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Achieving Balance – A Practical Guide

 The phone pings, the washing machine completes a load and the postman arrives with the bills. There is always something external vying for your attention. Do you ever get the feeling that you are being taken away from where you are and being sent far into the past with some worry about what has been? Or that of being propelled into the future with a hope about what will be? 

If this sounds familiar, then let’s stop and take a moment. Breathe in deeply and notice that little pause before you breathe out again, repeat. 

It is often hard to remember to stay present whilst your brain is flitting between the present the past and the future. By staying present we mean being aware of what is happening right now without any interruptions about either the past or the future. This practice of being present and being focused on the here and now, particularly in times of stress, can be a wonderful way of finding oneself in the hubbub of daily life. 

I’ll share a story with you that I hope inspires you as much as it did me, and demonstrates a great example of presence. A friend messaged me, telling me he had fallen and broken his back. Shocked and concerned I jumped in to my car panicking all the way to the hospital about what will happen to him now and what it will mean for him. As I rushed down the hospital corridor I thought of funny anecdotes and jokes to tell him that may distract him. I approached his bed armed and ready to clown my way into seeing him smile I was greeted by someone in rather good spirits. Confused and delighted I took a deep breath and sat to listen to his story unfold. Inspired I spent the next few days piecing together in my head how this wonderful human being came to be. 

This is what I found. Just as with all people there are external forces that pull us, there are trials and tribulations and then there are the highs that are all designed to distract us. We also have internal incidents such as my friend’s predicament. Often we become completely distracted by these things and we are not present to who we are and what is important to us. We start to believe that all the pulls are all that matters and it is often not so. My friend was in good spirits because he knew himself well, he was aware of the things he loved to do and he did them. He was satisfied and content in the life that he was living, at that moment in time. 

As my friend did we too must come to know our true selves better and live in line with what we value and love to do. It is with this awareness and clarity that we can be in a hospital bed with a broken back and still be smiling and thankful for the love that we receive from well-wishers. 

So how do we find the answers to who we truly are and what we truly value? I’d like to invite you to try this technique.

Consider this diagram the plate of your life. ◊ It is divided into eight slices; each slice represents an area of your life that is important to you.

◊ Consider with complete clarity what is important to you, not because anyone says but because you choose it.

◊ When you are ready label each slice with the important aspects of your life.

◊ When you are done use the rings within to shade in your level of satisfaction i.e. you might have health as a slice and your level of satisfaction might be 4 so shade in 4 rings.

◊ Do this for all the slices.

◊ When you have finished take a moment and look at your plate. Is it round? Is it balanced? Have you been looking after what is important to you?

◊ What do you notice?

◊ Now shade in where you would like the level of satisfaction for each slice to be, you might be happy with health being 4 or you might want health to be 9.

◊ When you have finished take a moment and look at your plate. ◊ What do you notice?

You can use this tool to reflect on what is truly important to you and get real clarity on what you value. If you ever find yourself out of balance you can choose to come back to it. 

As for my friend, with his positive attitude and magnetic personality he is making a speedy recovery. He valued the love and regard that his friends and family had for him and when the trials came he held on to that knowledge even tighter and worried less about the new job and the mortgage. 

Sometimes amidst all the chaos we have to find our way, ground ourselves and trust our ability to handle life. Knowing that we are safe and capable. A quote comes to mind which seems befitting – a bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking. Her trust is not in the branch but rather her ability to fly. Wearemomo.com

By Aamna Khokhar

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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What Transformation Do We See When Hearts Meet In Crisis?

We are extremeley fortunate to platform a three part series focussing on ‘Women in the Refugee Crisis’ by Tazeen Ahmad the founder of  Humanity’s Heart , an organisation that was born following a volunteering trip by a small group of people to Calais (The Jungle) in June 2016. Travelling through Calais, Lebanon and Greece, Humanity’s Heart witnesses and shares the experiences of refugees, volunteers, spiritual leaders, politicians and local citizens in what is the biggest challenge the world has faced for over 60 yearsThe first part in the series reflected on why women turn up to volunteer through a series of short films. The second part in the series, below focusses on the transformation refugees and volunteers alike, undergo after meeting during the crisis, and highlights the importance of Refugee week.

Resilience Met With Support

Image courtesy of Tazeen Ahmad, Humanity’s Heart

Meet Syrian born Rahaf Sallouta. She arrived in the UK when she was 27 with her husband and 2 kids. Rahaf  has enormous gratitude to women such as Maria Wilby and Iman Mortagy  from Refugee Action Colchester for their service and support. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart

Through her we learn the counter narrative to mainstream rhetoric on immigration. Rahaf, shares the importance of the events held by Refugee Action Colchester and the opportunities they present to help dispel the perceptions towards Syrian refugees/migrants. She reminds us all how refugees want to contribute towards society not hinder it.  Rahaf’s example of resilience is phenomenal as she climbed a mountain of cultural shock and language differences on top of the upheavel of having to leave a home and country destroyed by war. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart

In fact, Rahaf’s experience and hardship has fuelled her desire to want to help other Syrians and refugees who have gone through similar experiences. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart

Today her husband and her run a café in Colchester providing falafels and other Syrian delights to the local community. (see the image above)

What is also beautiful to witness is the counter narrative of deep friendship and love that develops between citizens of host nations and the refugees coming to seek refuge. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart
Image courtesy of Tazeen Ahmad, Humanity’s Heart

Aleppo stands destroyed (the photo in the background above the couple’s heads), however I couldn’t help but wonder could this crisis be what 13th – century Persian poet Rumi means when he says, “the wound is where the light enters?”

By Tazeen Ahmad

Tazeen is founder and producer of Humanity’s Heart. She is a daughter of a migrant, a British Citizen, a mother of two and a believer in the power of humanity. In June 2016, she traveled to Calais. The trip confirmed for her that we have far more in common than which divides us.

