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Wonder Women: an interview with Founder of ‘Sisters in Business’ Hanifa

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At SSWH we are keen to promote upcoming everyday women who are following through their passions and dreams by doing great things, in a particular area of their lives – work, life, campaigning, business or the creative sector. These women are making a difference, changing lives, and their actions are like ripples in a pond, causing a cascade of change.

October 11 2017, marked the fifth year of the International Day of the Girl and to celebrate we are launching our new series ‘Wonder Women’ which will feature everyday diverse women, who are all in their own right trail blazers.

Our first Wonder Woman is Hanifa, who had an idea a year ago to bring together her passion for business and her faith. She soon founded ‘Sisters in Business’, click on the link to follow their Instagram page.

SSWH: Please tell us about yourself.

Hanifa: I am a revert, mother to 3 kids and a wife Alhamdulilah, I reverted (converted to Islam) 13 years ago from Christianity. I currently work within the NHS sector and have been for the last 10 years within the maternity field as a qualified breastfeeding consultant, Alhamdulilah. I am a sister who has skilled and qualified myself in many things e.g. Hijama, (cupping) and hairdressing.

SSWH: Why did you start the ‘Sisters in Business’ network? How many events have you had so far and what types of women attend your events?

Hanifa: Sisters In Business was an idea that I wrote down one year ago, but finally put it all together this year, Alhamdulilah. As a business owner myself I was always faced with going to networking events that were contradictory to my faith; I either was amongst men, music and alcohol and it just didn’t sit right with me being in that environment. Not to mention how boring networking events can horribly be.  As someone who has always planned parties and gatherings for sisters ( those who know me, know what a fab party I throw down lol) I knew that having an outlet is very important. I knew there were many sisters who would love to attend networking sessions but unfortunately couldn’t due to whatever reason, I also saw to many sisters start but always stopped running their businesses due to lack of support and connections I wanted to create a platform that was specifically for sisters who wanted to run their businesses to the next level.

Our recent launch event saw women bakers, bloggers, corporate women, mix-tresses, those who have business ideas as well as those who just wanted to meet new sisters. As always I am always looking for ways to make the events fun, as the business world can be boring, as well as lonely. And I wanted the events to be engaging whilst also a space for learning. It is important that these events are social too.

SSWH: What do you hope to achieve with the network?

Hanifa: My overall achievement is to create a hub for sisters from sisters all over the world with tips, advice and best if all opportunities to connect with one another.

SSWH: What motivates and inspires you?

Hanifa: My children are always my motivation, my husband inspires me as he never gives up whatever he has his hands on. I am just a combination of someone who always wants to help women achieve their best, as well as being someone who is always striving to achieve the best too.

SSWH: Do you have any tips for anyone wishing to start-up their own network or turn their idea into reality?

Hanifa: My tips are simple yet effective:

  • Start by writing your thoughts and ideas down – you cant run from what is down in front of you.
  • Never doubt your potential – sometimes we seek validation from others before we put things into action.
  • Gain as much knowledge as you can from those within that field – knowledge is a cure for ignorance.
  • Trial & error – be prepared to fail, stumble and not reach that particular goal. Its ok, just reframe and re evaluate your route to success.

SSWH: How do you motivate Muslim women and help them to realise their entrepreneurial goals?

Hanifa: How I motivate women is giving them the confidence to be in their own element, for example why limit your product to the pound shop when you can aim to have your product in oxford street? Giving them a platform to seek business knowledge without feeling judged or compromising their faith. I help them to unlock their potential – it is easy for women to think they can’t when in fact they can.

Our sincere thanks to Hanifa for answering our questions!

Interview by Akeela Ahmed (follow her @AkeelaAhmed)

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‘Su-Shi’ and interfaith dialogue with Anne Dijk and Arjen Buitelaar

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Deviating slightly from our usual posts, we wanted to share with our readers an interview between Anne Dijk, a female Sunni scholar based in the Netherlands and Arjen Buitelaar, a male Shia scholar also from the Netherlands. They were interviewed by Arek Miernik who is from Poland, and the interview has been translated to English. You can read more about their backgrounds at the end of this post.

