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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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It’s Because You’re Ugly

'Ugly Betty' TV Series, image courtesy of KOUTA

‘Ugly Betty’ TV Series, image courtesy of KOUTA

Setting the scene. It’s breakfast. We all silently munch away. Silence is broken.

“Did you know that another girl has taken her hijab off”

The Females pipe up.

Sighs

Tuts

“And from such a respectable family”

More sighs

More tuts

I stuff another piece of toast in my mouth. Best keep quiet.

The Misogynist of the family speaks up.

“It’s because she’s ugly. She’s desperate to get married”

Can’t keep quiet any longer.  Swallow and I draw a breath to speak up. I get a sharp glance from The Matriarch. When The Misogynist speaks, nobody can argue. The sharp glance turns into pleading eyes.

“Please; keep the peace”. 

Begrudgingly, I continue munching, unable to swallow from the shear rage burning inside.

That’s why, she’s ugly and wants to get married. 5 years on, she is still not married. 5 years on, she works for the UN? Travelled the world, even has her own flying license. Why is it all about marriage? Why is she such a disgrace? She took off her headscarf? And the critics include the women?  Where is the sisterhood? I often think to myself – how did we get to this situation?

Judging and critising each other is easy. We don’t live each other’s lives and face each other’s problems. The decision to remove your headscarf, especially in our community, where it’s been on since the age of 9 mustn’t have been an easy one.  We underestimate that decision this one woman took – and in fact hundreds of others have taken like her.  Spending most of your life covered under a veil then removing that is the equivalent to deciding to go out without your top on. You feel naked.   But there must have been good reasons. Yes, these girls are respectable and educated. Maybe they realised, like others have, that the hijab is becoming obsolete. Its meaning diluted? Its feminist ideals indoctrinated in our early Islamic education a lie?  It’s now a homing device, the “X” that marks the spot. The visible invisible. You are a muslim, everyone knows it, there is no denying it covered up like that. And in this day and age, where the anti-muslim sentiment is growing, maybe people don’t want to be labelled as such? Maybe I don’t want to be beaten up on the way home? Maybe, just maybe, I will be looked at and judged less if I didn’t’ have it on.

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 KOUTA on Flickr  


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Female Muslim Reverts, Hope for A Minority in a Minority?

by Christal Williams

@ChristalBlogs

Image credit, Mariam Hicham: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/430445676858121676/

Chika is a Japanese (internationally famous) female boxer who recently converted to Islam

As a female revert to Islam, the first thing people always ask me is why? Why did I give up being able to wear my hair the way I used to? Why did I give up mini skirts and short sleeves? And the simple answer is, it didn’t make me happy.

This is a sentiment shared not just by myself but other Muslim sisters I have met along the way. The topic of Islam and women is a convoluted and complicated one, or at least that’s how we’ve make it. People always assume there’s some profound reason as to why you’d turn your back on twerking like Miley Cyrus or dressing like a “female boss” Beyonce-style. But, put plain and simple, as a woman in the society we see around us now, I just got sick and tired of always trying to conform.

From the earliest age, we as women are dictated to and told what we should want, what we should feel, how we should react and how we should present ourselves to the world by a society that ultimately cannot be pleased.

With this in mind, we can understand why so many women are flocking to Islam in their droves. It should be no surprise to the world that the religion that put an end to burying young baby girls in the desert, gave women the right to own property, marry whom they wish and make a living for themselves, is the very same that is so appealing to the ‘modern’ female.

This is the premise of Islam but we all know it can still be difficult. Dealing with the expectations of others is not something that disappears when you become Muslim however, you learn to block it out as you know the only being you must please first and foremost is Allah. And, unlike society, He is the Most Merciful.

According to statistics, in 2011 quoted by the Telegraph, in the past 10 years three quarters of those who become Muslim are female, which just goes to show Islam has more to offer women than any other religion. The patriarchal idea that when you revert to Islam, you’re automatically allocated an oppressive husband, ordered to have 6 children and chained to the kitchen cooker until your dying days is dying and I say good riddance to it!