It also raised in her a deep curiosity about ‘what motivates others to turn up and serve?’. And ‘what spiritual lessons to humanity are emerging in the largest crisis since WWII?’ It was at that moment, she realised her background in broadcast journalism and finance, fundraising and philanthropy could be put to use. So humanity’s heart was born. She will be running a “How to make a documentary film workshop in June here is the link for the documentary workshop https://www.tazeendhunna.com/media-consultancy/howtomakeadocumentary

Videos and images are the copyright of Humanity’s Heart  follow them on Twitter

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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Dehumanising sex and stereotyping Women

It’s odd how a piece in the Metro makes me think of Qutb and of his views of American women in the 1940’s. 

Sadia Azmat on the face of it appears a million miles and years away from Qutb but she pretty much rehashes the same ideas but in a different order to Sayyid Qutb  in his observations of American society, particularly cultural attitudes and behaviours around women sex and sexuality in public. For Azmat  is endeavoring to be the  American woman that Qutb creates in his work, America and by extension the west being a place with ‘liberated’ sexuality where there are no prohibitions like religion and no consequences. 

“Both views, those of Qutb, and of Azmat only work on the level of dehumanising sex generally and perpetuating stereotypes of women that are used globally to diminish and dismiss the concerns and experiences of women, the reality of women’s lives. “

This grass is greener on the other side of the fence is a dangerous approach as primarily it dehumanises western sexuality from being to do with people – which all sex is, everywhere. Sex becomes nothing more than acts performed like commodities to be obtained as signifiers of how liberated or how privileged the person is.  American women are to Qutb biological, primitive and primal and Azmat describes herself in similar language having primal urges, preferring semen to a sandwich and states that the conservative aspect of Azmats particular corner of the Muslim community has forced her to take on these tropes that are ascribed to the western female, the  ‘other’  bad women, liberated women, that she has held up to her as the antithesis of the good Muslim woman. 

Both views, those of Qutb, and of Azmat only work on the level of dehumanising sex generally and perpetuating stereotypes of women that are used globally to diminish and dismiss the concerns and experiences of women, the reality of women’s lives. There are only constrained modest women who do the right thing and who will be mockingly thought of as missing out and sexually repressed in comparison to ‘liberated’ women who have sex whenever with whoever (the liberation only ever goes as far as sex) who will in turn be denigrated. Regardless of what you do as a woman it is never right as both constructs  serve to keep women constantly in a state of anxiety in their attempt to interpret and enact these ideals in their lives as Azmat says,’ I actually haven’t had very many sexual partners and have lost out on a whole host of experiences as a result. I don’t want to be that person looking back on my life, boasting that at least I never committed haram. Our mistakes make us who we are – human.’ 

It is the last sentence which chilled me the most, indeed it is our mistakes that make us human, but for women particularly the myth of western sexual culture, the horny sexualised female animal has led to untold misery and abuse of women on a global scale. Azmat cashes in on this, Pornhub has terabytes filled with hijab porn and a hijabi Muslim woman will certainly get an audience when they are talking explicitly about their sex life or talking dirty, depending on how you look at it.

Qutb wrote in the 1940 of a society in many ways different from today, but in many ways not for women. The commodification of women either as religious relics in hijab, representing modesty and goodness liberated by Islam or oppressed by religion in need of liberating or the secular westernised woman sexually voracious – liberated in stilettos and coifed coloured hair – reduced to nothing other than a feeling. Also oppressed and in need of liberating. Ultimately there hasn’t been that much movement away from these stereotypes by either camp.

What would really be liberating is the discussion outside from these camps. That’s stand-up I would would really like to see.

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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Islamic feminism – what’s it all about? Here’s seven reasons why Muslim women are demanding faith-based change

Islamic feminism is a term that for some may seem like an oxymoron. Isn’t feminism a secular movement? Aren’t feminists often fighting religious orthodoxy? Well the truth is that feminism is about women’s choice, women’s empowerment and women’s equality – for women of all faiths and none. 

For women like myself who identity with a specific faith tradition, we don’t see God as patriarchal, we don’t believe that our divine Creator is a misogynist and we don’t see our faith at odds with gender equality. Of course not! I certainly for one wouldn’t be a Muslim if I ever thought that was true.

However, what is true, is that just as in secular spaces – women of faith are often ignored in mainstream narratives and face a range of discrimination simply because of their gender. As a Muslim woman, hand on heart I can say that Islam has been interpreted into patriarchal spaces and according to the socio-cultural norms of certain societies, to the point that women are not always given an equal space, voice or allowed to progress and enjoin in their full spiritual, social, economic, political, cultural, sexual and emotional rights. 

Abhorrent practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage represent a host of gender-based violence and discrimination, stemming from social and cultural attitudes and norms which are often used in the name of Islam. When it comes to gender equality practices like these are often denounced within religious circles but the story sadly doesn’t end there in acknowledging what is and isn’t ‘Islamic’. These practices represent the worst forms of gender-based abuse that some Muslim (and non-Muslim) women and girls face. On that scale of misogyny, there are still a host of others problems in more faith-based spaces which affect the daily lives of Muslim women. These relate primarily to a lack of inclusion and diversity and the inability of the community to allow women to enjoin in their rights as enshrined in Islam itself. 

These issues of course all stem from the same culture of misogyny, sexism and misogynist interpretations of Islam (whether interpreted as ‘culture’ or ‘faith’). 

However, as feminists, egalitarians and seekers of justice, this is where Islamic feminists come in. Islamic feminists such as Amina Wadud and Sherin Khankan are re-interpreting and refreshing Islamic theology, Qur’anic readings and Muslim narratives to be more egalitarian. This is of course not to change Islam into something new but to follow its true original egalitarian form relevant in today’s modern context and to re-establish the role of Muslim women in Muslim spaces.  It involves working to eliminate socio-cultural practices within Muslim communities which harm women and girls (and society as a whole) to ensure that our rights are fulfilled through the provision of critical services. 

Beyond the violent, often-denounced cultural (non-Islamic) practices such as FGM and child marriage, I’m going to explain the more subtle issues which stem from the same core but are so often ignored. Let’s see why we’re fierce and proud Islamic feminists, and what the issues on the ground are. Read on to find out! 