  1. What is the idea behind Su-Shi and how did it come about as your project?

Arjen Since the outbreak of the ‘Arab Spring’ we notice heightened and more open tensions between the different Islamic creeds, mainly Sunnites and Shiites, and the voices of the extremes on both sides become louder. Of course this is a development that has been going on for several decades by now, and the extremes on both sides kind of hijack the voice of the common and good willing majority of Muslims. We see both sides recruit people to war zones in countries they have never been to, and tensions, incomprehension and impotency grow. This kind of reached a peak when Mosul was conquered by ISIL forces. It was that moment that Anne Dijk participated in a radio talk on the differences and similarities between Sunnites and Shiites, and she emphasized that the differences weren’t that big (more on jurisprudential level), but in practice it often seemed impossible to get the groups together even for something simple like an iftar. I then decided to approach her, because it was the bitter truth and despite the talks (and efforts) from authoritative scholars that we share so many commonalities, that we are brothers and sisters or even each other’s souls, and that we should work together, we see that communities simply don’t do that and we wanted to change that.

Anne The idea behind su-shi is that we want to bring together Sunni, Shia and all possible creeds within Islam, together, on an equal basis, to meet on a personal level. We don’t want to ‘create’ one single creed, or try to undermine the differences, which exist. We want to strengthen the ummah by informing about the differences and also speak out against stereotypes and prejudices that cause harm to both groups.

Often, the stereotypes of arguments against the opposite groups are based on prejudices, which often only hold for the extremes, and not for the mass-mainstream. Getting to really know each other, in a safe place, where genuine interest and curiosity for the other, is hardly happening. Talks on internet fora very often result in harsh language and conversations that get hijacked by extremes. That’s why we focus on small get-togethers, to really give a platform for personal meetings, based on proper (academic) information.

  1. How do you create a “safe” and neutral space during your meetings and events? Considering the deep level of division and animosity that these differences can cause, exacerbated by current political events in the Middle East, how do you make sure that these divisive attitudes don’t make their way into your meetings?

Anne During the 1,5 year of preparation, before we went online, formal and open, we discussed this issue elaborately. How can we create a safe and neutral space? Of course we can never guarantee anything, but we made clear ‘houserules’. A few elements therein are, are that dialogue is the goal, not debate. Trying to convince the other of your own truth is not allowed either, sincere and open questions are. Tafkir is not allowed; anyone who considers him/herself Muslim deserves within sushi that we treat him/her as such. Per activity we try to make a ‘risk management’ – for example: we held a iftar last ramadan – what to do with the adhan? (su of shi time?) and what to do with the prayer? We try to prevent any kind if discussion of such issues: how? We talk about them openly and elaborate on potential differences. For example, we elaborated en public on the different times of braking the fast, and that the dates were presented for everyone who wanted to brake the fast at that moment (Sunnis) and that we would do one adhan at the shi time. Later, the prayer was open for everyone – everyone must feel free to be able to pray together, but if someone wanted to pray later, that was also fine.

Arjen I agree with Anne’s answer; these are good examples in practice. Within the core group we have a dozen different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds, so you can imagine we have lively talks on possible difficulties when organizing an event. I’d also like to emphasize that one of our core rules is to support respectful dialogue and denounce debate, which, in effect, could be focused on individual monologues only while dialogue forces to open up and listen to the other. It are these house rules that ensure the safe space individuals find themselves in. Added to that, it is important to note that we work with what we call an ‘oil spill formula’, by which we mean that every visitor is personally invited by someone he/she already knows within the ‘Su-Shi Community’. This way we ensure that people feel more secure to open up and say what is on their hearts. Another way we make sure people find themselves in a safe environment is that we do not use traditional set ups with podia for the speakers and people sitting on chairs for a few hours. Depending on the size of the group we either meet up at someone’s home and start with chit chat and dinner. Or like our last Iftar we met up in a ‘youth club’/lounge setting, having some armchairs, couches and tables to sit on, providing a more relaxed atmosphere and automatically ‘compelling’ people to mix up.

  1. The idea of meeting ‘the other sect’ in this environment presupposes that participants already have a certain degree of openness to it. Did you have any reactions so far from those sectors among both communities which prefer to maintain division and hostility?

Arjen Yes we did, though this was outnumbered by massive support messages. A certain degree of openness is definitely needed, simply because within the extremes of religions and ideologies people and or communities build virtual walls around them that make it impossible to reach out to. When people consider the other to be the devil, or inspired by the devil, or a hypocrite of some sort, and subsequently consider his words to be deceiving, how could one ever be willing to listen to it?

And this is kind of the scope of the hostile messages we received. Some extreme Salafists and Quranists who did not and will not acknowledge the existence of other creeds to be Islamic, and who attempted to defame some of our members on a personal level simply because there’s not much to argument about the content of our stance.

