlpool of intolerance that we are contributing to.

There is nothing more shameful than a shaming exercise of those who choose to express variety, style and colour in their hijab identity. For someone who does not wear the headscarf, I’m sure I’m the absolute pinnacle of indecency for the messengers of the chain message. It’s the worrying trend of hypocrisy and feeding a mindset of intolerance that worries me about our muslimah circles.

Stop the nit picking. Those who lead the charge of sanctimonious preachood tend to be the leaders of inconsistency themselves. It’s sods law. I wouldn’t notice your headscarf fashioned on Benazir Bhutto if you hadn’t scolded another girl for showcasing a single strand of hair. Oh and your visible disgust at her audacity to go floral is nothing compared to your blinding sequence display the day before. Own up, you’re a little partial to bling. But who am I to judge you? So don’t judge her. And that’s the most important thing. If hijab is a symbol of modesty then it is our reaction to it which needs to be in line.

Judgementalism was never a virtue of modesty.

Muslim women’s clothing has always generated talking points and been used and abused in politics. Most of us are familiar with the “outside narratives” of the hijab. It sometimes gets disguised as feminism, anti-immigration, anti-muslim and anti-social. But it’s just feeding into an anti-tolerance, which at its core stokes up fear of the other for political gains. And then there’s the “inside” problem. One that recently came to the fore when social media erupted about the Mipsterz video that showcased a colourful array of headscarves. It shows our own intolerance for ourselves.

The worst is when the outside and inside cross pathways and then arises the divide and rule scenario. Let’s not place ourselves into a such a vulnerable position. Let’s learn from our history of being colonised and overruled by imperialism.
Do you think I’m being a tad bit over dramatic here? Well I’m not the one who finds conspiracy theories at every walking corner. So I’m surprised you’re not open to this warning message. Or is it cos I is a non-hijabi?

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Nabila Pathan is the founder/director of the London-based Full Picture Club and an arts and culture writer focusing on diaspora Muslim communities. She also writes for Al Arabiya news. You can follow her on Twitter @nabilampathan

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