New Muslim women are breaking taboos, continuing to be active in their communities and fulfilling their obligations just as the Sahabiyat (female companions of the Prophet peace be upon him) did. Female Muslim reverts are finding that they can find peace, solace and happiness in helping their local community, using their existing talents to teach others and represent the true face of Islam. This is where I found true happiness.

Every month, I see or hear of another sister who has taken her shahadah (proclaimed the testimony of faith to become a Muslim) and embraced Islam. To those still young in their journey, I convey my salaams wholeheartedly.

I say throw away the ideas of what the world wants you to be and become what Allah has created you to be. Look at the great examples that have been left for us such as Khadijah, Aisha, Fatima, Rabia al Basri and many more, may the peace of Allah be upon them all. Allah gave us the blueprints, now let’s get to work!

 

Image credit: Miriam Hicham

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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Ramadhan – “Why Aren’t You Fasting?”

by Maaiysa Valli

@Maaiysa

 Every year, Ramadhan comes. And every year, I struggle. Not with the fast – which this year is around 20+ hours long – but with NOT being able to fast.

It’s a battle I quietly face every year. And here I’ll explain why.

You may know that certain groups are exempt from fasting. The elderly, young children, pregnant or nursing women, and those who are ill. I’d love to say I’m too young to fast (but definitely not too old!!) but unfortunately, the reason I can’t fast is due to a lifelong illness. It’s meant I’ve not been able to fast since my health took a real turn for the worse when I was in my teens – though trust me, that didn’t stop me from fasting back then! But now, as the fasts get longer, I have to take the medical advice that I just can’t do it. And that saddens me. To some of you, that might sound strange: “Why would you be sad at not being able to starve yourself from 1am to 9pm?” But for Muslim brothers and sisters, you’ll know that feeling of sorrow. For those who aren’t able to fast, you can pay a Fidyah – which is money that goes towards feeding poor people. I do that every year, but I also used to make up the missed fasts in winter months – when the fasting hours are much shorter. The last time I did that though was 2011 and I ended up in hospital, so that was that!

I’ve been in two minds about writing this blog for years, as it opens me up to more questions and I’m a very private person, but I need to do this for my own sake. I don’t talk about things that are important to me. My personal life is just that and you’ll rarely find me opening up about my religion, let alone my health. In fact,  I’m someone who likes to deal with big issues internally. But for years now, I’ve dealt with the question “Why aren’t you fasting?”. People ask if I’m pregnant (no!), if I’m constantly on my period (NO!) or they just assume that I’m a “lazy Muslim” (DEFINITE NO!!) Because I’m such a private person, I never tell people the full story, I simply say “I can’t because of my health”. (And I’m afraid to say I won’t be giving the full answer here either.)

But everytime I’m asked why – by Muslims and non-Muslims alike – it hurts. It hurts that I can’t feel those hunger pains, it hurts that I can’t feel tired through fasting or the thirst that parches your throat – all for the love of God. Despite not being able to fast, I’ve always done Iftar (breaking the fast at sunset) and work permitting – Suhoor (keeping the fast at sunrise) because Ramadhan is so much about family. It’s probably the only time in the year where you’ll eat together as a family day in, day out and I love that. I love being with my parents and praying with them. But still, I always feel like I’m “missing out” in Ramadhan because I’m not fasting.

It’s the holiest month for Muslims and when you hear the word “Ramadhan”, you’ll probably instantly think about fasting. But Ramadhan is SO much more than starving yourself from food. It’s about starving yourself from sin. It’s a month for self-reflection, sacrifice, and love and peace. So while I can’t fast, I try to make up for it in other ways. I’ll pray lots of Qur’an, try and keep up with my salah (five daily prayers) and listen to lots of lectures by top scholars. In my house the telly is switched off for the whole month! But still, I get that feeling that I’m not doing enough. I’m not striving hard enough or doing my best. I always feel lazy if I’m not spending every minute in prayer or doing something good. I know for some of you reading this, it will sound so alien, but some of you will understand.