Because it is our policy to engage in dialogue and approach everything positively, instead of bogging down in endless debates, we do not react on that. Instead, these two negative approaches have given us plenty of points to further elaborate and communicate through the positive platform we’ve created.

  1. In your experience what are the main or most common reasons that the extreme sectors of each sect give as justification for their enmity towards the other sect? How much of it is theological, how much historical/political and how often is it perhaps rooted, or strengthened, by people’s personal experiences?

Arjen This is a fairly difficult question that needs some elaboration. It is most interesting that the extreme sectors from all creeds base themselves on core sources, just as much as mainstream creeds do. Sometimes even the exact same texts, yet interpreted differently. The narrower the boundaries of a sect become, the more stress they will put on their absolute authority to explain the meaning of texts and not to stray from the ‘right path’ by looking at explanations by authorities from outside their group’s ‘enclave’. The ‘other’ is literally demonized, and by defining ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’, and ‘divine’ and ‘satanic’ the justification easily becomes ‘theological’. It remains the question, however, whether the origins of the justification were theological by nature, or rather inspired by political motives. The same goes for stances on ‘historical truths’. These are based on the same kind of source texts that have alternatives that are consciously neglected, and have shortcomings. Subsequently these become indisputable dogma’s due to their absolute character, and are proposed as ‘real Islam’, yet are nothing more than fallacies. Used to manipulate and monopolize the conversation and hijack individual thought.

The main tradition that is used to justify sectarianism is that the prophet Muhammad ص would have said that Islam will be divided in 73 sects of which just one will enter paradise. This (weak tradition) is used to intensify the fear of individuals and groups to be amongst the dwellers of hell, causing people to know more about the ‘wrongs’ of the other than the ‘goods’ of themselves. With regards to other religions, Islam actually has the same opinion about truth as it has about herself. Christianity will be divided in 72 sects and Judaism in 71, both also have one rightly guided group. For Muslims it doesn’t seem to be their business to define which groups from other religions is the rightly guided one, as long as they do not interfere in Muslim matters. But as one reaction by a self-proclaimed institute wonderfully articulated their view on Islamic sectarianism: “the battle for influence over the Muslims continues…”

  1. Yours is clearly grassroots, bottom-up project. Do you think that the established Muslim leadership like traditional ulama etc. are falling short in building intra-religious bridges among Muslims at the top-down level?

Arjen The answer to this question has multiple layers; it would be too easy to say that they do or do not. In my opinion there are many efforts being made by the established Muslim leadership to build bridges, but their (and this is not reserved to Muslims or religious communities) focus is mainly on people from the top segments, not on community level. In the past decade alone we have seen the Amman Message, which is a great document that Su-Shi uses as well in our argumentation, and the Marrakesh Declaration, which apparently has been improved over a longer period since the 1990s and in its recent update specifically gained attention for its focus on minority groups such as the Yazidis and Christians who suffer much in the Middle East as we speak. Other attempts are being made as well, such as the annual Ghadeer Khumm Festival in Najaf, which I personally attended in 2013, and where leaders from different religious communities spoke. Including more subordinated sects such as the Druze community. All these attempts are very valuable and should be cherished.

At the same time, we see that these innumerably valuable official declarations are not lived after in practice. In real life they remain theoretical documents, that are sometimes not even lived after by important leader figures who endorsed them at first. Or that important religious leaders make statements that, unintended, lead to deeper sectarian rifts.

In parts of the Middle East region tensions are so high since the beginning of this millennium, that it is, of course, very hard to maintain these statements. Leaders can communicate with each other and make agreements at top level, but when blood is shed at ground level people will rather follow a leader that speaks their mind.

The main reason why these declarations hardly have an effect on ground level, however, is that most Islamic – and in fact Abrahamic – faiths are exclusivistic is in nature. When ground level believers hear from their leaders that they should respect and embrace believers from other faiths and sects, and at the same time read in their jurisprudences that those people from other faiths and sects are intrinsically ‘impure’ (najis) because of their ‘infidelity’ or being born to ‘infidel’ parents, than that is at least confusing. In practice, among migrant communities in the West, this means we see, for example, how certain Shiite groups try to find escapes from the statement by the highest authorities that ‘Sunnis are not our brothers and sisters, but our souls’, and try to explain how this still means Sunnis are not on the guided path. And vice versa we see the tremendous influence of Wahhabism which too, albeit being an extreme side faction, affects mainstream Sunnism as well by planting its poisonous seeds of hatred towards others. There is no other way to break this way of thinking, that is imported along with or even strengthened through immigration, down but by starting to work on this from a grassroots, bottom-up project. A project in which the participants themselves can add to the thinking process, and can themselves speak out for peace and cooperation instead of having to depend for that on top level leadership.