1. We often have no visible prayer space

The sad truth is that for Muslim woman, both here in the UK and abroad, adequate prayer space is often lacking. Some mosques literally have no space for women at all, whilst other spaces remain much smaller and often ‘out of sight’. (Of course it is acknowledged that men are obliged to pray at the mosque on Friday unlike women.)

As journalist Remona Aly reports, research has found that here in the UK for example, out of a total of 1,975 mosques, a staggering 28% of do not offer space for women. What’s more, 50% of all South- Asian run mosques (South-Asian being the largest ethno-cultural grouping of Muslims in the UK) do not allow women in their space. 

According to Aly: “When mosques do offer it [a space], the access is restricted, and often does not even include a prayer space, but rather a teaching space, such as a girls’ madrasa (religious school).” 

This is a shocking problem and what’s more, when it does come to prayer space, I personally object to being separated by a screen or hidden away in a smaller room on the floor above or an area hidden away behind the men’s space. I would prefer to be in the same physical wider space but with designated areas for men and women. However, even for the most conservative of Muslims, the current facilities on the whole are not adequate. 

This is where Open My Mosque was born. Striving to open up mosques to women, to enable mosques to be less male-dominated and to let the message be known. This initiative is spreading the message that we want to pray in mosques and that we want to also have a greater role in these spaces too! It’s our right and we need not only decent physically existent spaces but inclusive, adequate, welcoming spaces. Find out more about the crucial campaign here.

2. Female faith leaders are few and far between

When I was studying Islamic Feminism for my Master’s degree, I came across the incredible Amina Wadud – a Muslim scholar and imamah (female imam). She has led prayer in mixed spaces and sadly come under fire by many Muslims for it. However, she is leading the way in a very small field. 

Whilst women back in Prophet Muhammad’s era were far from being relegated to the private sphere, excluded from spiritual spaces, sadly the same cannot be said for the Muslim world today as a whole. In addition to often having limited/no prayer space, women are almost entirely excluded from leadership roles, from grassroots level on mosque committees to further up the ladder in wider-scale national committees. 

However, there is hope. In addition to Amina Wadud and her inspiring work, other leading figures such as Sherin Khankan are creating crucial change. Sherin is a Danish-Syrian imamah,offering new narratives on Islam. She critically launched the Miriam Mosque to offer female-led Friday prayers, an inclusive community space and critical access to services for women. Sherin is vocal in declaring that ‘Women are the future of Islam in her latest book, and has growing support.

Meanwhile in Morocco, whilst not recognised under the title of imamah, the government commissioned morchidat (female spiritual leaders) to help empower women across the country and re-establish a more tolerant, open and egalitarian form of Islam. You can find out more about these incredible women in the film ‘Casablanca Calling’, which I definitely recommend seeing.

3. We are critically lacking in female scholarship

Again, whilst we’re lacking in female imams, we’re also lacking in female scholarship. As women, this means that when we wish to seek spiritual advice and practical guidance on everything from periods or fasting and prayer to marital advice, we are forced to seek male counsel. 

Now there’s obviously nothing wrong with male scholars but within such a narrow range of scholarship, we are lacking a nuanced, diverse range of teachings and opinions. At the same time also failing to offer adequate understanding and safe spaces to sometimes incredibly vulnerable women affected by sensitive, often gender-specific or incredibly complex issues across genders. We are simply pushing women out of the main sphere. The result is a narrow range of scholarship and a lack of nuanced understanding of a gender and culturally diverse faith community. 

This is completely at odds with Islamic tradition. Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha was a renowned scholar and for every Muslim, regardless of gender, it is our duty to learn and to access the means to learn and educate ourselves throughout our lives. Male-dominated scholarship fails to address the needs of the community and leads to a gendered-hierarchy of power. This is where scholars such as Amina Wadud – a fully identifying Islamic feminist – are reclaiming this space. However, we need more! For an insight into her work I would definitely recommend her book ‘Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam’. This book gives a great overview of the real message of tawheed (oneness of God – monotheism) and where Muslim women stand theologically in comparison to the socio-cultural reality today. 

4. Violent interpretations aren’t being challenged

Whilst we’ve come a long way in denouncing certain practices as un-Islamic, there are still some issues being swept under the carpet. The issue of domestic violence and verse 4:34 of the Qur’an is one clear issue that is not being adequately addressed. Now, whilst no level-headed Muslim following the teachings of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would ever hit a woman, we’re still not really getting to grips with this verse.

It’s all a matter of interpretation and logic. For example, the violent interpretation of Surah 4:34 declares:

“The good women are obedient, guarding what God would have them guard. As for those from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them, and abandon them in their beds, then strike them.” (Translation: Talal Itani)

Now, in an attempt to supposedly correlate the clear non-violent example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) regarding his wives in reference to this translation, varying interpretations continue to permeate discussions around the topic. Of course, no level-headed scholar condones beating one’s wife. However, some scholars claim via interpretations of this surah and related hadith, that hitting which is ‘not harsh’ or does ‘not cause injury’ or carried out using a ‘light’ object such as a miswak (traditional toothbrush/stick) to offer a ‘warning’ or form of ‘metaphorical hitting’ are acceptable. This is clearly morally (and theologically) wrong and normalises unhealthy dynamics between husband and wife. Yet I’ve heard it in conversations at lunch tables.

The fact remains; if we are to take God’s message seriously and if we believe in mutual respect between husband and wife (and men and women as a whole), then we must address these issues. In relation to the topic, in the book ‘Leaving Faith Behind’, co-author Aliyah Saleem (now an ex-Muslim), describes how even a ‘metaphorical’ form of hitting as a response to the meaning of Surah 4:34 to her, constitutes emotional abuse. Threats of power, domination and violence in any form are wrong and do not exemplify a relationship of respect, love, understanding and tolerance. As a Muslim I can wholeheartedly understand why she found this unacceptable and am angered that such apologetic interpretations are presenting such an abhorrent view of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. God is simply greater than this.  

Within the Muslim community however, Islamic feminists, rather than trying to explain such translations, have however offered their own more appropriate translation to help address such inconsistencies. In her translation The Sublime Quran ‘(2007), Iranian-American Muslim author, translator and psychologist Laleh Bakhtiar translates the Arabic word ‘daraba’ (the term in question often translated to mean ‘beat/hit/strike’) as ‘go away’. This crucially and logically refers to a last commandment of eventual separation during conflict with your spouse after everything else has failed. This naturally fits into the verse and its increasingly separatist stages: first advising, next not sharing the martial bed and then ‘daraba – walking away. 

Of course, for the sceptics out there (including native-Arabic speakers), it’s also worth pointing out that Laleh’s translation of the Qur’an is used in various mosques and universities and was even adopted by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan. Yet why are we not talking about this instead of ‘lightly touching’ with tissues and miswaks or emotionally abusive power dynamics? Indeed, we’ve still got so far to go.

5. We’re tired of the hijab-hype

Image credit: https://www.freepik.com/index.php?goto=74&idfoto=3033344

Hijab, niqab, headscarves, veils – yes, the issue of covering is perhaps one of the most talked about with respect to Muslim women, in Muslims and non-Muslim spaces. Now, whilst this an issue of Islamic theology, the issue of how much a Muslim woman should cover, from which age and how she should or should not cover her body (and in particular head) is one that is over-dominating discussions on Islam. 

Firstly, despite the mainstream dominant narrative that women are obliged to cover their heads and bodies (with other interpretations mandating or encouraging the use of the face veil) there are various interpretations on head coverings. Secondly – and it should go without saying – this is a private matter between a Muslimah and Allah Almighty. The choice to cover or not cover should remain the woman’s sole decision devoid of outside influence or pressure. However, we continue to be inundated with talks of hijab and covering, with males often dominating the conversation. 

Not only is such behaviour a frank example of mansplaining on behalf of laymen in the context of non-scholarship, it’s also a clear example of (un-theological) double standards. Whilst men are also commanded to act and dress modestly and ‘lower their gaze’, we often hear a lot less of this in comparison! In fact, in her book ‘Inside the Gender Jihad’, Amina Wadud describes this reality perfectly. She outlines how the concept of hijab (head and body covering) has become a form of unofficial ,over-dominating ‘sixth pillar’. 

As both a hijabi and non-hijabi (I am now an ‘ex-hijabi’), it has honestly pained me (and continues to!) to see a lack of respect in some circles around the issue of women covering, not covering or no longer covering. We only need to think of the abuse that Muslim fashion blogger Dina Tokio received after removing her hijab to understand this. 

The sexist attitudes monopolising an area of personal observance and religious interpretation can again be fully observed in comparisons such as these of ‘good pure covered Muslimah’ versus ‘unveiled impure Muslim’ which make my blood boil.

I have myself seen such examples across social media, which are not only shared and pushed by men but also women. With male leadership, male scholarship and a male-dominated public sphere, both men and women are subject to such bias. Yet we’re also seeing clear examples of mansplaining amongst this policing of women’s bodies in relation to covering and hijab. 

Regardless of the perpetrator, this exemplifies a clear unhealthy policing of women’s bodies which we know is not only present in faith-based contexts. As Muslim women, we must reclaim our agency, our privacy and our right to choose to cover or not cover with full respect and independence (from men and women alike). 

6. Our sexuality is closeted, sensualised and shamed

Just as our bodies are policed in the name of modesty regarding hijab and body/face coverings, with modesty related to how we behave with the opposite sex (although a spiritual commitment), Muslim women are also subjected to ‘shame culture’ in relation to their sexuality and sexual behaviour. 

Think about how often we’re taught about a women’s right to sexual pleasure? Ask any scholar and they’ll make it clear that it’s our right. They do indeed encourage healthy sexual relationships for both spouses but it’s just not acknowledged enough in Muslim spaces. What however is talked about with another mansplaining double-standard is women’s virginity. 

Yes, again; what should remain between Allah and his follower (and is relevant to both men and women), has become the ‘ticking time bomb’ of shame, honour-related loss and ‘decency’ and causing fathers to want to marry their daughters off as soon as possible in some cases.

Just take a look at this tweet by a Muslim male: 

Yes, a tweet, that has (as of 9th March 2019), over 3,000 likes and 1,619 re-tweets written by a Muslim brother who seeks to shame women into submission through yet another reminder of how we should wait for marriage. Yet, as a Muslim woman I resent being compared to a juice carton. As a Muslim woman, I ask why are you talking about this? As a Muslim woman, I ask again: why the constant emphasis on a woman’s virginity on behalf of Muslim males? Why the double standards? Why the singular narrative? Why the publicising of women’s virginity yet the closeting and shaming of women’s sexuality (in halal settings)? 

It’s simply not good enough! It’s not good enough to believe in equal standards for women in regards to chastity and the right to sexual pleasure, it’s actually now time to talk equally, to share equally and to have a healthier narrative around these issues. Women, as human beings and Muslims have sexual needs and rights, and as Muslims, we (regardless of gender) submit to Allah alone in heart, body, mind and soul. 

7. Divorce is our God-given right

Divorce is another God-given right that must be obtainable and freely accessible in both theological and legal settings (yet not undertaken lightly). However, getting a divorce for Muslim women isn’t as easy and accessible as it should be. Cultural attitudes, ‘shaming’ those who wish to leave their husbands and those who have indeed divorced, mean that actually accessing divorce is incredibly difficult for some Muslim women.

At the Miriam Mosque, Sherin Khankan works to ensure that all Muslim women have access to divorce if they need it. Yet with male prompted divorce or divorce notification via text message or WhatsApp in Saudi Arabia or India for example, things are far from equitable, rational and fair for many Muslim women. 

Even here in the UK, many Muslim women also have difficulty obtaining a divorce. With a society that prizes virginity, one twice-divorced Muslimah journalist Saima Mir explains that despite the Islamic permissibility (with Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah being a divorcee herself), this wasn’t enough to “stop the gossip as her ‘value’ had ‘fallen’”. When the early women of Islam had no stigma or shame attached with being a divorcee or requesting a divorce, where are we as a faith-community when women nowadays continue to suffer in abusive, loveless marriages or are deemed ‘used goods’ unworthy of re-marriage? 

Logic and God’s words state that divorce is our right and we must ensure that not only is this rightful service available to all women but that men cannot and do not continue to abuse their right to divorce at the detriment of women. 

Now of course there are many, many more issues which could have been covered here, but the underlying narrative of women being the ‘bearers’ of honour and the public sphere being a place for male dominance is what continues to perpetuate these practices, problems and trends which on a higher more severe end of the scale lead to some of the abuse highlighted earlier such as FGM and child marriage. As Muslims, both men and women, we must reclaim the rights of women within faith spaces and our wider lives and for this reason, the work of Islamic feminists is critical.  

God is neither male or female – of course God is not human – but we must stop interpreting and living out Islam through this male-dominated, misogynistic lens. Women are being excluded, women are suffering and last of all, we have narrowed, boxed in and misrepresented the beautiful message of Our Creator – The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate, The Loving and The Wise, into something that is lacking His beauty, justice and mercy. 

Actions speak louder than words. We must reclaim the narrative, preach and live a more inclusive, egalitarian form of Islam – the original Islam of times ago, nuanced and perfectly adapted into the modern era, which clearly puts women firmly at the centre, not on the sidelines. 

By Elizabeth Arif -Fear

Elizabeth Arif-Fear is one of our regular contributors and author of ‘What if it were you?’ which is available to buy on Amazon.

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 images used in this piece have been sourced and chosen by the author.


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Women in the Refugee Crisis series – Why do women turn up to volunteer?

We are extremeley fortunate to platform a three part series focussing on ‘Women in the Refugee Crisis’ by Tazeen Ahmad the founder of Humanity’s Heart , an organisation that was born following a volunteering trip by a small group of people to Calais (The Jungle) in June 2016. Travelling through Calais, Lebanon and Greece, Humanity’s Heart witnesses and shares the experiences of refugees, volunteers, spiritual leaders, politicians and local citizens in what is the biggest challenge the world has faced for over 60 years. The first part in the series reflects on why women turn up to volunteer through a series of short films.

When reflecting on the work of witnessing, sharing and inspiring on the red thread of humanity in the refugee crisis, what came to heart many times during our work, is the role of women. Both refugee women and volunteer women meeting in the relational spaces in the refugee crisis. 

Meeting these women, made me reflect on Mary, the Mother of Jesus and her willingness to surrender to the will of God. It was through her implicit trust in our Source which brought forward the birth of Jesus. They say, “Let the Mary of your body give birth to the Jesus of your soul.” Could this crisis be birthing love and compassion on an epic scale?

Undeniably there have been many male volunteers and their contribution cannot be underestimated 

Although returning from filming, it fascinated me further to learn that in Arabic the names of God “Rahman” (The compassionate) and “Rahim” (The merciful),  the root letters of both R-H-M mean “womb.” It  stirred a deeper  reflection into how the outpouring of the heart towards humanity, hasn’t necessarily been met at an intergovernmental level yet there has been an outpouring of compassion, generosity and love from the hearts of  ordinary people, predominantly women. 

One local volunteer Jeannie Tweed for Elmbridge CAN for example shared: 

“It has been a privilege for me to get to know so many strong women from such different backgrounds to mine. Adjusting to life here is not easy, but their resilience and joyfulness can be humbling. We share limited language but we have connected over food, over children, over my terrible attempts at learning Arabic and my poor dancing, and most of all over humour. About 75% of the volunteers in our team of English teachers, volunteer drivers and general helpers are women. They give their time, their compassion, their understanding and often their professional expertise for no charge because they believe in what we are doing and because they want to make a difference. I have just had a discussion about a job opportunity for one of the refugees with a fellow local Mum while on the school run – women’s networks are amazing.”

So why do women turn up to volunteer?

From Calais, to Greece and into Lebanon, the motivation for volunteer women choosing to turn up varied. For some it was almost as if they were taking a protest vote against the current climate of increased polarization, fear and extremism. 

For others it was the red thread of humanity that simply called their hearts to turn up and serve. 

This flow of compassion sitting in contrast to what official government policies on the crisis have been. 

It’s been exactly this outpouring of humanity from women founded organisations such as Help Refugees, Refuaid, Refugee Action Colchester here in the UK, which witnessed assistance arriving to those displaced by wars. Their contribution is starting to be recognised. Recently Anna Christina Jones  co-founder of Refuaid was listed as one of the forbes 30under30s in their 2019 30under30 in Europe category while  Maria Wily of Refugee Action Colchester  in 2017 won volunteer of the Year for Essex from all her hard and determination assisting Syrian refugees. 

Maria and Iman Mortagy , through their work at Refugee Action Colchester have transformed the lives of many Syrians finding themselves in the coastal town in Essex. Maria Wilby shares how her own experience on entering the country aged 2 was a huge catalyst towards setting up Refugee Action Colchester. She was able to fully empathise with what it’s like to be an outsider.

Together Iman and Maria with Syrian refugees pioneered the Syrian Café at First Site in Colchester, a space bringing together Syrians and the local community through a shared love of food. 

Yet for Iman Mortagy, the reason to turn up and help refugees was more an expression of spiritual activism. 


By Tazeen Ahmad

Taken is founder and producer of Humanity’s Heart. She is a daughter of a migrant, a British Citizen, a mother of two and a believer in the power of humanity. In June 2016, she traveled to Calais. The trip confirmed for her that we have far more in common than which divides us.

It also raised in her a deep curiosity about ‘what motivates others to turn up and serve?’. And ‘what spiritual lessons to humanity are emerging in the largest crisis since WWII?’ It was at that moment, she realised her background in broadcast journalism and finance, fundraising and philanthropy could be put to use. So humanity’s heart was born. She will be running a “How to make a documentary film workshop in June here is the link for the documentary workshop https://www.tazeendhunna.com/media-consultancy/howtomakeadocumentary

Videos and images are the copyright of Humanity’s Heart  follow them on Twitter


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Book review: ‘Let Me Tell You This’ by Nadine Aisha Jassat

You know when you come across a poetry collection so good, you just want to go out and buy a copy for all your friends whether it is their birthday or not? Well, this is it!

‘Let Me Tell You This’ by Nadine Aisha Jassat is just so compelling, I kept on going back and re-reading each one and every time I did so, there was a new meaning, a new layer. Split into three sections; Hands, Words and Voice with each section taking on different aspect of Nadine’s journey in life and her relationships with those closest to her.

“There is so much raw, visceral passion in ‘Let Me Tell You This’ the reader is on a roller coaster all the way through…”

A child of dual heritage, Nadine talks about growing up with her mixed heritage, and doesn’t shy away from sharing the ignorance of her peers. ‘Conversation as Girls’ is layered with hidden, hurtful meaning “I’m glad my parents are the same, Pure Blood’ while ‘Things I Will Tell My Daughter’ may be the shortest of poems but packs a powerful gut punch nonetheless.

There is so much raw, visceral passion in ‘Let Me Tell You This’ the reader is on a roller coaster all the way through, whether it is sharing Nadine’s pain as a customer brands her fake-tan stained hands ‘Paki hands’ or when she talks about the racial and sexist abuse she receives from random men in ‘Hopscotch’. You can’t help but feel her anger, frustration, outrage but also marvel at her bravery and the way each poem leaves an imprint in your mind, so that you’re still thinking about the words, the meanings days later. 

Who said women of colour couldn’t speak out? Because if it is one thing that Nadine does well, it is to use her mastery over the English language in such a way, it will break your heart, soar your spirits and have you demanding more!

By Aisha Ali-Khan

‘Let Me Tell You This’ is available to purchase from Amazon.

Aisha Ali-Khan is a campaigner, activist and avid book reader. As a child of Pakistani migrants, she felt that there just wasn’t enough voices from black or minority backgrounds in literature with whom she could relate to and identify with while she was growing up. Later, as an English teacher, Aisha would use poetry to bring her lessons alive, and introduced her pupils to many new and upcoming authors and poets.

 

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

 

 


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Muslim & Jewish Women are going above and beyond to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’

The power of going beyond our limited thinking to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’. Mehatma Gandhi

At this time of uncertainty it’s easy to take our fearful thinking seriously and not question it. We can either retreat into ourselves and/or become more fearful of others. 

We may not realise it but our thoughts create our experience of life whether consciously (like when we are thinking about what we are going to say to someone) or unconsciously (like when we automatically make a cup of tea and are not aware of the thoughts that instruct us to do it).

But since thoughts are constantly flowing through us, often at great speed and ever changing, how trustworthy are they? 

When our thoughts look real, we live in a world of suffering. When they look subjective, we live in a world of choice. When they look arbitrary, we live in a world of possibility. And when we see them as illusory, we wake up inside a world of dreams.” – Michael Neill (2013), taken from ‘The Inside-out Revolution: The Only Thing You Need to Know to Change Your Life Forever.’

We are constantly, and innocently, making judgements about other people then acting out of that thinking; often without even realising we are doing this. It’s easy to make judgements about people but what are these judgements based on? How reliable are they? How much do we really know about the people we are judging? 

I was reminded of this recently when I had dealings with someone who I judged unfairly. I later found out that what I had interpreted as being pushy was in fact a passion for what they do as a result of them personally overcoming adversity that had a profound impact on them. Until I understood this I had interpreted their enthusiasm as something quite different. Needless to say I felt very remorseful but glad to have been retaught this lesson. 

We often think that our experience of life comes from what other people do and our circumstances rather than how we are viewing those other people and our circumstances in any given moment, a view that can change with our mood, how we are feeling, fresh thinking we have etc.

An example of this was when I was contracting at work and my contract was coming up for renewal.  I came into work one day feeling a bit insecure and no one spoke to me. I started to think maybe I had done something wrong and maybe my contract wouldn’t get renewed, so I started to feel even more insecure. Then I noticed that everyone was just working really hard and were up against it because of a deadline they had to meet and I realised they weren’t talking to me because they were busy and it had nothing to do with me. In that moment of realisation that my insecurity was coming from me and not from them it disappeared just like that. If I hadn’t noticed this I could have innocently acted out of my insecurity and done something that could have put me in not such a good light. 

Sometimes in life we need to step outside our comfort zone and go beyond the limitations that we and what we perceive others think is possible. A few months ago I did just that by passing my driving test at the age of 44. Something I and I everyone else I knew never thought I could do. How was I able to do this I hear you ask? Well partly I had a good reason that helped to motivate me beyond my fearful and self limiting beliefs (that I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t have good spatial awareness, that all other drivers were scary etc.). But also I had the understanding that fearful and self limiting beliefs were just thoughts like any other that ebb and flow. So when this thinking crept up on me, which it often did when I was attempting to drive, for the most part I was able to see beyond them and concentrate on the here and now of driving rather than the noise in my head. 

What I’m learning is that when see our thinking for what it is we start to see our thoughts as arbitrary which liberates us to go beyond their limitations and opens us up to people and possibilities in the world far beyond what we would have thought possible. 

In less than a month’s time an organisation that I am very passionate about – Nisa Nashim, the Jewish Muslim Women’s Network – will bring together Muslim and Jewish women from around the UK, who are bucking the trend of fear and separation and what they think is possible to come together for a one day conference on “Faith and Friendship: Shaping the future together”. We’ll explore what it means to view cross-community friendship as an engine of social transformation. We’ll ask, what does it mean to practice friendship as a form of social action? What role does friendship play in unlocking women’s leadership? What can our faith traditions teach us about being better friends and changemakers?

As Jo Cox so poignantly said in her maiden speech to parliament “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” The programme for the day reflects this with a wide range of sessions on issues that affect both Muslim and Jewish women such as Islamophobia and Antisemitism, campaigning and advocacy, and caring from the environment. It features a range of high profile women each courageous in their own way, including Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick, MP Naz Shah, Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, Deputy Mayor Debbie Weekes-Bernard and Annette Lawson OBE, the all-female team from Solutions Not Sides.  