I heard a lecture the other day that said Ramadhan always comes at the perfect time and it hit the nail on the head for me. As Muslims, we look forward to Ramadhan coming, we’re sad when it ends. And for me this year, I REALLY needed Ramadhan to come. Like I said – it’s a month of self-reflection. This year has been tough for me, and recently I had a run-in with my past that made me evaluate my life. I felt like a failure. Like I’d achieved nothing and that this wasn’t how my life was supposed to be. But Ramadhan came. And less than a week in, I’m already feeling the benefits. I’m reminded that THIS is exactly where I’m supposed to be in life. THIS is what’s written for me. And every battle I go through is just a test – and Ramadhan is as good a reminder as any of that.

So while I write this blog – probably my most emotional and personal outpouring – I pray you all have a peaceful and blessed month. Whether you observe Ramadhan or not. Whether you fast or not. Whether you’re religious or not. It doesn’t matter. This month is about remembering what you’ve been blessed with and being thankful for that. And I am very thankful and very blessed. I just needed reminding…

Maaiysa Valli

This post first appeared on Maaiysa Valli’s personal website and has been reposted with permission. 

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 Aliens; Islam & Feminine Spirituality

by Roszeen Afsar 

Bird painting by Roszeen Afsar

Bird painting by Roszeen Afsar

In my previous post; ‘The Smiling Sister; Paintings of Hijab’, I wrote that knowledge of spirituality today is very little, and as such female spirituality is never brought up in discussions on Islam. I was asked why that is. This is an interesting question and one I touched on in my final year at university. The answer, I found, is both because of how Islam is perceived on the outside as well as how Islam has largely continued on the inside.

Islam from Outside

In terms of religion in the present day, although many believe the developed world to be mostly secular, I found in my research that there’s been a growth of new religions and the resurgence of interest in human spirituality. This is believed to be due to a backlash against the Enlightenment and modernity. In an age of globalisation many individuals in the developed world have lesser ties to the community, there’s a breaking up of the family unit (leading to a lack of identity), more focus on fiscal gain, and a lack of ‘standing for something’. The individual therefore has to find other ways to feel at peace. Followers of niche religions or agnostics (who believe in something but don’t follow any particular religion) see religions such as Christianity and Islam as rigid dogmas; too controlling, too backwards, not providing a way for their individual problems/needs to be addressed.

Although many Muslims would argue against this, we must understand that the Western view of Islam has always been rudimentary and I would argue that Western scholars haven’t made much effort in the past to understand Islam beyond seeing it from their knowledge of Christianity. If you add this to the Enlightenment’s criticism of, and moving away from, religion you have to question how Islam could have stood a chance in being recognised for the depth of its beliefs. I had this experience with my own lecturers; those of which I spoke to about Islam during my research had no idea about its spirituality or complexities. It’s no surprise then that individuals who are identified with Muslim backgrounds and who are causing harm in the world, bring about a questioning of the tenants of Islam itself rather than their actions being seen as perversions of religion or as politically motivated with political objectives as my research found was almost always the case.

Further to Islam’s alien position in the Western world, the appearance of Muslim women is seen from a black and white perspective – as alluded to in the previous post – in which the spiritual notion of hijab is never once brought up, but rather female attire is seen as oppressive or the result of fanatical ideology, or being socially motivated.

Islam from Inside & Feminine Spirituality

As amongst non-Muslims, the reason why female spirituality is not brought up in Islamic discussions by Muslims is because of the incredible lack of knowledge regarding it. Many cultural traditions which have taken on Islamic beliefs have unfortunately held strong to their backwards views on the position of women, disregarding the feminine in society. In both the secular and non-secular world, this ignorance leads to catastrophe, as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf writes;

‘When her natural virtues—compassion, kindness, caring, selflessness, and love—predominate in men, men are able to overcome their natural vices and realize their full humanity. When, however, those virtues are absent, men descend to the lowest of the low and are worse than beasts.’*

This is not just the case in cultural traditions, but also in those Muslims claiming to be following a ‘pure’ and ‘untainted’ version of Islam. I’m sure that many of you have noticed the literalism with which Islam is approached nowadays by some. I’ve come across writers commenting that Muslim literalism has been a result of the Enlightenment and Rationalism because of which some have approached their faith from scientific perspectives, using the Qur’an to verify mathematical and scientific notions rather than using it as a practical and spiritual guide to cleanse the heart. Along with this many have tried to ‘simplify’ the religion, leading to a kind of reductionism of teachings, principally the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). Even worse, some have taken it upon themselves – disregarding any scholarly lineage – to make their own interpretations, leading to chaos. Spirituality and inward knowledge has been pushed aside in all of this, reducing worship to rigid, meaningless ritual at best, and incredible violence at worst.

