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An honour for women, Muslims, minorities and immigrants

Akeela MBE

Last month I received a letter notifying me that I had been nominated for an Honours. To say I was surprised is an understatement. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and had to ask hubby dearest to double check that I had indeed been nominated for an MBE, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. I was flabbergasted.

It’s an incredible feeling knowing that someone in my network of colleagues and friends had not only taken the time to first consider that I would be deserving of such an accolade, but then took the time to nominate me.

Apparently the nomination process is a long one which can take years, and involves a number of people. So I am truly humbled to know that someone believed that the work I do has made a difference, and involved others in the process too.

But shortly after finding out about the nomination, I initially went though self-doubt and the usual imposter syndrome that many of us women face. And this led me to reflect on what it meant to receive such an honour.

In my heart I know that if I am to be recognised for services to Muslim women then this award is not just for me, but for all the incredible British Muslim women that I have had the honour of working with, whose voices, experiences and perspectives are so often unheard and stereotyped. This award is for them and for every marginalised (or otherwise) woman who thinks that her voice won’t be heard or doesn’t matter. I am only honoured because I have been lucky enough to work with amazing women who are inspirational change makers, making significant and positive contributions within their local communities, and nationally too.

On a more personal level, the award has a profound significance. It is an award for my own mother, who was a 12 year old girl when, as a British subject, Idi Amin decided to expel her and many others from Uganda. She travelled across two continents with her family to finally settle in the UK at the tender age of 16. She missed out on an education but soon after her arrival she started work in a factory with her older brother. Soon she faced racism that was typical of the 70’s. Caucasian in appearance, her co-workers asked her why she hung out with a black guy (her brother) and didn’t just stick with them. Being the jolly person that she is, she laughed it off and told them he was her brother. It didn’t deter her from working hard and getting on with it, and to achieve her dreams. A few years later she was taken aside again by a concerned colleague who was worried that people were shortening her name to something that sounded like ‘Nazi’, and recommended that she started using a new nickname, ‘Sue’. For many years growing up I knew my mum as Sue, because that was the way it was.

This honour is also for my father, who came to this country from poverty in India, with the hopes and dreams of his mother, a Gujarati woman who had to provide for her children and wanted them to have a better life than her in a democratic country in which they wouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of their faith, caste or gender. My grandmother had a vision of Britain being a society based on fairness and equality, something she hadn’t experienced in India, as a minority within a minority. If it wasn’t for her, my father wouldn’t be here today. If it wasn’t for him and my mother, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

So this honour is for them, ‘Sue and Jimmy’, and testament to the sacrifices they have made and the obstacles they have overcome to give us a better life than their parents could have ever dreamed of. Indeed, this honour is not only for all my immigrant grandparents; it is for all immigrants who come to the UK with aspirations, hopes and dreams.

By Akeela Ahmed MBE

Editor and Founder

I also want to thank my tribe without whom none of this would be possible. Thank you to my sisters, who ‘get me’. Thank you to my daughters and son, who motivate and support me endlessly. And a special thank you to hubby who is with me every step of this journey.


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Mindful Ramadan

mindful ramadan

There is a misconception that mindfulness is about deep breathing and focusing on the breath alone, such that one remains detached and distracted from their inner thoughts and the external world around them. This is false, and, in fact, disregards the very core of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is about relaxing the mind from over-stimulation; it’s about connecting to the here and now, to be present within. Although it is widely considered to be a form of meditation – which is, of course, an effective approach in practicing mindfulness – it can, however, be applied to any and every mundane task in our day-to-day lives. It’s not about distracting ourselves away from our over-thinking minds, but rather to let our thoughts be and to listen to them non-judgmentally.  And it’s through letting our thoughts come and go, to flow freely, that enables us to centre our focus on our breath to then calm the mind. So why, and how, do I intend on applying this during Ramadan?