Anne It’s indeed a bottom up approach that we have, and that’s for many reasons. 1. We want to grow slowly in order to build real trust based on personal connection in stead of theoretical words only. And 2. To put into practise what those ‘top down’ approaches have tried to formulate but failed to implement.

  1. On a practical note, how do you fund your activities? The reason I’m asking is that as we know, with funding from established Muslim organisations often come agendas and expectations that might potentially jeopardise independence of a project or try to influence a project in a particular direction.

Anne We are up till now completely independent; meaning we don’t get any subsidies from any organisation from any denomination. We are very happy with our team; we all have a broad network so up till now we found free locations; the speakers were all unpaid and the food was covered by our volunteers alhamdulillah. But since we are a Foundation since this year, we are open for donations from individuals. Being independent and self-sustained makes you stronger. Maybe you grow slower, but inshaAllah the project can run longer. Being truly honest to your own values is the most important thing.

Arjen Before Su-Shi had become an organization and was still an idea, I have once organized an event in the Su-Shi spirit that we did receive donations for. From that I can confirm what you mentioned: there are donators that demand their agendas and expectations and try to influence what you do. This is very simple for me though; I reject such donators. Whenever the autonomy of a project or of our organization as a whole is in jeopardy, it isn’t worth what you gain. So when we think out a project, donators can support that of course, but not lay any conditions on us.

  1. Arjen, you are Shia and Anne, you are Sunni. What are the rough percentages in terms of sects among all people involved your project and those attending your events?

Arjen It’s difficult to speak in percentages. Few of our participants have a very homogenous background themselves, however some do. And the same then goes for who they invite through our ‘oil spill’ method. Overall, however, I think that people from a Sunni and Shiite background make up the majority -both close to the half- of participants of our events.

Anne We must also admit that we try to work towards a fair share as well. Meaning: we very consciously have 50% of the board Sunni, 50% of the board shi’i and one ‘neutral’ board member. In this way we direct towards an almost equal percentage of participants as well. Over all, most of our participants would consider themselves Sunni of Shia, we had a few Quranist participants and people with an Allevi background that are enthusiastic as well.

  1. What would be your personal message to people absolutely refusing to engage with the “other sect”, based in their conviction of the other sect’s “heresy” and their conviction that there is no “right” Islam outside their own school of thought?

Anne Allahu Alem. I would ask them so sincerely contemplate on this statement of “Allahu ‘Alem” and with this, try to focus on tazkiyya an-nafs, the cleansing of the soul. How can you, as an individual, be so sure? For me, in essence, ‘Allahu ‘Alem’ means absolute humbleness towards The Truth. Only God knows, that means, that we as human beings, per definition don’t.

Arjen I would like to emphasize that no layperson nor scholar is infallible, and that no matter what you personally believe, we do not all share the same beliefs and convictions. Nonetheless, we do live together, in a space that is becoming smaller and smaller. That brings tensions, but we are not animals. As humans we can use our reason to ‘defend’ our intellectual territories, we shouldn’t be so afraid of the other, and rather listen to each other. Dialogue is not about convincing one another, it is more about becoming stronger in your own convictions, but with respect for the other’s convictions in his or her own space.

***

Anne Dijk has a background in Religious Studies and a Master in Islamic Studies, specialised in Islamic Jurisprudence (Sunni). Fascinated by the transformations of the schools of law (madhahab) and the internal discussions, she found out that there is a deep ethical essence within the jurisprudence that differences of opinions (ikhtilaf) were deeply respected in history. In the hardened debate within Muslim communities nowadays, about ‘what is really Islamic’, she missed this ethical attitude. As Director of Fahm Institute she works on diverse ways to more understanding (fahm) of Islam. She is de co-founder of Su-Shi Intrafaith Dialogue, because she believes that world peace should start within yourself.

