She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


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Muslim Women’s Voices: A Muslim Woman Researcher’s Perspective

Personally whilst growing up (and still today) I could very rarely identify with the Muslim women that were always being spoken about in the media and by politicians. Perhaps, this is reflective of my somewhat privileged position, but the Muslim women that I knew were motivated and strong both in their careers and in the home, and were supported by those in their lives. In short the Muslim women I knew were educated and intelligent and very much able to speak their own mind, albeit their voices are not always heard.

This disconnect between my own experiences and popular discourses about Muslim women also significantly influenced me in my studies. Whilst I was at school, in 2004, the French authorities passed the ban on ‘ostentatious faith symbols’ in state schools, or as I soon realised the French authorities had banned young Muslim women from wearing the headscarf at school. This ban was somewhat paradoxical and nonsensical since it was estimated that only around 600 young Muslim women wore the headscarf at the time of the ban¹, so why was there such hysteria over what some women in France wear?

“Time and time again each of these so-called affaires consistently neglects the plethora of Muslim women’s voices and adds to growing Islamophobia directed towards Muslim women.”

The French obsession with Muslim women’s dress has ‘Orientalist’ roots (see the image above). The specific fixation on Muslim women’s appearance in educational establishments dates back to 1989. However, prior to the implementation of the ban on the headscarf in schools in 2004, a commission was founded to investigate the potential prohibition. Personally, as a young student I found it problematic that the appointed representative of diversity and Muslim women’s voices was Fadela Amara. The former head of the French feminist organisation Ni Putes, Ni Soumises² was known for her typically French republican feminist stance, one that subscribes to current French secular positions that seek to remove the public visibility of faith, especially that of Islam. In her book also entitled Ni Putes, Ni Soumises, Amara describes the headscarf as a mark of oppression, submission, gender inequality, anti-feminist and anti-French. In short, Amara’s position negates the rich complexity of French Muslim women’s identities and multiple positions that they occupy and instead reduces visibly identifiable Muslim women as women who allegedly need ‘saving’.

The 2004 ban is only one of many legislative and normative measures in France that limit Muslim women’s dress; the 2010 anti-niqab law, controversies surrounding Muslim women’s headscarves in universities, long skirts in schools, what mothers wear when picking up their children from school, or the ‘burkini’ hysteria that has swept across France in recent weeks represent the ever-growing French obsession with Muslim women’s bodies.

Time and time again each of these so-called affaires consistently neglects the plethora of Muslim women’s voices and adds to growing Islamophobia directed towards Muslim women. In short, these debates obsess over Muslim women, yet they rarely afford these women a platform and instead they often contribute to worsening Muslim women’s everyday lives in France.

Recently I completed my PhD investigating the nature of Muslim women’s political participation in France and francophone Belgium. My research was based on 29 interviews with women who self-identify as Muslim and participate in variety of political activities. Among the women who took part in the study there were members of the European Parliament, national and regional parliamentarians, local councillors, trade union activists and those who took part in grass roots political activism.

This research presented an opportunity to showcase not only the nature of the political participation undertaken by Muslim women in France and Belgium, but also gave a platform for their voices. Upon reflection, I found that Muslim women encounter numerous obstacles to their political participation, and that these distinctly shaped by the spaces in which they seek to participate and also the evolving normative structures in their respective context. I was struck by the remarkable resilience of the women that shared their experiences with me – they always found ways and means of participating in politics and this was often driven by a desire to better the communities which they were very much part of.  Hearing Muslim women’s voices, be it through academic research or more accessible blogs like ‘She Speaks, We Hear’ is a tool to bring about social cohesion and improve understanding of Muslim women, to move away from the hysteria that surrounds them and to see that these women, in all their diversity, are very much part of Western society.

by Amina Easat-Daas

 ¹ See Hargreaves, A. G. (2007). Multi-Ethnic France: Immigration, Politics, Culture and Society. Abingdon, Routledge.
² Ni Putes, Ni Soumises translates as Neither Whores, nor Submissive (translation my own). The NGO was founded in response to the violence directed towards women in ghettoised French suburbs. Ni Putes, Ni Soumises is also the title of a book written by Fadela Amara (Amara, F. (2004). Ni Putes Ni Soumises. Paris, Editions La Découverte.)
Image Courtesy of The image above is taken from http://information.tv5monde.com/sites/info.tv5monde.com/files/styles/large_article/public/assets/images/288865_vignette_devoilement2.jpg?itok=zERgiXqm. The image was commonly used in French predominantly Muslim colonies. The text reads N’êtes-vous donc pas jolie? Dévoilez-vous which translates So are you not beautiful? Remove your veil. 