Before I end up going too much into literalism, I’ll quickly bring it back to female spirituality. I’ve heard from many sisters recently, and even from some brothers, that there’s a need for more female scholarship and I wholeheartedly agree with this. This demand, it could be said, has also brought a revival of history which was forgotten of late regarding female contributions to Islam – just as I learnt of Rabia al Basri. And so I do believe things are changing.

 

Image of a woman wearing Hijab by Roszeen Afsar

Image of a woman wearing Hijab by Roszeen Afsar

 

Nowadays Muslim women demand for their spiritual space in the Masjid. They’re becoming more active in their worship and in their participation in the community (from my experience) than their male counterparts. They also participate in society in ways separate to other women, e.g. through the creation of businesses, sister study groups and socials, and events specifically catering towards the Muslimah – which become an extension of her worship and combine with her other duties. They’ve shown courage in their adherence to hijab in the face of criticism which comes from a real lack of understanding about the feminine virtue and its relation to God. And so I would like to end this article with another quote from Shaykh Hamza’s Yusuf’s writing – a piece I’m obsessed with and have also quoted in a previous article (https://ispeakinwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/do-women-have-a-soul-religious-revival-the-feminine/);

‘The Arabic and Hebrew word for womb (rahm) is derived from the word for mercy (rahma) and an expression of the creative power of God in man…When her natural virtues—compassion, kindness, caring, selflessness, and love—predominate in men, men are able to overcome their natural vices and realize their full humanity.’*

*Hamza Yusuf, ‘Climbing Mount Purgatorio: Reflections from the Seventh Cornice’, Zaytuna College, p.1-20

You can view more art work by Roszeen Afsar [Inky-Art by Roszeen] on her Instagram @InkyArtbyRoszeen and follow her on Twitter @Roszeen she also blogs on http://ispeakinwriting.wordpress.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


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The Smiling Sister; Paintings of Hijab

by Roszeen Afsar

“The hijab is much more than the external solid scarf, but it is worn as an internal spiritual means of faith, these collections depict that so well.”   – Nargis Akhter 

Image by Rozseen Afsar

Image by Roszeen Afsar

The above quote is the feedback I received from a friend after I showed her the piece I’d painted of her [above] based on one of her photographs. The photo I saw showed her with a peaceful yet sombre expression I would imagine of a Victorian woman saving her smile, but looking satisfied and elegant in her pose, confident in her femininity, dignified as a woman. The collection of mine she was referring to was not only the painting I did of her or the plans I’d shared with her of my future work, but also another piece I’d made previously which was inspired in the same light; by the expression of another friend whose hijab was also intrinsically melded into her closed eyes and subtle smile. I painted what struck me, inspired by their essence, and with the sole purpose of trying to capture peace. Peace is feminine in my eyes. And so is spirituality.

Artistic depictions of Muslim women in history have consisted of Orientalist ideas mostly, often portraying the Arabian (which is the only ethnicity of the Muslim woman in Western stereotype) female ‘other’ as an erotic being, an object hidden behind a veil. Discussion of the Islamic woman is concrete, black and white. As material, physical and solid as the scarf around her head – just as my friend referred to in the above quote. Although I may in future discuss something I’ve painted or drawn as a response to secular opinion or critique of female autonomy in Islam, I didn’t begin my work that way and it is not what inspires me. First and foremost my inspirations come by way of…the innocence of the unguarded moment, the natural beauty of the created, the split second of a peaceful smile, a feminine confidence, the image of the soul materialised. It is therefore the painted or drawn face itself which takes precedence above whatever opinion or stereotype others may have, which speaks for itself, which stands on its own before whatever follows from it and not vice versa.

