She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


Leave a comment

Interview with Hanan Issa Welsh-Iraqi poet and writer.

Image credit Hanan Issa

I was excited and honoured to be able to interview Hanan Issa an upcoming and talented poet and writer, from Wales, as I had seen her stellar performance in the Hijabi Monologues. We have been following her for a while on Instagram and I just knew we had to interview her once she announced the publication of her upcoming book.

Hanan is a Welsh-Iraqi poet and writer.  She has been featured on both ITV Wales and BBC Radio Wales and worked in partnership with National Museum Wales, Artes Mundi, Warwick university, Swansea Fringe, StAnza festival, Wales Arts International and Seren Books. Her work has been published in Banat Collective, Hedgehog Press, Wales Arts Review, Sukoon mag, Lumin Journal, Poetry Wales, Parthian, Y Stamp, sister-hood magazine and MuslimGirl.com.  Her winning monologue was featured at Bush Theatre’s Hijabi Monologues. She is the co-founder of Wales’ first BAME open mic series ‘Where I’m Coming From’. She was a 2018-2019 Hay Festival Writer at Work. Her debut poetry pamphlet ‘My Body Can House Two Hearts’ will be published by BurningEye Books in October 2019.

SSWH: Congratulations on your upcoming publication of your book a poetry collection! What was the motivation for you to publish your collection?

Hanan: Thank you Akeela. I had been working on this group of poems for some time when I saw that Burning Eye were holding a competition. My motto for last year was ‘why not?’ and so I entered and won alhamdulilah.

The roots of this pamphlet’s title (My Body Can House Two Hearts) came from two ideas that are very important to me: the power of women and raising up others along with yourself. The notion that a woman’s body is full of enough strength and power to harness ‘two hearts’ is based on a verse in the Quran. At the same time, as I was re-reading Audre Lorde’s essay ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’, I was struck by how much the words of a self-described ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet’ resonated with my interpretation of this verse. She talks a lot about how women have this enormous capacity to love. She anchors this love, that isn’t selfless or sacrificial, in the practice of interdependence. Audre Lorde also encourages the rejection of what she argues is an inherently patriarchal behaviour: to see ‘difference’ as something we should fear or compete with. The concept of ‘two hearts’ also refers to how, as someone of mixed heritage, you tend to have split or multiple loyalties and identities which is very much a theme of the pamphlet as well.   

SSWH: Have you always been a writer?

Hanan: It embarrasses me to say that despite having always written, even since I was little, I couldn’t accept the title of ‘writer’. I remember meeting someone for the first time who asked me: ‘who are you?’, ‘what do you do?’ There was no pause between the two questions as if they were entirely linked. At the time I was working in a charity for Deaf and hard of hearing people. Although I enjoyed my work, something inside me whispered ‘but that is not who you are.’  I don’t know if being Muslim, being half-Arab, or being working class contributed to me not allowing myself to accept ‘writer’ as an identity but I think they all played a part.  It felt indulgent to wholly claim something that I enjoyed so much without any apparent benefit to others. Anyway about 3 years ago I dumped all of that baggage and started calling myself a writer without the self-deprecating cringe-face.  In January this year I quit my day job to focus on writing full-time. It’s been a scary 9 months but I am learning so much about myself from having taken this leap.  

SSWH: Please tell us more about yourself!

Hanan: I live with my partner Abdurrashid, my son Yousuf and our cat Trico and, apart from writing, I love beaches, trees, good food, good coffee and the occasional Flamenco class.

SSWH: Why poetry?

Hanan: Poetry is language at its finest, its shiniest, its most polished. Most poets will tell you they agonise over a word, a comma, how a line looks on the page. Thomas Gray said ‘poetry is thoughts that breathe and words that burn’. Then there’s spoken word poetry – I started off writing angsty, cathartic pieces that helped me make sense or navigate the changing world. The diversity in what constitutes poetry today is so so exciting- basically there is something for everyone!

SSWH: Could you tell us about some of the topics and issues your poetry covers? 

Hanan: I’ll admit I’m a little wary about this question. I used to feel compelled to write about certain topics or issues. Then I realised that, for me personally, this was that feeling of working for ‘the greater good’, to justify my writing ‘indulgence’, just manifesting in a different way.  So I stopped writing poems about hijab etc and started writing about anything and everything that took my fancy. So in this pamphlet I have some pieces that can be read as overtly political such as ‘Better version of bravery’ that circles around the MeToo movement and our individual responsibility to act. I also have a piece called ‘Ten Men’ that touches on colonialism and colourism in my own family history. But than I have pieces that are more interested in how global history overlaps such as ‘Offa’s Coin’ or how we deny/ remake our own history ‘Austrian Hands’. And then I have a poem that’s just about watching my son eat strawberries! 

SSWH: Do your poems use a mixture of Arabic and Welsh ?

Hanan: There’s a sprinkling of both Arabic and Welsh throughout and that’s because I grew up with a sprinkling of Arabic and Welsh in my day to day life. I can’t say that I am tri-lingual, or even bilingual really, but both languages mean a lot to me and how I ground myself as a person.

SSWH: What would be your advice to anyone thinking about publishing a book, especially poetry? What were the biggest challenges?