Amina Easat-Daas has recently completed her PhD at Aston University, Birmingham, UK. Her doctoral research is entitled Muslim Women’s Political Participation in Francophone Europe: A Comparative Analysis of France and Belgium, and it specifically examines the motivations, opportunities and barriers to political participation by Muslim women in the two cases. Amina’s broader research interests include the study of Muslim political participation and representation, Muslim women’s dress, ‘European Islam’ and anti-Muslim prejudice or Islamophobia in Europe, and has several forthcoming book chapters and articles related to these topics. Amina has worked alongside prominent European NGOs. She regularly participates in academic conferences throughout the UK and internationally, and has also previously presented some of her work related to anti-Muslim prejudice to the European Parliament in Brussels. http://aston.academia.edu/AminaEasatDaas

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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Bravo France

Last night I forced myself to look at this image. Over and over again. It was uncomfortable, sickening and terrifying. But as I sat up in bed, in the dark, with Imaan asleep next to me, I forced myself to stare at it.

I had scrolled past the image earlier in the day. I was afraid to read what accomponied the picture. I wanted to be in denial. Wanted to shroud myself in ignorance. Because if you don’t know, you don’t feel.

But this is reality. Reality for Muslim women across the globe. Women who bear the brunt and consequences of war, terrorism, Islamaphobia.

Muslim women who are thought to be so oppressed that they cannot exercise their own freedom of choice. Even if a woman is screaming THIS IS MY CHOICE, the world responds ‘you are so oppressed you think this is what you want…let us liberate you’

Let us liberate you with our guns on a crowded beach. Let us enforce this rule upon you. Make you strip in front of the world. In front of your crying, terrified children. All because you choose to cover up.
We do not understand why you do it, nor do we approve.

So remove your clothing.

Stripped of humanity
Stripped of compassion
Stripped of dignity
Isolated. Degraded. Humiliated.

Bravo France. The very women you want to integrate into your society are the ones you are now criminalising and marginalising.

Bravo. Bravo

by Sabbiyah Pervez

Sabbiyah Pervez, is a journalist and an advocate for social change, you can read more about her work at http://sabbiyah.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @sabbiyah 

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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The Betrayal

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Iranian woman removing her headscarf in 2015, against law which forces women to cover

I was betrayed as a child. Betrayed by those I trusted most. They were all in on the betrayal, but it was for my own good. It was to protect me. Or was it to suppress me? Either way, the betrayal was based on assumptions. Assumptions that I would be tempted by the evils of the western way of life. And to keep me in check was to convince me to wear a hijab from the age of 8.

I was not forced, let us be straight with that. I conformed. I conformed after a period of brainwashing that I see happening to 8 year olds today. I was under the belief that this would make me a woman. But what is far worse than that was that I was told a lie. I was told that it was haram for a girl or woman to not cover her hair. This betrayal came to me from my family, friends and teachers at Islamic school. And for years I never questioned it, why should I? I was told it so categorically, I used to fear having one hair show from my head under my scarf. Only as an adult, when I read it for myself, I realized it was a lie.
You can say what you like about hijab, but what you cannot say is that it is haram for a woman to not cover up. There is no order from Allah to cover your heads. And saying its haram is playing god, now none of us want to do that, right? If you wear it because you identify as a muslim, or it helps your cause please do it. But do not wave your “holier than thou stick” at me for not covering. Because in the eyes of Allah, I am doing nothing wrong. Hijab, when imposed on girls and women is nothing more than a means of social control. To stop those girls going astray in their teenage years. I was one of those girls. I wasn’t even given a chance to prove that my parents brought me up well knowing right from wrong. My parents must have had little faith in their upbringing of me… or they were more terrified of the West than I previously thought.

Now, I no longer cover, and I speak to my dad about his decision to make us cover. It was a community thing… he knows. He reads the quran. He didn’t get angry. There is no command for hijab.

By The Undercover Feminist

 

Image credits: http://tundratabloids.com/2015/10/october-11th-is-international-no-hijab-day/

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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The Joys of Shopping as a Hijabi

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Mariam François, presenting BBC programme ‘The Muslim Pound’

My trip to Zara without the kids in tow!

Zara seem to have nailed it! I walked around the Brent Cross branch and wanted to buy everything !

This is incredibly unusual for me- generally I hate shopping. I find it awkward and cumbersome. I hate using the mirrors because I don’t see myself in that way- wearing a hijab or a headscarf.

I’m a British Muslim woman, but I’m also relatively concerned about my appearance and presentation. However in my head I look like me, without a scarf, looking pretty. So shopping and finding clothes that are both attractive and modest and appropriate for work or otherwise is a chore- I don’t enjoy it.

But something was very different today! I was in Zara and they had mange to make everything work. Dresses were long , and with sleeves; jackets were smart tailored but still modest. And cardigans… OMG cardigans …. I was in cardi heaven, I wanted them all in every colour. They were the right amount of smart, elegant and modest and even warm!

What had happened?? Had Zara taken notice of the growing number of women that want to dress smartly and elegantly and retain some class?

Or had they realised that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world that were ready and willing to part with hard cash to purchase the right style for them?

by Anjum Peerbacos

Anjum Perrbacos is a mother writer living, teaching and learning, in 21st century London. Of Asian origin (beige- ish), wearing a hijab – not a terrorist! A Londoner through and through and proud to be so. Currently Vice Chair of local Constituency Labour Party. Promoting Political engagement within diverse communities. You can follow her on Twitter @Mammaanji or Facebook

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author


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A Review of ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ by Ambreen Razia

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Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

This is a review of the ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ a play by Ambreen Razia, shown at the Ovalhouse on the 6th of May.

Ambreen Razia had the audience spellbound by her electric performance. From start to finish I could not avert my eyes or raise my glass to take a sip of my drink for such was her charismatic presence. She portrays a teen Hounslow girl who is refreshingly not meek. In contrast to traditional perceptions of Pakistani girls she is a tigress roaring with passionate cries for freedom. Ambreen’s character is sensitive, inquisitive and a spark once lit transformed into a fire. She stormed onto the set unfurling a myriad of difficult painful recollections, punctuated with kind relief from the tempo with humour that had the room laugh out loud.

The diary of a Hounslow girl is a play much needed for all who care about women and girls across our diverse communities. The more I listened the more I wanted to shout out in delight at the message expressed by a lone character narrating her troubled British teen Muslim existence from her bedroom. Ambreen focuses on her Muslim Pakistani identity but understands and relates the shared trials of London girls in general. London girls are diverse, unique individuals, each adding a different flavour to the culture and voice of this city. The play asserts the complexity of individual identity bound up with multiple mini communities all co-existing as one. Ambreen’s Hounslow Muslim Pakistani girl is significantly different to her peers but also very much just another Londoner.  Hounslow girl wants to speak, she wants her words heard – she wants to exist. She questions being singled out as a girl within her ethnic culture and Islamic community. She wonders why she must be held to account by her mother, sister, mosque uncle, Aunty Nusrat and God but denied the right to ask questions and search for answers on her own terms. We follow her tempestuous journey trying to be the perfect Pakistani girl for her mother while also trying to enjoy her friendships with girls her mother would rather dig a whole and hide away from. What is the place of a daughter born of an immigrant parent? This is the point addressed so clearly and passionately by Ambreen Razia throughout the play. Who gets to decide who Hounslow girl is and will be – her mother, her friends, her mosque uncle or her thoughts, actions, mistakes and solutions?

“It is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike”

Take away the hijab, take away the clothes, lingo and ethnic markers and the audience can see this is a diary about a girl who is looking to live her life with free will as so many teenagers yearn to do. Ambreen Razia bravely channels the ferocity of the teenage ride with searing heart breaking truths but brings us safely to a comforting final reflection. Hounslow girl is defiant, rebellious and angry but she is able to feel compassion and empathy for her mother. Ambreen Razia has said she wrote this play for girls coming of age – I think it is more than that – it is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike. In the last tender moments of the play the stormy whirlwind unleashed by Hounslow girl in my mind slowed to a gentle meditative state. I drank my drink and reflected on the special moment I had witnessed – the coming of age of women much marginalised, misunderstood but more and more a liberated dynamic force.

by Nazia

@25nazia

Diary of a Hounslow girl is on national tour details blacktheatrelive.co.uk and will be showing at the Ovalhouse between Wednesday 3rd of  June to  Saturday  6th of  June, at 7:00pm.

Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

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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The Darker the Berry the Sweeter the Juice

by Hafsa Guled

@QUESADILLABABY

Image Courtesy of Hafsa Guled

Image Courtesy of Hafsa Guled

The first time I hated my skin color was in the ninth grade and it was just after biology class. We were in the brightly lit hallway, goofing off when we saw two of the upperclassmen leaving the bathroom while adjusting their make-up. The louder one, Mariam, whom I both admired and hated at the same time walked up to me, brandishing her lighter skin on her neck. Since she came back from summer break, her dark skin had mysteriously gotten five shades lighter.

Loudly, she gushed about how pretty her light skin was to anyone who would listen. It was interesting because I grew up with Mariam and just last year her skin was darker than mine. But thanks to the new girl, Z, who pressured the entire senior class to bleach themselves, things took a different turn. The same girls who didn’t think twice of their skin tone were now spending hours in front of the bathroom mirror glancing at their reflections, unsatisfied with what they saw.

Z, who herself had bleached her skin senseless, began comparing skin tones before gym class. The lighter you were, the nicer she treated you, but because I had a darker complexion, she did not like me much. “White hijabs would not look nice on you since you are too dark”, a direct quotation said by her that still sticks with me today.

She really put all her energy towards making me feel inferior because of my skin color.

I clearly remember standing in front of my locker pretending to reach for notebooks I did not need just to avoid Z. Her presence behind my back when she walked past every morning sent me on complete edge. My friends did not understand why I was so quiet and uneasy whenever I saw her. To me, she conjured up so many negative emotions and made me feel so small that it was hard to articulate. The amount of time I spent beside my locker attempting to look busy so as not to have to talk her was countless. Just the sound of her slithery snake like hiss of a voice was enough to make me shiver. She really put all her energy towards making me feel inferior because of my skin color. This was my firsthand experience with colorism in my life.

Soon, before my bus picked up in the morning for school I would stand in front of the mirror adjusting my hijab left and right trying to cover my face. I tossed all the white scares bought for me in the back of my closet. I didn’t feel like I was pretty or worth looking at. Another thing that confirmed that was none of the boys I liked liked me back. It was a never ending cycle. The effects of colorism were deeply rooted in me for many years to come but it first started in my own home.

For me, that was when I first started associating being dark with something gross and nasty.

My aunt and my mother both had lighting bleach creamers in their nightstands and would apply them religiously every night. My mom would say she was using it to ‘correct her uneven dark spots’ but I knew the truth. My aunt would say she needed to ‘return to her original skin tone’. For me, that was when I first started associating being dark with something gross and nasty.

Growing up as a kid I would overhear adults at the dinner table talking about certain divorces and family gossip. Occasionally I would hear things like, “[H]e can’t marry her skin is too dark, all the kids will be ugly” or “[M]y God you’ve gotten darker here’s a recipe for an all-natural lightening cream’. As an eleven year old, I never understood that way of thinking since my dad was dark as coal and my little sister was as well. But that was just the tip of iceberg unfortunately.

My own mother would tease my younger sister for her darker complexion by calling her “Sudani” or “darkie”. (Sudani meaning someone of Sudanese descent and darkie a shortened term for a darker skinned person). I remember one day when I walked in on my little sister crying, heeled over the toilet in the bathroom. With tears streaming down her face, she begged God that she just wanted to be light. Those were just the first few instances I had brushed with colorism but my journey with self- hatred did not start until late high school.

Self- loathing of my dark skin was all I knew for years. I spent countless hours of my life wishing I was as light as Sofia Vergara or Raven Symone. All around me light skinned women seemed to be making it far in life and had many doors opening for them. It got so bad that during my senior year of high school, I stopped showing my face to people. I desperately began covering my face with hoodies and beanies, pretty much anything to hide my self.

My self- esteem was at an all-time low all because I despised what my skin look like. Every night I would scrub my body until my fingertips would turn raw just at a shot of being one shade lighter. For me, being lighter represented things like youth, beauty, and likeability. All the light girls I knew were liked by everyone. I just wanted a piece of that. But over the years, my way of thinking slowly began to change for the better.