Arjen Buitelaar has a background in History and a Master in Religious Studies. From his Master’s thesis till now, he is conducting research of the Shi’ite communities in the Netherlands, at the moment primarily focusing on the role of rituals and symbolism in the shaping of (group) identity. Due to the increasing tensions between Sunnis and Shi’is since the start of the so called Arab Spring, he found it necessary to start with the Su-Shi Intrafaith Dialogue initiative to create better understanding between different Islamic creeds.

Arek Miernik has a background in English literature, is an Al-Mahdi Institute graduate, and leading figure of the wider Muslim community in Poland. Though primarily involved with the Polish Shi’i community, he doesn’t confine himself to it and is a heard voice in opinionated media on the wider Muslim community and its status in society. He is the heart behind the Strefa Islam blog, where this interview was originally published in Polish.

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 above interview was conducted by another organisation and not SSWH but has been reproduced with the permission.


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An Interview with feminist Huma Munshi

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This month we have interviewed inspirational fabulady Huma Munshi, who started the #fuckhonour hashtag, which trended on Twitter. Huma is passionate about addressing inequality through her writing on feminism, forced marriage, mental illness, films and her activism. She is a regular contributor at the F-Word and Black Dog Tribe amongst others, find her @Huma101. She sees writing as a mechanism to overcome trauma and connect with others.

SSWH: Huma, how would you describe yourself?

Huma: I am a Londoner of Indian and Muslim heritage, a feminist, writer and activist. I work for a large trade union on equality policy, organising major conferences, researching and publishing policy papers and working with trade unions, public and voluntary sector and other organisations.

SSWH: What motivated you to work for a trade union?

Huma: There isn’t a history of activism or trade unionism in my family as far as I am aware. But becoming a trade unionist was a critical part of my evolution as an activist and working for one full time was a (bit of) dream. I was initially interested in organising in the workplace on issues of women’s equality such as the gender pay gap and sex discrimination. That’s how I became active.

One of my earliest activities was holding a recruitment event with staff showing the film, Made in Dagenham and using that as way to stimulate a discussion about women trade unionists who fought for equal pay.

I then started representing members in my workplace to help them get justice. I represented members who were disabled and were being put capability procedures due to disability related sickness absence or similar, or fighting different types of discrimination. I also helped develop policies on workplace support for women fleeing domestic violence and a mental health policy.

I am passionate and committed to the union movement because it is about organising, fighting and campaigning knowing we are stronger as a collective and that every employee deserves dignity and equality in the workplace.

I also research policies, write article in the press and blog, work with different groups and sometimes with politicians responding to government consultations. It builds on my time working for the Mayor of London which was a very tricky job but really challenged me, built my confidence and shaped my politics and values.

“For the longest time I blamed myself for my oppression and I found being an outcast intolerably painful and thought of myself a source of shame, a source of dishonour.”

SSWH: As a woman of colour and a feminist do you feel represented by mainstream feminism? If not what could mainstream feminism do to bridge this gap?

Huma: A tricky question!

I think a large part of my recovery as a survivor of a forced marriage was helped by understanding the structural inequality women face. Learning from other women, I developed the language and finally an understanding of the oppression I had experienced. This was very significant for me.  For the longest time I blamed myself for my oppression and I found being an outcast intolerably painful and thought of myself a source of shame, a source of dishonour. It was only as I read and listened to other women did this abate. It’s still not entirely gone, but women, and in particular women of colour, have helped me immeasurably. I realised it was never my shame.

I have many concerns about the wider feminist movement. As a woman of colour, my feminism must be grounded in race equality, (this blog by Claire Heuchan, a Black radical feminist, is really good on addressing racism within feminism), disability equality and an analysis of the impact of class. To not take that into account perpetuates many of the oppressions that the feminist movement should seek to remove.

I also find the silence of feminists who see marginalised women being oppressed or bullied utterly abhorrent. Their silence gives the actions of a few legitimacy to continue.

SSWH: Sharing your own personal story of forced marriage cannot have been easy. Why did you decide to share and write about your personal experiences?

Huma: I didn’t immediately share it with my name. For a while I wrote anonymously  nervous about the backlash  and my families reaction (though we haven’t been in contact for a long time).

I first started writing for the F Word blog and Media Diversified  on other issues such as film or theatre reviews or current affairs. I also wrote fiction and poetry .

When I started writing with my name it was a deliberate choice, it was in the knowledge that other women shouldn’t feel the shame I have felt. And someone has to stand up to the bullies because that’s what the perpetrators are. Like all bullies they continue because they expect victims to stay silent.  Unsurprisingly victims do stay silent because we are not believed, we are attacked, we have not been brought up to expect justice. I want to change that. All my campaigning has been about overturning this unjust system.