Hanan: I would say its really important to feel passionate about the work you want to get published. If you don’t feel that strongly invested, why should a publisher? Also you will be spending a lot of time with this work – developing, editing etc so best to be something you really love!

If you don’t already have Twitter, make an account and start following lots of publishers and agents (create a list if it helps). Most publication call outs are promoted via Twitter, plus its a good way to see if your work would fit with a particular publisher by seeing other things they publish. 

Also, find a writing group, a writer friend/ mentor who will give you honest, critical feedback on your work. No one wants to be the person on X Factor who sounds like a strangled cat but when they get rejected says ‘but my friends all tell me i’m great!’ 

The challenge I mentioned above, of accepting myself as a writer, was very difficult. So much emphasis and pressure is placed on you to work for the betterment of the ummah, for others and I think as women we self-deprecate even more so. And writing is, by definition, a solitary practise.  Letting go of the idea that I was placed here with the sole purpose to nurture/ coddle/ ameliorate others was deeply empowering. This doesn’t mean I don’t try to help others. Nor does it mean I’m ignoring the power of ‘having a mic’. It just means I’m not afraid of societal disapproval or of having the appearance of working for my own career progression.

SSWH: Finally please tell us who or what inspires you?

Too many writers to mention! I’ve talked about Audre Lorde but also Toni Morrison. If I ever feel like I’m losing direction I turn to their work for guidance. Poetry by Zeina Hashem Beck or Terrence Hayes is almost always on my desk or in my bag, but also Carol Ann Duffy, Derek Walcott and I had a real ‘how have I only just discovered you’ moment with Tarfia Faizullah recently! Some of the greats like Jane Austen, Neil Gaiman, Chinua Achebe, Kazuo Ishiguro, Albert Camus, Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood,, Khalil Gibran, Malorie Blackman and more recently Nnedi Okorafor, Guy Gunaratne and Max Porter. 

Thank you so much to Hanan for answering our questions in such an insightful and personal way. We wish her all the best with the launch of her poetry collection, which you can purchase either from Burning Eye or from Waterstones. Interview by Akeela Ahmed MBE (follow her @AkeelaAhmed)


Leave a comment

Wonder Women Series: International Women’s Day 2018

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, we decided to highlight awesome British Muslim women who are making a difference to their communities and the world around them. They are all passionate and dedicated to their causes and campaigns, whether it is using YouTube as a creative medium to navigate taboo and social issues or teaching Yoga to cancer patients. All of these Muslim women deserve to have their work and voices elevated. At She Speaks We Hear, we are all about helping and supporting women to rise up!

Throughout the day we will highlight 10 different British Muslim women on our various social media platforms, facebook page , Instagram @shespeakswehear and Twitter @shespeakswehear – be sure to follow us and the women we profile in our ‘Wonder Women’ series.

Wonder woman Saima Alvi is Vice Chair of British Muslim Heritage centre and a volunteer at her daughters special needs school. 

Saima_Fotor

Wonder woman Maheen Nusrat is co-founded UpLift Connections @uplift_connections because she believes all women must have financial independence. She is also an avid traveller follow her on Instagram @traveljabi

Maheen Nusrat

Wonder woman Esmat Jeraj  is a community activist and organiser with a special interest in intersectional feminism. Follow her @esmat_j  

Esmat Jeraj_Fotor

Wonder woman Onjali Rauf  is Founder and CEO of Making Herstory @makeherstory1 a human rights organisation working to end the abuse, trafficking and enslavement of women and girls in the UK. Follow her @onjalirauf 

Onjali Rauf photo_Fotor

Wonder woman Saffana Monajed is the Co-Founder of Project Ribcage @projectribcage . an initiative which aims to elevate the self image of Muslim women. Follow her on Instagram @saffanabanana 

SaffanaM_Fotor

Wonder woman Tameena Hussain is is an IT engineer by profession but her passion lies in advocating for gender equality & human rights all whilst being actively involved in her community. Follow her @TameenaHussain 

Eid Reception

Wonder woman  Huda Jawad, is a leading community organiser, a British Muslim and a feminist. Huda works to boost the voice of Muslim women, combat domestic violence and build positive community relationships in the UK. Follow her @hudzyboo

HudaJawad_Fotor

Wonder woman Zahra Awaleh is a chaplain at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where she also teaches yoga and meditation to people living with cancer and red blood disorders. 

Zahra AwalehFotor

Wonder woman Nabila Pathan also known as Nabz Pat is a creative and YouTuber. Follow her on Instagram @nabz_pat and check out her videos! 

Nabila Pathan_Fotor

Akeela Ahmed our founder, co-organiser of the Women’s March London @womensmarchlon  and campaigner. Follow her @AkeelaAhmed and follow us on Instagram @shespeakswehear 

Akeela Fotor

 If you or someone you know, would like to be featured on our website as part of our ‘Wonder Women’ series then please get in touch by emailing us shespeakswehear@gmail.com – don’t be shy! 


2 Comments

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

Jennifersistersinbusiness

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

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

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

SSWH: Please tell us about yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SSWH: What motivates and inspires you?

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

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

Hanifa: My tips are simple yet effective:

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

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

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

Our sincere thanks to Hanifa for answering our questions!

Interview by Akeela Ahmed (follow her @AkeelaAhmed)