So why not go beyond what you see is possible, “be the change you want to see in the world” and join us on Sunday 7 April

By George Halfin

George Halfin is on the steering committee for the Nisa Nashim Conference. She is an Innate Health coach and author of the blog Confessions of An Overthinker. She is also a Project Manager for Terrence Higgins Trust where she is currently working on a series of interactive films called ‘Their Story, Your Choice’ that aims to challenge people’s views and perceptions about HIV. 

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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Accepting your dark side

We are told at a very young age how to behave. The social parameters of ‘normal’ thoughts and behaviour are clearly set out for us and stepping out of those boundaries can have grave consequences. So, it’s no wonder that we find it hard to accept in ourselves those characteristics that are classified as socially unacceptable and could lead to a painful rejection.

Throughout history we have been taught that we must ‘kill’ the dark-side, those negative characteristics and weaknesses within us. But is that even possible? And if so, is it even healthy? What we resist persists, so if we spend all our time killing and eradicating a side of us, are we at risk of doing more harm than good?

As human beings, we were created with a full range of emotional responses and desires, classified as good and bad, and this is universal. So what we do know is that we are not responsible for the creation of these, they are natural and they have a function. So why do we need to hide the ‘bad’ ones and pretend they are not there. Sheryl Lee said, “the more we deny that we have a dark–side, the more power it has over us”.

“Avoiding our dark side can rob us of happiness, it can lead to depression and addictions because we are not truly connecting with ourselves or with other people.”

The healthiest way to live is to accept the beast within us, that way we can keep it in check. If we deny it and ignore it, it tends to slowly get out of control and in time much difficult to harness. It’s hard to accept the dark-side because we often feel afraid of the rejection that will follow if anyone finds out about that side of us. We get busy creating a world where we are ‘fine’ and the problem is out there.

Avoiding our dark side can rob us of happiness, it can lead to depression and addictions because we are not truly connecting with ourselves or with other people. If we continue to live a picture-perfect life, denying a part of ourselves we can become exhausted and lonely. When we accept the dark-side it lives in harmony with the light and we lead much more authentic and healthy lives.

Fully accepting ourselves as people with dark and light sets us free, we become a more whole and complete person. The pressure to lead a ‘perfect’ life is gone and we are free to accept what’s really there for us. Once we are able to accept ourselves as whole, complete and perfect as we are and as we are not, we are able to do the same for others. The feeling of fully knowing ourselves and another and being able to share that is true intimacy and connection.

How do we know what our own personal dark side is? So, we need to listen carefully to the judgements we make about others, these are often the same judgements we make about ourselves. If we find fragility in someone annoying, then chances are that we find the same thing in ourselves annoying too and will probably go to great lengths to hide it from others. In such circumstances, we may openly judge others and gossip about them to deflect the same weakness in ourselves.

We may suffer jealousy, ignoring or denying this feeling can lead to dysfunctional behaviours however, if we are willing to accept that such feelings exist within us and that they are natural then we are free to deal with them. If jealousy is the overriding feeling, then we have to identify the reasons behind it. If for example, we are feeling jealous of a friend who has had a great holiday with her dream partner then the reasons why we are triggered is because we want the same. Instead of wishing it away from our friend it’s healthier to wish the same for ourselves and then establish ways to have the same possibly even by asking our friend for advice on how.

Once we begin to treat ourselves with such compassion and not judge reactions within us that are normal and there to be understood, we are able to harness that side of us. We become more authentic in our relationships. We are better able to allow that authenticity to show in others without judgement. We no longer fear rejection because we fully accept and respect ourselves for all that we are and all that we are not. Fortunately, we are not just dark, or light, and our real beauty lies in the harmony of both.

By Aamna Khokhar

For more information and to access e-learning modules or book a one-to-one please visit leafcoaching.com


Aamna Khokhar is determined to equip people with the tools to strengthen communication, regard and love within their relationships. She helps people overcome destructive thought patterns, obstructive emotional responses and manage stress and anxiety. She believes that the management of these can help people heal their relationships and reclaim their self-worth and improve their lives. With a background in Psychology spanning 20 years and a qualification in life coaching Aamna has chosen to specialise in Relationship Coaching. She works with individuals as well as in groups and runs workshops on self-development and the creation and maintenance of healthy relationships, including finding love. She has recently begun creating e-learning modules allowing individuals to work at their own pace and leisure to ensure that self-development is a pleasurable part of their everyday lives. 

To contact Aamna please email on info@leafcoaching.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.

Image credit: Akeela Ahmed


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It’s time to stand up to and call out anti-Muslim rhetoric

And treat it in the same manner as any other type of hate speech

The events of 15th March 2019, where 50 innocent men, women and children were murdered in cold blood will go down as one of New Zealand’s darkest days. Like all terrorist attacks of this calibre we go through extreme emotions of shock, anger, sadness and grief. Overwhelming grief. Yes we are a community in mourning. Why has this particular terrorist attack shaken us to our core? Let me explain.

It is little known that Muslims around the world are mistreated and killed day in, day out because of war and terrorism. Whether in Kashmir, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Myanmar, or China  , Muslims are victims of complex conflicts and terrorism. In fact more Muslims have been killed by Daesh compared with other groups. Targeting Muslims in Mosques is not new – past atrocities have involved Muslims being killed in mosques.

After these horrendous events, we feel sadness, we may donate money or sign a few petitions. We say prayers for the victims. We do what we can sitting in lands far away. But this grief, following the horrific attacks on Mosques in New Zealand, a Western country, is new and it’s raw and I’m trying to work out why.

“Even Facebook hasn’t offered me a filter for my profile photo or a flag, like they did for the Manchester or Paris attacks.”

It seems to me, that my fellow non-Muslims on Facebook and Instagram are not affected by it, in the way Muslims are. This may seem unfair but the fact that very, very few non-Muslims in the public eye and just regular people in Britain have shared anything about the New Zealand terror attack, really hurts. Words matter, and support through a difficult time is always appreciated. The notion that ‘now they know how we feel’ which I’ve seen in comments under many posts is not as hurtful as those people simply not acknowledging it. Even Facebook hasn’t offered me a filter for my profile photo or a flag, like they did for the Manchester or Paris attacks.