Spirituality, Muslim women and expression.

Image by Roszeen Afsar

Knowledge or appreciation of spirituality in this age is naïve at most and non-existent at least. It is not surprising that female spirituality is never brought up in discussions regarding Islam, but Rabia al Basri is the woman who immediately comes to mind when I think of it. Rabia’s earlier life was very much concrete; poverty placed her into slavery. She was a woman tied to her circumstances and could have become the helpless victim Muslim women are often depicted as. However, her hardships and worship led to her rising spiritually, they led to her certainness of being, so much so that she freed herself of her circumstances and was seen as a saint. I would give a great deal to be able to witness the way she was and the aura surrounding her as a woman in oneness with God.

Without even intending to seek, I believe I have come across drops from such an ocean of spiritualism and being, cast upon the faces of women around me. Though the moments are fleeting, they exist. The expressions which have inspired me are from the lives of real women. And what strikes me about them is that their expressions are both close and distant, just as every single soul is both alive in the physical, immediate realm, as well as in the metaphysical, experiential one. I believe that what inspires me to paint and create is witnessing the presence of being at peace – something I have seen in its purest in the feminine.

You can view more art work by Roszeen Afsar [Inky-Art by Roszeen] on her Instagram @InkyArtbyRoszeen and follow her on Twitter @Roszeen she also blogs on http://ispeakinwriting.wordpress.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.


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My Faith Inspires Me To Express Myself Freely And Peacefully

by Sabrina Mahmood

Spirituality, Muslim women and expression.

Spirituality, Muslim women and expression. Image by Roszeen Afsar

It’s safe to say that there are times when we all feel like we need to say something but for whatever reason, we hold back and let the moment pass. When you add being a Muslim and woman into the equation it sometimes seems like an impossible feat to be heard. That is in no way because Islam treats women as lesser people in society, but largely due to patriarchy of the cultures we have been brought up in. It is the dichotomy between Islam and culture.
Freedom of expression for women is essential to our faith and always has been. Let’s forget some of the awful examples of our times, where we hear of oppression towards Muslim women in certain societies. If we look at the best example we have, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the example that we should all strive to be like, we are shown that women were able to ask questions, express their views and they were an integral part of society. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was greatly loved and respected by his wives who were treated with great respect and love. This clearly shows us the validity and importance of Muslim women in Islam.
I have often felt that as a Muslim woman, it is sometimes harder to speak with other Muslim women about certain issues as they do not want to hear about anything negative or any questions about their beliefs. But talking, debating and discussing are so vital in affirming what is right and wrong, and actually understanding the Islamic basis of our beliefs, rather than what society and many cultures have imposed. Isn’t it about time that we stand in solidarity and support each other?
I believe regardless of whether a person is Muslim or not, we should allow ourselves to listen to their opinions, even when we do not agree, and to be understanding and thoughtful. The basis for good character of a Muslim is truthfulness and patience, so if we inject this into our own lives with sincerity, we are able to listen to and understand the opinions of other people.

Islam teaches us not to categorise ourselves into groups:

‘Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them…’ [Quran 6:159]

Essentially, we should not divide ourselves religiously and on a deeper level, in any way whatsoever. We are all equal, we are all human and therefore should all be able to express ourselves freely, whether we are Muslim women, or not.
And in the times when we do feel that people are intolerant, we return their negativity and criticism with the positivity and love that the Prophet (pbuh) showed us. I would never have called myself a spiritual person before or even thought about what it can do to a person, but since I sought God, I have had an immense wave of peace and humanity in my life. Because the true crux of Islamic faith, is that connection with the Creator, and anyone who feels that, will never be harsh or rude or arrogant in their expression. Because that deep, binding love for Allah, it completes their opinions and expressions with morality and humility.

 

Sabrina Mahmood blogs at www.theinternaldebate.wordpress.com and you can follow her at @sabrina01m

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 credits: Roszeen Afsar http://instagram.com/inkyartbyroszeen