So I did it for women and I did it for myself. I wrote with my name after I returned from from a trip to India. This trip was almost 10 years after I had last been to India and gone  through the charade and trauma of my forced marriage. That journey was extremely triggering and scary but I realised I was a different person and I had worked tremendously hard to get better.

“Finally: the biggest “fuck you” to the perpetrators is you leading a good life. When you’re ready, embrace that thought.”

It felt empowering and it fell right to write that piece. It’s been tough since but I’ve never regretted it as it helped women and may go some way in shifting attitudes and bringing  about a wider change in service provision and attitudes.

Writing my comment piece in the Guardian addressing the comments made by George Galloway was another step. It addressed his victim blaming and sexist campaign.

SSWH: What advice would you give other women who have had similar life experiences to you?

Huma: Don’t give up. Even when it overwhelms you, even when your spirit feels like it cannot continue, don’t give up.

Remember: you are not alone, you matter despite what you’ve been told. Your thoughts matter, your desires matter, your intellect matter, your choices matter.

Seek out other women, read, listen and share. Get support through therapy. Don’t suffer your pain alone.

Finally: the biggest “fuck you” to the perpetrators is you leading a good life. When you’re ready, embrace that thought.

SSWH: Finally what helps you to feel empowered and confident?

Huma: Writing, speaking out and being an activist.

Letting love into my life (both with my partner and with other good friends who provide love and care) and cherishing that.

Remembering all I have achieved despite circumstances which may have broken me. Knowing that I worked tirelessly for my survival and acknowledging – on my good days – my victories.

Our sincere thanks to Huma for answering our questions!

Interview by Akeela Ahmed (follow her @AkeelaAhmed)


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An Interview with blogger & reviewer Mariam Khan

Image: Mariam Khan, courtesy of Mariam Khan

At She Speaks We Hear, we are always on the lookout for diverse women doing interesting and varied things. We are especially keen to platform and publicise women who are making an impact in a niche or speciality area. So in 2016 we are hoping to share with you interviews with fabuladys who you should know about! (If you are a fabulous woman doing great things and would like more people to know about you, then get in touch! You can either submit a piece for the site or you can be interviewed).

Last month we interviewed Dr Sukaina Hirji, this month we have interviewed Mariam Khan, a multi-talented blogger with a huge following. See below for the interview.

SSWH: So Mariam, please tell us about yourself.

Mariam: I currently work at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon-Avon in the Press and Communications department. By day that is my full time job. Many of my other hours are devoted to reading (mostly Young Adult fiction), blogging and going to the theatre and other adult life stuff. I also run a Twitter chat every Tuesday evening at 7.30pm called #FeminismInYA. Although we discuss themes in Feminist themes in Young Adult fiction these are often synonymous with real life issues women face. Fiction can often be the catalyst to drive change in real life and I hope that the small chat I host on Twitter creates change in people’s thinking, opens their minds and makes them look at real life and fiction with a renewed perspective.

SSWH: Why did you start ‘Hello I Am Mariam’?

Mariam: I started my blog because my creative writing lecturer Alyson made me. Honestly I had no intention of being online or sharing any part of my life or my opinions online. My lecturer encouraged blogging as a platform to receive feedback on my writing. I guess slowly I realised I could share my opinions online and this was a great way to express myself so I just did that. I’ve never really had a plan, I talk about what I love and what affects me.

“I mean, I love Emma Watson but where is the Asian Feminist equivalent?”

SSWH: You identify yourself as a feminist, why does feminism appeal to you? Does it contradict with your faith?

Mariam: I do identify as a Feminist. However I also have issues with Feminism. I recognise that the Feminist movement in its early years favoured white women. Even today, I get upset and frustrated by how Feminism is mostly championed by White women. I mean, I love Emma Watson but where is the Asian Feminist equivalent in our society? There isn’t one and if there is THAT-woman of colour is definitely not championed the way Emma Watson is.

Google will tell you Feminism is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” In today’s society I believe it is only fair that women and men be allowed to start from the same starting point. Men can do some things women can’t, or have to try harder to do but then it goes the other way. Women can do things men can’t. Except women are still seen as second class citizens. Even synonmousing Feminism to Gender Equality makes me cringe because what does that mean? In my opinion Gender Equality is different to Feminism. Gender Equality is the equality between two genders. But even here, I think, but there are some aspects that can not be made equal. Is it fair that women get upto a year off to have a child and men don’t? But then women get periods every month and men don’t. This is why we need Feminism. Feminism highlights women’s needs. It highlights why men and women are not equal, not in a malicious way, just in an a factual focused way.

Islam and Feminism. This is a topic I have purposely avoided writing about for the longest time for many reason. The main reason is because I don’t have enough knowledge to address this question. So my answer to this question won’t be extensive and it won’t really be an answer. The only thing I will say is that although there are differentiations between man and woman in Islam I believe in my personal opinion as a Muslim woman that Allah has established these differences and duties because he is all knowing. Women in Islam are respected, what the modern-day culture does with their interpretation of Women’s rights in Islam is up to them but honestly did our Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) hit his wives? Swear at them or curse them? I don’t think so. Yes he had many wives (to Western standards) and yes modern day Western Feminism wouldn’t appreciate this but he didn’t live in the West. How is it fair to apply the Feminist movement (concocted in the West) and apply it to a religion and culture of women without taking their beliefs into account too? This, I have said previously is my problem with Feminism, the lack of intersectionality or openness to other beliefs and religions. We are not all white women and this is why Feminism is different for us all. I’m still working out how compatible Islam and Feminism are but I’m getting there and it is a hard question and an even harder journey so bear with me. However I don’t believe that Islam and Feminism are incompatible.

My religion doesn’t restrict me, I’ve been a Muslim for 23 years and I have never felt restricted by my religion, culture on the other hand is another thing. Don’t get it mixed up!

SSWH: Thank you for your in depth answer, to the last question. Turning now to your writing, what made you decide to write book reviews? How diverse is the publishing industry and specifically, the book reviewing community?

Mariam: I write book reviews because I want others to read, I would love for someone to read a book review I wrote and then in turn buy an actual book or borrow the book from their library because of it. I think the publishing industry has realised that it actively needs to encourage diversity and is working on that right now. The book reviewing community is wide and there are bloggers from everywhere but there is always room for improvement.

SSWH: What is your favourite book?

Mariam: My favorite book. Wow, you need to stop with these tough questions! One of my favorite books has to be ‘The Alchemist‘ by Paulo Caelho. It’s about a shepherd boy who goes on a journey the story acknowledges our humanness, and our ignorance as humans of what is around us and the world that we live in. Every time I read this book I look at life with wider eyes and a sharper mind.

SSWH: Which author inspires you the most and why?

Mariam: J. K. Rowling is the author who inspires me. There are many others I could mention but I grew up on Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling created a world where children didn’t feel powerless. She created a world where children could escape. She inspired a generation of children and young people to read and that in itself is inspiring.

SSWH: You also feature advice blogs for your readers, what motivated you to share your wisdom with others?

Mariam: I wouldn’t say I share wisdom, I sort of tell my stories and then hope someone will read them and not make the same mistakes. Or if I offer advice it comes from a personal mistake I’ve made. I do not pretend to know about things I don’t. I am only 23 and recognise life needs to happen but there are things I do know something about. Things I struggled with in University or at work and if writing about these things could possibly make someone else feel positive about feeling the same way and not like they are on their own on a deserted island then I am all for writing and sharing my experiences.

I like to talk to other people and explore the things we have in common and those we don’t. The reason I started the Graduate series on my blog is to demonstrate that no two graduates have taken the same path towards their dream job. As a young person I always wanted to know how to get places in life and speaking to other people not and sharing their stories on my blog I hope that young people today realise there isn’t a set path, we are all making it up as we go along.

SSWH: Now for our final question, could you tell us what advice you would give to anyone who wishes to start a blog site?

Mariam: If you want to start a blog just do it. Be kind, be true to what you want to write about. Get involved in the community of bloggers you want to join. Don’t steal anybody else’s work – because that is called plagiarism. There isn’t a set way to do things and although it can be difficult sticking to your niche, your personal point of views, things that have shaped your opinions will be much more interesting than just saying the same thing as the 40 bloggers before you. I have done a few posts on blogging tips.

I like to question things, to unpick them and then put them back together again. That is how I learn and I’m still learning about Feminism and about my religion and about a lot of other things.

Our sincere thanks to Mariam for answering our questions. You can read her blog ‘Hello I am Mariam’ and follow her on Twitter @helloiammariam

Interview by Akeela Ahmed

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