Well, not to state the obvious, but fasting is a challenge. Abstaining from food and water is not easy, especially for those living in parts of the world where the sun sets after 9pm. Carrying on with our day-to-day responsibilities while maintaining productivity can get extremely difficult – not to mention the real risk of some serious ‘hanger’ issues. I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing hunger-induced anger, and although we try our best to exercise spiritual tranquility throughout this holy month, we can (and I certainly do) often fall victim to some intense hanger during Ramadan. This is where mindfulness comes in; it can serve as a great tool to help curb these challenges. Breathing deeply through pangs of hunger and cravings can help reduce the severity of the experience. That is, the intensity with which we feel hunger and crave certain foods or drinks can be significantly reduced if we breathe, listen to our bodies with acceptance, and allow these feelings to just be. By no means do I intend to imply that this will be an easy process, nor am I making any claims that 5 brief minutes of deep breathing will magically eradicate the feeling of hunger or thirst. With practice, however, it will fill our hearts with patience to endure these moments with greater strength.

Once we start approaching iftar, our instinct is often to indulge in deep-fried foods to satisfy our taste buds. But what if we were to eat mindfully too? This may seem a little nonsensical, so just bear with me here. Activating our senses so as to listen, hear, and to feel our experiences deeply is central to mindful practice. If we then pay attention to the food we choose to put on our plates, and how we feel having finished our meals, it gives us the opportunity to take a step back and question: how are we choosing to treat our bodies? What types of foods are we nourishing our bodies with? In reflecting not only on the experience of abstinence of food & drink, but the act of eating and drinking in itself, it can help us shift towards a healthier diet during the month – which can provide our bodies with more durable resources for the fasting periods. It is important to note here, however, that if you crave a certain food, snack, or drink for iftar or suhoor – don’t judge yourself. Treat yourself with understanding; there is nothing wrong with dedicating a prolonged period of time for self-observation before committing to a gradual shift towards healthier nutrition. Doing so otherwise and adopting a rigid approach can make this shift more difficult, and an unpleasant experience – which will also be tremendously difficult to commit to.

Other than the possibilities of greater abstinence endurance, why even focus so much time and energy on mindfulness, or the act of deep breathing in particular? We can turn to the Quran for some answers:

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “I will create a human being out of clay from an altered black mud. And when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [created] soul, then fall down to him in prostration.””

–Quran 15:29-30 (Sahih International)

In accordance with the Quran, the first human being was brought to life when Allah breathed into him. So to breathe deeply, to centre our focus back to the breath in all that we do is an ode to our creation by Allah. Not only does this form of mindfulness practice relax and soothe the soul, it can also then pave way for deeper spiritual connection with our Creator.  

Aside from breathing practices and focusing on the fasting experience, I thought I’d share some daily practices I’ve planned for this month to maintain a more positive frame of mind for deeper spiritual connection:

Fajr routine:

  • Pray
  • Read Quran
  • Meditate for 10 minutes

Note: I usually use an app called Calm and use their daily meditations in the mornings. Meditating in the morning helps maintain a clear mind to carry forward into the rest of the day, so it can help anchor a great sense of spirituality at the onset of the fast.

Morning routine (after the post-Fajr sleep):

  • Gratitude list (x5 things)

Note: practicing gratitude has been proven to increase levels of happiness. By listing out all that you’re thankful to Allah for can set you up for a positive day and to feel more spiritually connected.

Bedtime routine:

  • Gratitude list (x5 things)
  • Reflections of the day – positive experiences, and what could have been improved (and how).
  • Gentle yoga

This is not a perfect guide to the happiest, healthiest and most spiritual way to fast, nor am I a perfect and consistent mindfulness practitioner. I do fall off the wagon more often than I’d like to, and I do fall into unhealthy patterns of negativity and spiritual neglect. But the beauty of mindfulness is that we can allow ourselves to fall, and to forgive ourselves for doing so. This makes it easier to pick ourselves back up each time we fall, and following attempts to maintain a mindful routine becomes easier and easier. No matter how patient or kind we have the capacity to be towards others, we tend to forget that we, too, are creations of God; therefore, we too are deserving of our own love and kindness. So to be accepting of the self is one of the most important gratitude and mindful practices one can commit to. In so doing, it can allow us to deepen our spiritual cleanse in this holy month. May you have a blessed Ramadan.