Please don’t think for a minute that Muslims are immune to terror attacks. Don’t for a minute think this is a first for the Muslim community. Don’t for a minute think that the ‘shoe is on the other foot’. No. According to the Stop the War coalition, the US led war on terror has killed two million Muslims since 9/11. That’s right two million, so don’t for one moment think that Muslims don’t know about death.

When 7/7 happened and 52 people were killed and many more injured on the London Underground we were upset and angry as much as anybody else. Remember Muslims die in Islamist inspired terror attacks too. We are not exempt. We go to concerts, we use public transport so we are a targets too. But in this case we were targeted exclusively. Like the nine black Christian worshippers in Charleston, South Carolina, these people were murdered whilst praying. When we’re praying we are vulnerable and detached from our surroundings. To target a group of worshippers is so cowardly and so personal to me. My husband and son go to Friday prayers. It’s such a normal thing to do. One of the victims, fourteen year old Sayyed even looks like my son. So yes it’s personal and yes I feel it. And I know the majority of Muslims who live outside of Muslim countries feel the same.

The truth is Muslims are battered from every angle. Whether it’s from groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda or from white supremacists, we are in the firing line every time. And if not a target for violence we are spoken about on social media like a worthless community. Too long the media with their inflammatory headlines have gotten away with demonising an entire religion and it’s followers.

Many young Muslims, born in the era of post 9/11 have felt victimised, experienced racism and anti-muslim hatred all their lives. With headlines like ‘Muslim schools ban our culture’ to ‘Muslim plot to kill the pope’, is there any wonder why some of the general public fear and dislike Muslims? These headlines are fuelling white supremacists and legitimising Islamophobia. According to the Cambridge University Press “For every one moderate Muslim mentioned, 21 examples of extremist Muslims are mentioned in the British press”.

Says it all really, and if you want to see the hatred from the comfort of your home then you just have to go on to a tabloid newspaper’s Facebook page under any article to do with Muslims and you will see it clearly. You only have to go on Twitter to see how many proud ‘Islamophobes’ there are who put in their bio that they are Islamophobic, and this is their main purpose, indeed their tweets are mainly about bashing and demonising Muslims.

Thankfully I’ve also found solitude in Twitter where so many tweets from non-Muslims have shown me that people do care and there are many who realise the subliminal anti-Muslim sentiment that some of the press has been espousing. Whilst it is being acknowledged, things need to change. It’s time that not just Muslims, but for others too, to call out the anti-Muslim sentiment that is present in our society today. Because there hasn’t been the Facebook and Instagram outcry that usually follows a large-scale terror attack. Extremists have now been inspired to attack Muslims in London, and one has already taken place outside a mosque. It’s time to stand up to anti-Muslim rhetoric and treat it in the same manner as other types of hate speech. Don’t let it go unquestioned, don’t ignore it, because people need to be held accountable for their words.

By Sharmeen Ziauddin

Sharmeen Ziauddin is a journalist and blogger who blogs at britpakgirl.com. You can find her tweeting @britpakgirl

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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We Need To Stop Being Mean Girls.

“She got that promotion? Ugh, how did she get it with the amount of slap on her face? “

“She’s going back to Uni? Surely she’s a bit past it now.”

“She should not be wearing those shorts, sorry but her legs just are not made for ripped denim.”

“She’s going out with HIM? She’s got the personality of a wet blanket.”

Do these statements sound familiar?

As in do they sound like the misogynistic comments that people write they heard men say in the workplace as well as the comments that women have been calling out in recent years?

Yes.

But were they said by men?

No.

All the above statements have been said by women, about women.

A common misconception about today’s brand of feminism is that all women have banded together to take on the patriarchy. But the sad truth is that we haven’t. Not yet anyways.

The irony of all this is that we regularly hear/see/read about how men who have made these comments and have been called out on their mistakes and engrained sexism, so why is it that we are still spontaneously combusting from within?

I believe a large part of this has do with how for generations and even now, we as women are still made to feel as if there isn’t a large enough platform for all of us to flourish career-wise, that there aren’t enough spaces for us. As a result, we have been raised to compete over everything; from makeup to marriage and we tear at each other mercilessly over the same aspects that we lambast men for even daring to criticise:

1. Physical appearance

2. Choice of clothing

3. Personality aspects (too loud, too quiet, too ‘in your face’, too anything really)

4. Sexual history

Another reason I believe this takes place is because quite simply, we get envious from time to time and therefore we regress back into what the patriarchy have thrived on for so long: women fighting amongst women without realising the power and potential we have as a collective.

We’re only human and when we see other people around us doing well we want the same kind of recognition and reward. I’ve even had to check myself a few times in the past when I’ve seen other women around me absolutely smashing it at work or within the media. I’d find myself falling into that toxic trap of finding something to nit pick about that woman all the while secretly wishing I’d achieved the same thing she had in the same amount of time.

But that was me projecting my own insecurities on to this woman, that was MY problem….not hers.

Today, I now maintain the notion that we as women have enough to deal with from those still upholding backward and misogynistic views in the workplace without self-destructing from within the ranks.

So if a woman in your workplace/college/university circle does well, just keep these things in mind:

1. She probably worked damn hard for whatever reward she got

2. If she’s earned a leadership or management position, that’s AMAZING!! We need more women in higher roles which make a difference.

3. She wasn’t being “loud” or “rude” in that meeting, she was speaking honestly and firmly about issues that she believed

4. Her choice of clothing, makeup or hairstyle have no bearing on her abilities or intelligence.

5. Neither does whoever she’s dating or not dating.

Above all else she should know and feel confident that in a world where the fight for gender equality is more vocal than ever, the women around her aren’t looking to secretly stab her in the back.

Instead, we’ve got her back.

By Raisa Shaikh

Raisa Shaikh currently works as a Secondary English Teacher in the UK but spent the first 16 years of her life in Hong Kong and Singapore. When she’s not teaching, she’s avidly reading or writing on her blog about her passions: intersectional feminism, world history and everything in between! She’s also a self-confessed “Shakespeare Nerd”.

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