Accepting my skin tone has been a long, painful journey for me. Some days I wake up and feel a twinge of the hurt and self- hatred I carried for so long bubble up. But I am happy to say I no longer hesitate in wearing lighter colored hijabs. I mean of course it hasn’t been easy nor did it happen over-night. It was long nights of crying myself to self and sitting on the cold toilet seat not wanting to get up because it would mean catching my reflection in the mirror. Then slowly day by day not allowing my self to beat myself up over things I had no control over.

My one act of rebellion has been to wear bright, statement lip colors no matter how my skin looks. I have actually reached the point of self-acceptance where when I look into the mirror, I feel proud of my glistening melanin. I no longer see an ugly, blackened shell of a person but more of a darkskinned bombshell girl with an A+ personality.

I am able to say I love my blackness.

It hasn’t always been this way but thanks to several years spent on social media, internet friends, black pride, black self-love hashtags, and real life support groups, I am able to say I love my blackness. Spefically hashtags like #FlexinMyComplexion and #BlackOutDay taught my blackness is what makes me beautiful. Now, I love how my skin looks when the sun hits it, like shimmering bronze. I love how my eyelids twinkle and gleam when I blink. I love how my skin doesn’t age. I love how any lipstick color immediately pops because of my beautiful melanin. I love how white people gush and obsess about how clear my skin is considering their the ones that the media deems as most beautiful. I love how soft and sun-kissed my skin looks at all times, even in the winter. And best of all, I love every part of my blackness. Even the darker parts of it.

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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For Almost 30 Years I Wore A Headscarf

Image courtesy of Khashayar Elyassi

Image courtesy of Khashayar Elyassi

For almost 30 years I wore a headscarf.

For almost 30 years I believed it was an integral part of my faith and I would be disobeying god by not wearing it.

For almost 30 years I believed that if I didn’t wear one, I would be constantly harassed and pursed by men – my beauty needed to be concealed.

For almost 30 years, I was misguided.

I cannot pinpoint when I decided or started to doubt my headscarf. I think it was when I was watching my cousin coming up to the age of 9 – the obligatory age for wearing it. A few years prior to that, I saw my cousins and the family around them start the brainwashing process

“ooh you’ll have a big party with lots of presents when you start to wear one”

“you’ll be more like mum, I will start treating you as a grown-up”

“It’s haram you have to”

And I could see my poor little cousin, she wasn’t having any of it. I could see her sorrow at being the only girl in her school wearing a scarf. I watched her in silence, and decided to do my own research. And that’s the beginning of the journey.

“This is the first misconception when wearing a scarf – a woman is so beautiful that she must be covered.”

My first realisation. I am not beautiful.  This is the first misconception when wearing a scarf – a woman is so beautiful that she must be covered. I watched my western friends, they didn’t dress immodestly. They just got on with their day. And most importantly, they weren’t harassed. Did I really believe I was more attractive than all of them?  No, I am not. So why was I wearing it?

I put my theory to the test, one day whilst at a conference in Vienna, I stepped out of my hotel room with no headscarf on.  I looked around. Nobody could care less. I was actually quite taken aback, where were the wolf whistles? The harassment? Why wasn’t every man in the room looking at me? In fact it was far worse – why was everyone IGNORING ME. I just blended in.  I am not used to that. When I enter a room, a bus, a train carriage, a shop, everyone looks at me. But nobody did. And I tried hard to make eye contact, yet nobody looked my way. I was moments away from going up to the nearest man and shaking him and asking him “why haven’t you fallen madly in love with me?” Until I pulled myself together. I was dressing how I always dress. I just lost the headscarf and the world around me changed. My scarf was meant to make me gender neutral, a eunuch. But it didn’t, it made me stand out even more. I walked through the lobby then out in the street. I put on my shades and walked to the nearest supermarket – everyone was getting on with their day. No stares. No pointing. I grabbed my shopping and went back to my room, and put my scarf back on.

It took a few more months after that to fully remove the veil, and the reactions, stories that follow are too detailed to put into this article. So there is more to come. However, it is a decision I never regretted. I am still not fully out – I still live a double life. Many people still don’t know. I put it on in community and family based events. My cousin is still being pressured to wear it. At times I think I should say something to save her. At times I think I should keep quiet and let her find her own words to fight her battles.

by The Undercover Feminist

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

Image Courtesy of Khashaya Elyasi on Flickr