By Hanain B

Hanain is doing a PhD in Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University, focusing on interactional identity construction in Muslim women. When she is not nerding out on her research, she likes writing poetry and dabbling in photography as a hobby. She also runs a small-scale project with a couple of friends called Project Happiness, distributing food & care packs to the homeless. You can follow her on Twitter @hanainbrohi 

Image credit: http://www.mindfullivingnetwork.com/4-mindful-ramadan-lessons/

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


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A note from the Editor on Child Sexual Abuse

Following the publication of Tameena Hussain’s post on her experience of child sexual abuse, we have decided to write a short note on the issue of sexual violence within Muslim and South Asian communities, in the UK.

Our heartfelt thanks to Tameena for writing this post on her experiences of childhood sexual abuse, and raising much needed awareness of a very difficult issue. Talking about sex is still very much taboo within most parts of the South Asian Muslim communities, and very little is done to raise awareness of sexual abuse and violence. Child sexual abuse has affected many of the women, we have had the privilege of working with at SSWH. These women are more than victim survivors, they are amazingly resilient and strong women who have had their lives forever impacted by sexual violence, some of them often dealing with lifelong consequences on their health and relationships.

Unfortunately for various complex reasons such as stigma, shame, and lack of education, despite this prevalence,  we rarely hear the words “sexual violence” or “sexual abuse”, within community settings and spaces. More often than not victim survivors are victim blamed by family, friends or community members. To compound this victim blaming, with recent high profile child sexual exploitation cases, the discourse on sexual violence has become so toxic that many Muslim women feel scared to reveal or speak up about their experiences, for fear that their experiences and stories will be hijacked.  And used as a tool to further demonise Muslims.

This fear arises from mainstream public discourse within media which portrays sexual violence as a phenomenon that is conducted mostly by Muslim men of South Asian or Pakistani heritage, against young white women and children. The experiences of young South Asian and/or Muslim girls and children is completely erased. As are the violent sexual crimes of perpetrators who are white or European. This perception also exists within political circles and Westminster, as one former government official relayed to us.

So not only are Muslim women being silenced by specific harmful cultural practices within their own communities, they are also being systematically silenced by pervasive public discourse which dehumanises Muslims, and paints them as perpetrators only. This discourse leaks into the psyche of teachers, social workers and mental health practitioners, albeit mostly unconsciously, creating  a bias  that impacts in the way they detect, and respond to victim survivors who are from a Muslim and/or South Asian background. Meaning Muslim girls and young women victims,  remain largely undetected.  And Muslim women who experience PTSD as a result of sexual violence, are often misdiagnosed, with a psychotic disorder or personality disorder.

We all need to do more to break down the taboo around talking  about sex and relationships, and raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse violence within minority and faith communities. Despite the #MeToo and #TimesUP campaigns, media organisations and politicians still have a greater responsibility to discuss this specific type of sexual violence, responsibly, without demonising entire faith/minority groups. Practitioners need to be mindful of stereotypes whilst dealing with South Asian and Muslim communities. A first step to doing this is to step back and listen meaningfully to the stories and experiences of young women like Tameena. Muslim women’s voices should be put at heart and forefront of discussions and debates on sexual violence within Muslim communities.

If you or anyone you know, has experienced or been impacted by any of the issues identified in this blog post please get help by contacting any of the organisations below.

Childline: 0800 1111
Women’s Aid: 0808 2000 247


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I am who I am because I was abused

MeToo image
(Content warning: this post contains content which some may find triggering)

My labels: troublemaker, Paki-basher, coconut, besharam and the list goes on – all for speaking up against injustice and cultural issues but I am who I am today because I was sexually abused and I now simply refuse to comply with a culture that is complicit.

The first time, you always think, it’s an accident. Then it all changes when you realise what is happening. I remember the first time like it was yesterday. Our house newly decorated, the cricket on and the men of the family all congregated. I was coming down the stairs and there it happened. I brushed it off but that was the start of it all.

Now if you were like me back then, quiet, scared and lacking confidence you were stuck. Who can you speak to? If I speak to my mum, I will be at fault but I’m too ashamed to speak to anyone else about it. So it becomes your secret. The problem with secrets, that it causes long-term pain.

The abuse carried on for years, and although school life wasn’t kind to me it was an escape and I seeked refuge from people I came to trust. As Asian mothers do in their gangs, this gave my abuser the perfect oppportunity to pop round and do what he did. Things went as far coming through the (unfortunately) unlocked garage, coming in through the back garden through the conservatory to upstairs. These are the lengths abusers go to, they don’t care who you are, they have one sick goal in mind.

I will fight like hell to challenge patriarchy, to continue speaking up to help others and to fight for a much needed change.

Fast forward a few years, I begin to rebel. I begin to challenge and I finally refuse to come home from Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London until my mum tells my brother and my dad. Few days, few weeks pass and my uncles rock up. They cry, they apologise, I’m asked to forget and then they leave. Few more days pass and it’s suggested I travel to Pakistan to get married. Have these people lost their minds? Marriage does not solve the mental torture a survivor goes through. Marriage is not the answer.

Today in 2018, I am married – two and half years at the time of writing this but I’m a staunch feminist. I refuse to be dictated to, I refuse to be told what I can and can’t do and I refuse to participate in culture. I am this person because my culture made me one. I refuse to be a woman who should agree with everything a man says, I refuse to see Mosques as community providers as they’re just as complicit, I refuse to be told I can’t take part in sport because I am a woman, I refuse to be a ‘housewife’ because it’s what is expected, I refuse to sit in silence in shame because I’m not ashamed. Not anymore. I am who I am because I was abused and because my culture failed to protect me. So if speaking out against culture makes me a besharam, a coconut, a Paki-basher then ladies and gentlemen, carry on calling me those names but I did nothing wrong. And I will fight like hell to challenge patriarchy, to continue speaking up to help others and to fight for a much needed change.

By Tameena Hussain
Tameena is an IT engineer by profession but her passion lies in advocating for gender equality and  human rights all whilst being actively involved in her community, having sat on the TVP Independent Advisory Group and the One Borough Council Panel to campaigning on local issues that affect residents. A Pakistani Muslim who is breaking cultural barriers by playing amateur cricket and going against cultural norms to speak out on a number of issues that affect British Pakistanis. She has encountered her fair share of challenges along the way, and as a survivor of child sexual abuse, her experiences have made her determined to challenge the patriarchy and injustice faced by females, particularly within the Pakistani community.
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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Ofsted, hijabs and the hypocrisy of British values.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

images-5

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

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

By Mrs Rumiyya

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


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5 Foods Dieticians Swear By

In the run up to Ramadan  our Shiza Khan has 5 top nutritional tips for key foods to include in your diet. 

Have you ever so often looked at the shelves in the supermarkets and marvelled at all the pricey, probably hyped “health products” and wondered if they really do what their claims say?  Quinoa, Amaranth grains, gluten free flours, wheatgrass powders are just the tip of the iceberg. So what is so special about these items that every fitness expert and any person with even a little money to spare will splurge in?

Well for one, they are all packed with nutrients and are beneficial for more than one health condition, so most of those health claims are quite true. Some of these are bursting with antioxidants that have become of primary importance considering the toxins we ingest daily, be it through food or just by breathing. The thing is, that nature is so kind to us that it has spread out these benefits in a lot of other foods that have always been traditionally used, but over time forgotten.

Being a clinical dietitian, I come across clinical conditions that can either completely be healed by nutrition, or need nutrition therapy as an adjunct to medical treatment. Through the process of learning, I’ve discovered a pattern of repeating ingredients that we collectively use over and over. Looking into those individually I’ve found why we do so. So, after much thought, I’ve decided to uncover our trade secrets. Moving on, here are five ingredients we all swear by.

1. FLAXSEEDS

Also called linseeds, these tiny beasts are packed with omega- 3, which are suggested for most conditions like diabetes, liver diseases, renal problems and generally for good health. Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties which is helpful in reducing symptoms of compromising health conditions. It is found to be beneficial for people trying to lose weight. Along with the good fats, flaxseed also is a good source fibre, when coarsely ground and consumed in either milkshakes, smoothies, protein drinks, or layered in a parfait. It can be ground to a fine powder and mixed with flours.

flaxseed

Before you jump up to consume it though, note that flaxseed once ground spoils quickly. It is advisable to grind it just before consumption.

2. SOYBEAN

This legume of oriental origin has lately come into the limelight, thanks to all the resources gone into exploring its health benefits. Soybean is available in the market either as the legume, or processed and de-fatted in the form of granules and chunks or as soy milk and tofu. The protein content of Soy with the absence of saturated fats like in meat and other non-vegetarian sources, makes it highly sought out. In fact soybean scores a position among the top five in protein digestibility ratios, and provides all the 9 essential amino acids, which is rare in a plant food, quinoa being the other to do so.

soybean

Apart from its very attractive protein content, soy is also rich in isoflavones, a type of phytochemical that has protective effects for the body. Studies done on Asian populations have shown a positive correlation among women eating soy and the reduction of breast cancer risk (Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study).

Soy isoflavones are also phytoestrogens, that the body can use to mimic the functions of oestrogen, and thereby helpful in reducing the symptoms of menopause.

Soybean is versatile in its use, from being ground and used mixed with flour to make multi-grain flour, to being used in desserts. The commercially available chunks and granules are just as versatile as their parent legume.

3. GREENS

Once upon a time mothers used to literally run behind their children, forcing them to eat those greens, and now those children grew up and add raw spinach and kale to their drinks and tonics. Greens have taken a dip and have emerged with a fury back on the health front.

Green Leafies

Now generally, spinach is celebrated for its iron content. Thank Popeye for that! The truth however is, that spinach is actually a very poor source of it. Dill leaves on the other hand have the highest iron content amongst the commonly consumed greens.

Green leafy vegetables however are abundantly rich in fibre, which makes it perfectly suitable for diabetics and beta carotene, making the leafies not only a good source of vitamin A, but also aids as an antioxidant in the biological system.

4. OATS

I know, I know. There’s enough said about oats on the internet, in person, in magazines and books and every possible source of diet inspiration, that is because oats are that multi-functional and are effective as a part of the diet for more than one condition.

Oats

Oats are mostly rich in beta glucans, which is a type of soluble fibre. That is its singular feature that gives it it’s benefit. It helps patients with lipidaemia (abnormal lipid levels in the body), chelates cholesterol (binds to it) and reduces it, aids weight loss, has a low GI and therefore can be included in a diabetic diet, can be used in a variety of recipes and is cost effective. Phew! *grabs a bowl of oatmeal*

5. BERRIES

Berries

Okay, berries are my personal favourite. Just like oats, these are well advocated for their antioxidant content. they protect the body’s cells against damage by toxins and chemical toxins produced during metabolism. Being anti-ageing, cardio protective, great for weight loss and a healthy drink, quirky ingredient for desserts and just an overall package, berries sure will feature on the our foods most picked list.

**DISCLAIMERS**

– Even though the foods have the said benefits, if you have a medical condition, it is highly advised that you consult a doctor or a dietitian before you consume any of these foods.

By Shiza Khan

Shiza Khan is an Indian Muslim Clinical Dietitian with a penchant for health foods, I believe the right food can heal the body, mind and the soul. On a mission to making holistic health a possibility, I can be found devouring books in my free time and sharing my ideas on a little corner of the internet. If you want to read more of her ideas and recipes, visit her blog and follow her on Instagram @cal.conn 

Images credit: Shiza Khan

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


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Trailblazing Muslim Women – introducing Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

Squad -5.jpg

Image credit: Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

We were so honoured and proud to be part of a visual photography series launched by two London-based creatives Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya , to showcase and amplify the U.K’s currently lesser known Muslim Women trailblazers.

Beginning the series with 21 inspiring examples featuring : Shahnaz Ahmed (Senior Designer at Livity/Founder at KnitAid), Fatima Zaman (Advocate at The Kofi Annan Foundation), Malia Bouattia (Former President of NUS), Leyya Sattar (Co-Founder of The Other Box and Design Manager at MYWW™ ), Rahima Shroom (Illustrator and Co-Founder of Restless Beings), Nelufar Hedayat (Journalist) and many more, including our very own founder Akeela Ahmed.

Inspired by the squad shoots from The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair and the high profile well known award season ‘Roundtables’ & photoshoots, Zainab Khan, with the help of photographer Maaria Lohiya, produced an inspiring squad shoot featuring 21 like minded Muslim women. The series has garnered mainstream attention and widespread acclaim amongst BME and Muslim online outlets.

So you can imagine our excitement when we were asked to be involved in the series and couldn’t wait to interview these two inspiring creatives who had a awesome vision to create role models for young Muslim women, and went far and beyond to deliver it!

SSWH: So Zainab and Maria please tell us about yourselves – your chance to include anything about yourselves including what’s your background, where did you grow up, age and anything else!

I’m Zainab Khan, 24, a creative based in London. My family moved around a lot growing up so I’ve been lucky enough to call Frankfurt, New York, Toronto and London home. This exposure along with my Pakistani background sparked my interest in cultures early on so I went on to study Archaeology and Anthropology at university, where my dissertation focused on the discussion of aspirations within South Asian women of my generation. After university, I pursued experience in tech, at an e-commerce brand and a fin-tech startup. At the moment I’m working as a freelance digital creative, specialising in Social Media and Community. The projects such as this one is the first in visual series that I’ll be curating this year around cultural issues. 

I’m Maaria, 23, a creative based in London, and have been pursuing my talent and passion for Photography and Videography after graduating from university. You can check out my videos on my youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvB6X59T2Y7gmwHRonitKZg. I created an amazing video for my journey during HAJJ. 

SSWH: How did you come up with the idea for the project to showcase Muslim women?
 

Zainab: Back in January I had been taking in the newly released Forbes 30 under 30 list and I was curious to see how many people of colour, women of colour and Muslims were on the list. And then I thought back to all those times I looked up to these squad images from award seasons, to powerful businesswomen shoots to fashion shoots and I hadn’t seen enough representation, enough of women like me. 

That was it. I had to do it. Everything I had done so far, my dissertation on aspirations of South Asian women, my project @coffeeandhenna and more had led to this in some weird way. It was time to share the badassery of Muslim Women. An Identity that took me a long time to accept. 

SSWH: You kind of answered this already by just HOW important is the representation to you?
 
Zainab: I didn’t quite realise how important representation was for me, I grew up hiding away from my identity but then I started seeing the world around me and didn’t see enough women like me around. Not at university and not in the workplaces I’ve been in so far. It’s so important now more than ever to shoud about our identities. It’s so important to create something for the next generation that we lacked growing up. 
SSWH: What were you and Maaria hoping to achieve with the project?
 
Zainab: I want to amplify the voices of the badass women in London, what they are doing and counter the representation in media. Show the diversity of Muslim women. Inspire the next generation of Muslim women.
SSWH: How has the response been?
Overwhelming, what was a wacky idea that I wasn’t sure I could pull up in so many weeks turned into something very meaningful. From the moment I got in touch with the women for this photo series to everyone I told about the project along the way, they were all like “we need that”.  It’s just so exciting to have all our hard work out there and having people support it. 
 
SSWH: Who or what inspires you?
It’s probably the most cheesy response but everyone around me. First and for most my mother and grandmother, for continuously telling me “you do you” in Punjabi/Urdu before that was a thing. Even though I didnt become a doctor. My family, my father has always been the rock. They always taught us to be independent.
 
There are so many amazing women and creatives I’ve met along the way but the ones that inspire me are the ones that collaborate, that lift people up, that don’t compete with others, and are humble whilst doing groundbreaking things. I have been fortunate enough to meet so many of these people in only the last several months.
 
SSWH: Our last question is what advice do you have for young girls looking to get into photography or advertising?
 
Just go for it. Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission, if you want to do something, just start. If it’s overwhelming and difficult and you want to give up, that’s all the more reason to just get started. It’s the things that matter the most, that are the most difficult to achieve, so keep going. Whatever you want to do, you got this- MAARIA
 Watch the Squad video below:
Thanks so much to Zainab and Maaria for creating the series and answering our questions! The series lives here: http://zainabk.com/trailblazers2018. And you can follow Maaria on Twitter and Instagram @justmebreathing and Zainab on Twitter and Instagram @_zaikhan
By She Speaks We Hear

Image and video credit: Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya