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Trailblazing Muslim Women – introducing Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

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Image credit: Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image and video credit: Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

 


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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. 

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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  

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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 

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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 

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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 

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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

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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. 

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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! 

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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! 


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1400 years on is Islam anti-Feminist?

Have you also had your muslim uncles and aunts ask you why you don’t wear a hijab ? Has it made you want to punch them ? Has it made you want to scream out loud and wish eternal sufferage on them ? Yeah, welcome to this post where we can collectively rage about this ish and rejoice in the company of like minded people !!!

I started wearing a hijab around four years ago and since then, the pressure to cover up has been ginormous on my mother and sister as well. WHICH IS SO POINTLESS. It’s never enough that one of my mom’s daughters decided to wear hijab, her younger one needs to wear one too ! What is this pressure ? Why does it exist ? You know what the worst part is ? THAT NONE OF THEM WEAR A HIJAB THEMSELVES !!!!!

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As I was growing, the idea of Feminism was catching on (yeah, that’s how young I am.) There was also another idea catching on… that Islam is Anti-feminism. THIS idea, unlike the first one, did not sit well with me. I belonged to a muslim family ! And my muslim parents had sent me alllll the way to the Land of the Free, while they chilled in Bahrain ! To study. All alone ! No questions asked, despite the worries of the society (we are Indians by birth) and despite knowing the crap that they would have to deal with, in the coming years.

I was at full liberty to do whatever I liked, dress however I wanted to, basically everything people claim muslim women can’t do. This is probably the MAIN reason I started Hijab. One fine day out of the library, I thought to myself… what must it be like to actively LOOK like a muslim in this post 9/11 world ? Is it time to conduct yet another social experiment ? Though what might have started as an experiment, stayed on because of the extensive research that went behind the idea, until I was convinced that this is how I want to look – like an educated MUSLIM woman, in everyday life. Leading a normal life, quite contrary to popular belief. Proving people wrong when they say “All muslims ever think about is world domination !” Hell yeah I think about World domination – excuse me if I want to be Beyonce (Who run this mother-?)

To me, Hijab was my own idea of Feminism. No woman in my family covered her hair when I started. I was deliberately making the choice of wearing the Hijab. Just like women everyday decide what to wear, what to do with their hair and how to accessorize every outfit. Hijab was going to be my accessory. If you really think about it, it IS just a scarf ! And I don’t even want to get into the whole ‘modesty’ debate. Or the whole candy wrapper and flies comparison.

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WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS EVEN MEAN ? How did this manage to make it to the list of top forwards by muslim uncles on whatsapp ? Why is this okay to propogate ? How dare you call women lollipops – covered or uncovered. In a normal situation, I would even protest calling men flies, but I mean just for this post… they deserve it !

Just as you have no right to tell a woman to not wear a headscarf, you have no rights telling her to wear one either ! This shouldn’t be so hard to understand ! Don’t believe me?  Maybe Prophet Mohammad will help convince you otherwise.

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Islam does not oppress women, muslims do. Islam, gives women the rights to education, work and even driving (I know right ?) Just to name a few of the things women are ‘allowed’ to do in Islam. Where has this regressive mentality come from ? Why are we, as a community, so hell bent onto proving to the world that we stand for anti feministic principles ? Where is the pride in that ?

We are a religion coming from a man who married his widowed boss, after she proposed to him, despite being 15 years older to him – if that doesn’t scream feminism, then I don’t know what does.

by Sharmeen Kidwai

Sharmeen is a 25 year old medical graduate, which makes her a doctor. She graduated in 2016 and has since moved to India, with her husband (2017). She is a Canadian by nationality, but was raised in the middle east for most of her life. She has always loved to write. Only recently though she has realised she can make a difference by choosing her words just right. She says she is “trying to do my bit for the world and those in it, little by little!” 

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


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Introducing Project Ribcage

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Our founder Akeela Ahmed  had the honour of being interviewed by the awesome women of new and up and coming initiative ‘Project Ribcage’. You can watch her interview here and read more about them in their own words below. The Project Ribcage team are Saffana, Fatimah and Faizah. 

Project Ribcage is an initiative that came about after we- a couple of friends – grew tired by the number of articles/ opinions/ reports/ documentaries about Muslims consistently written and produced by non-Muslims. Within that flooded field of content, was a superficial fascination in Muslim women. It became increasingly apparent that the version of women portrayed, created a laughably unrecognisable narrative with which many of us couldn’t identify. This became serious when the indirect consequences were understood. As mass media has a role in sculpting perspectives that shape society this will negatively impact the self-image of young Muslims and how they understand themselves relative to the world around them. The focus on Muslim women means that impact on young girls is particularly damaging, and unsurprisingly, this would therefore limit the perception of their own potential.

“Being mathematicians and econometricians by discipline, we were unable to ignore the knock-on effect this would have on future generations- starting in academic achievement, career opportunities, and inevitably economic standing and social progress.”

Being mathematicians and econometricians by discipline, we were unable to ignore the knock-on effect this would have on future generations- starting in academic achievement, career opportunities, and inevitably economic standing and social progress. We assumed personal responsibility in partaking in the team effort to “reclaim the narrative”, and thus, Project Ribcage was born. An aim to create an accurate representation of Muslim women to change perceptions and mitigate the damage caused. We would do this by presenting a source of inspiration in the form of documenting real Muslim women’s accomplishments.

Admittedly, the journey started off without exact clarity of the target audience. Initially the project was aimed at the younger generation, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This changed after one conversation. One of us volunteered on an employers’ mentoring program. This program was aimed at a select group of students in the surrounding schools, focusing specifically on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It would teach them about the industry, and nurture professional skills whilst exposing them to an environment that they wouldn’t typically be exposed to. It culminated in a competition between the schools.

That year’s winners were a group of girls from East London. They were an accurate cross-section of that school’s demographic; almost all Muslim.

In congratulating the young ladies, it turned out that in the previous year, the same school had forfeited half way through – they felt that the competition had absolutely no relevance to them personally. This time, the participants saw a mentor with whom they could identify. They didn’t just stay, they won.

“Our aim is to elevate the perception that Muslim women have of themselves by showing them real success stories with the end goal of changing society.”

This shook the boat so much that it changed the tone of the project, it became apparent that there is very little need to tailor the message to anyone else. The people who need to hear and see this the most looked like us. So, at this stage, we narrowed it down and started finding the women who we wished we knew existed when we were young.

Our aim is to elevate the perception that Muslim women have of themselves by showing them real success stories with the end goal of changing society. It’s a matter of changing from the inside out. How could we expect to change people’s perception of Muslims if Muslims haven’t changed the perception of themselves? Once Muslim women realise their full potential, society will follow suit and recognise their contributions. We play to our strengths and leverage our understanding of the nuances of the umma and use it to address our audience. If others see Project Ribcage in the process, that’s great too.

Apart from the reasons explained above, another reason to fine tune the audience, is that we have no real interest in ‘normalising’ Muslim women. We are convinced that a unanimous effort to justify our existence to those who don’t particularly care is now not our battle. And we think that this has taken away from time that could have been spent on progress. Because of this, the bar of “success” has been set so low, that we have stunted our growth. Tailoring what we make to a Muslim audience allows us to skip to “normalisation” stage and go straight to the real content. We want to peacock and celebrate achievements to show that women are phenomenal, always have been, always will be.

We are interviewing inspiring Muslim women with a vision to create a catalogue, telling an individual truth in each entry. Understanding how each woman does what she does, and why. For us, we have found that the best way to reclaim the narrative is to ignore the notion of anything else but each woman’s truth.

Alhamdulillah so far, we’ve gone from strength to strength. The team has grown since the project started, and now we have more people dedicated to the cause. Amazing women have taken time to tell us their story and their vision of success.  We discuss obstacles faced along the way and ask their top tips to those interested in a similar career. We listen to the women who are speaking from a place of experience and integrity and jump over hurdles together.

Our archive will extend to viewers around the world, for as long as the internet will allow. We want to be synonymous with motivation and the hope to be better than you were yesterday. Our site should be a place where women can go to listen to others who can be the spark that they need after a tough commute home. After all, someone else, at some point, somewhere in the world has experienced the same problem you may be facing, and understanding this is vital.

Amongst our list of interviewees are food bloggers, academics, artists and poets etc.
One of our recent interviewees is Suhaiymah, aka @thebrownhijabi. She is an MA graduate, a writer, poet and TEDx speaker. She discusses race, gender and islamophobia. She speaks explicitly about the objections and the rejections she has experienced but though her belief in herself and her message she persevered and continues to succeed in a similar field.

Our ultimate vision is to present the epicentre of the shift in the mindset of a generation. We want to put together the case that Muslim women, like any group of marginalised people, can elevate themselves to a position of power by building on the network that currently exists.

If you would like to keep updated, follow us on our social media accounts. Project Ribcage we can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SoundCloud – @projectribcage. Visit our website www.projectribcage.com for an archive of all our written pieces and video interviews with amazing Muslim women.

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


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He said, she said: why are the Nouman Ali Khan allegations of impropriety, so difficult to believe?

“I will never engage in victim blaming.”

My heart feels so heavy at the news of the Nouman Ali Khan scandal. It leaves me disappointed, angry, but not surprised or shocked. We live in a patriarchal world, and the status quo supports the oppression and misuse of women, so it comes as no surprise that a man in a position of considerable amount of power (fame, money, influence) has been accused of inappropriate behaviour. I have such a low level of trust of men (especially men of religion) that I am not shocked nor do I want to jump to blindly defending Khan nor is it something that seems far-fetched or impossible, is a testament to my lived experience as a woman and the saddest part of this ordeal.

I should be livid, but ironically I’m not; as I’ve come to expect very little of men in our society.

My stance on this on this scandal is that:

  1. I will never engage in victim blaming.
  2. There is sufficient evidence leaked against him yet his die-hard fans still continue to defend his alleged behaviour. In fact, they are unwilling to even accept that such a thing could have happened. This evidence could very well have been doctored, but let’s not be 100% positive that such abuse could not have occurred.
  3. Many are shutting the conversation down by claiming that this is slander. Let’s be clear, that this is NOT slander, especially if true. Slander would be that it was just a false case built against him.  Our religion asks us to be just, even if it is against our kin. Our religion also teaches us to search for the truth and hold those in places of power accountable. Khan being a public figure and a religious teacher/leader, is prone to more scrutiny than an ordinary person. If he is being framed as he claims; a due course of the law must be followed and insha Allah truth shall prevail. I do not say that we presume guilt before proof, but what we need is to be open to the possibility that he too could have fallen, as after all he is human and prone to flaws.
  4. This is not backbiting. Our religion teaches us to stand for the oppressed and to always stand up for justice. Many argue that this is an act between two consenting adults and that it may be immoral behaviour, but it isn’t a crime, nor are the women involved, victims. We must recognize why this is problematic. He is a teacher and in a place and position of power, he had a greater onus of responsibility than his students who might be adults but there is a power differential between him and the women involved. There is a reason why there are strict rules of conduct between therapists and their clients, doctors and their patients, professors and students, coaches and athletes etc. The same also applies to clergy such as Priests and Imams.
  5. If the relationships were consensual and the two were in a legitimate Nikah (muslim marriage), then the marriages didn’t need to be secret. They needed to be publicly declared because the very act of Nikah safeguards the right of a woman to be publicly known as the legitimate wife of an individual. Allah is aware of our fitrah, He knows, a woman wrongfully attached to a man, will be slaughtered by our tongues and hands.
  6. There is also the issue of there being multiple marriages. Some argue this may not be islamically immoral, (although there are near impossible criteria around polygamy); however, it is legally prohibited in the country of his residence. We need to adhere to the lawsof our adopted homelands. A man, who is a man of religion and owns a public platform accessible to everyone, has a greater responsibility to lead by example to not break the law of the country. Yes, the law of Allah trumps the law of the country, but the law of Allah also prescribes us to follow the law of the land. If we all decided to not follow the law of the land we live in, the world would be in absolute chaos and there would be no checks and balances in place.
  7. I don’t believe the story because other so called reputable and religious men are sharing it. I believe it, because in cases of abuse, I choose to believe the victims. I recognise this is my bias, but the statistics suggest that very rarely do people lie about being victims of abuse. It is a difficult task to come out and speak about being a victim and the repercussions are usually for the victims as our patriarchal culture will place more trust in the oppressor than on the victim.
  8. We need to accept that no one is above inappropriate behaviour. You could have the book of Allah in your heart and still fall from grace (how else do you explain imams involved in child abuse)? The whispers of shaytaan and the tug of our nafs, makes us prone to sin. None of us can claim perfection, nor can we claim to be without sin. Let’s at least accept the premise that the allegations being a reality is a possibility before jumping to an absolute defence of Khan.
  9. We should make 70 excuses and verify the accusations against someone before believing them to be the absolute truth. The die-hard fans have refused to extend that courtesy to the victims of this ordeal. It seems the 70 excuses are only for the accused (man) here.
  10. We need better checks and balances within our systems. We need equal spaces for women with qualified religious and social counsellors where women can go and discuss their personal difficult circumstances.
  11. Personally, I do not need to know the victims’ names to believe the truth, anyone demanding to know the victims are purely doing this to satiate their own curiosity. The way the blind herd is following Khan, no amount of proof will convince them otherwise. Exposing the names of the victims will only vilify and further victimise them. We can already see that the response from members of our community is not only vile, but often violent. Imagine the risk to the safety associated with disclosing the identity of the women.
  12. The biggest issue in my opinion has been the way this was disclosed by reputable members of our community. The allegations are vague, with enough being said indirectly on the topic (without naming Khan) by other religious figures such as Navaid Aziz, Yasir Qadhi and Omer Suleiman, leading us all to the worst possible conclusions. This is not a sign of wisdom, or good for community cohesion or development. The silence since last Friday from our leaders is deafening. If anything is slanderous, it is this behaviour. It does little to protect the victims or increase our understanding of abuse.

I pray that Allah protect us all. There is a lot we need to do as a community. This is a difficult conversation to have, but a conversation that is a MUST. We are supposed to be the best of examples, and to follow the footsteps of the best of Creations, Muhammed (SAW).

In order to do that, we need to be balanced in our approach especially when searching for the truth. Let us weigh what has been presented without making judgements either way. Let’s demand the leaders to be more transparent, and forthcoming than they have.  The evidence needs to be presented without the need for exposure of the victims. If this is a matter that cannot be dealt within the confines of our community, we must follow the process of law of the country.

“We also need to learn and understand abuse, grooming, harassment and how power dynamics play a role in that as a community.”

The leaders have a public responsibility to squash these rumours and be clear in their allegations. Khan, has every right to defend himself and to offer his narrative. But, we as a community also need to learn that if this can be an elaborate plan to trap/defame Khan, that it is an equal probability (if not more) that the allegations against him are true and that there are victims. We need to afford that same level of opportunity to speak their side of the story to those he allegedly has wronged. We also need to learn and understand abuse, grooming, harassment and how power dynamics play a role in that as a community. We need to actively engage in learning, and teaching this cycle, if we want to protect and safeguard those who are vulnerable in our society before perpetuating the cycle of abuse through blind following. The biggest lesson from this scandal is that we must not place any human being on a pedestal nor should we idolise them to the point where we assume no fault on their part. Idol worship comes in many forms, and this falls under that category. The word of Allah is true and perfect, but the vessel through which it is delivered can be imperfect and be full of flaws. This is a reality we must thoroughly accept.

Most of all, in our defence for Nouman Ali Khan, let us not engage in victim blaming and shaming. How we behave tells other victims (of physical, sexual, mental and emotional violence), that it is better to stay silent if ever abused. Through our actions, we also signal that we side with oppressors and abusers. This would be the biggest irony given that it is the month of Muharram-a month that commemorates the greatest injustice of our Islamic history. We have a choice to make, are we with the oppressor or will we be a voice for those who are wronged in our society and I choose to be the latter.

By Maheen Nusrat

Maheen Nusrat is a Pakistani born Canadian currently residing in the UK. She has also lived in Bahrain and in New York. She has a degree in Communications. Her portfolio includes working in politics, print and broadcast media, life sciences and the public sector. Maheen is the co-founder of Uplift Connections-a platform for women from all faiths and ethnicity to come together, and to help them succeed in business. Follow them @Uplift_connect.  Maheen has a real passion for social justice, equality and believes that our talents are meant to be shared with the world. Follow her @fireyfury1 

Image credit: https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/99994054199930669/
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the websbite


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The Top 7 Expectations On Young Muslim Women And How To Overcome Them.

For many Muslim women in the UK, we are expected to achieve a top 7 definitive ‘checklist’ where marriage and children have been the ultimate goalpost for generations. Thankfully, the walls have begun to crumble and we have seen many wonderful examples of fellow Muslim women who have worked hard not to attain the perfect rishta, but who have worked hard for their own development and growth.

Those in the public eye include Ibtihaj Muhammad, Ayisha Malik and Nadiya Hussain to name but a few. They have demonstrated that Muslim women everywhere are intellectual, free-thinking, creative, strong, funny as hell and can be anything from an Olympic fencer, to an author, to the undisputed queen of cake. And yes, we are also daughters, sisters, mothers and wives – in this day and age our identities can no longer be defined by a singular adjective or milestone.

While our own communities have certainly begun to see positive change and progress, I believe that we are still subject to what I call “The Checklist”, something which has been entrenched in the lives of Muslim women for far too long. It goes something like this:

  1. Study hard for exams.
  2. Progress academically throughout school.
  3. Ace that university interview
  4. Get those three A’s in front of you on the UCAS screen.
  5. Graduate with a First.
  6. Outshine the competition during those rounds of job applications.
  7. Get married and have kids.
    The end.

Seem familiar?

Growing up, we put in years and I mean years of hard work whilst enduring copious amounts of pressure and stress moving from one life milestone to the next be it A-levels, university, internships, placements, graduating and first jobs. But there is still this unspoken rule that all that grafting serves one sole purpose: appearing as a desirable candidate for potential husbands and in-laws.

Sure, having a degree and a brilliant job which you love doing is a sure-fire way to gain you a good match but what happens once the wedding is over?
Traditionally speaking, we eventually find ourselves leaving behind all that we have worked for along with our interests in order to be wives and mothers.
This makes absolutely ZERO SENSE.

If a woman decides to get married the union is something that should become a wonderful part of her life, not something that defines her life. She has worked too hard and gained too much just to leave it at the door for the sake of being called a “good wife” or “dedicated mother”.

Why do we need to sacrifice one in order to have the other?

In the UK today young Muslim women are at the forefront of education, with the Guardian reporting last year on how there are more of us outperforming boys, more of us attending universities and more of us entering and surviving the job market. We possess ambition, drive and determination to succeed at whatever we do. With education and life experiences that come with growing up, we are beginning to value the idea of self-growth which extends beyond the stereotypes that have plagued us for so long.

The harsh reality is that these stereotypes come at us from both inside and outside of our communities and relate to “The Checklist”. Firstly, Muslims from both previous and current generations who uphold the patriarchal and quite frankly backward view that women shouldn’t be encouraged to grow as individuals through education, work or just experiences in general limit young women to aspire only to what’s on the checklist and nothing else. On the other end of the spectrum, because these stereotypes of who a Muslim woman is and should be are so openly projected throughout society it becomes a surprise to everyone else when we supposedly ‘deviate’ from the checklist.

The result is usually the following questions and statements (some of which have actually been said to me by Muslims and non-Muslims):

“Wait, you’re not going to have an arranged marriage?”
“You’re really outspoken for a Muslim woman”
“Did you sneak out to get here?”
“You’re allowed to move out for your year abroad?”
“I bet your parents lost it when you didn’t get top grades right?”

And the classic one-liner: “You’ll quit once you have kids, work will be too much for you”.

But here’s the thing, I know that we are smashing it in all aspects of life be it education, work and raising a family because I’ve seen it with my own eyes: women with children putting in 150% at work and loving every second of it, women who have recently married being promoted and women pursuing their own interests for the sake of their own happiness and development.
We should not be made to feel as if we have to choose between the things that make us who we are. Instead, we need to support and encourage one-another within all spheres to go beyond the checklist that is expected of us and create our own.

By Raisa Butt

Raisa is a London born -Hong Kong raised – Pakistani currently working as a secondary English teacher but her love for writing both creatively and academically has never wavered. Her particular interests lie in exploring concepts of gender, feminism and multiculturalism in works of fiction, non-fiction and in the pieces she writes about wider societal issues which affect young Muslim women today.

Image credit: Muhammad Faizan

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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Wise Women in The 99 Names of God

I co-founded Chickpea Press, a multi-faith children’s publisher, after working in mainstream publishing for over a decade. One of our core aims is to cultivate an awareness of the equality of women and men in faith. After a lifetime of struggling to find a voice within a faith setting, thinking that my religion didn’t allow it, it was a shock, as an adult, to discover Muslim women throughout history who not only had voices, but profound wisdom to share about God, life and religion.

The 99 Names of God is an illustrated guide to the Divine attributes of God within Islam, written and illustrated by Daniel Thomas Dyer. Designed for young and old, the book shows how compassion and peace are at the heart of Islam, and how the faith celebrates social diversity, recognizes the validity of other religions, promotes social equality and justice, abhors violence, values self-expression and the arts, and encourages responsible custodianship of the natural world.

One of the key features is a quote for each Name from a prophet or holy person of faith. It was very important that we try to have an equal balance of female and male voices in the book. This was a challenge from the start. Whilst we are aware of many women of faith, finding actual records of their words is a lot harder. There may be lots of reasons for this: historically women seemed more busy in the actual process of communing with God than writing down their experiences; women who had learned men-folk in their life (husbands, fathers) might be mentioned in their writings but without direct quotes; for women who did keep a record of their life and work, the sources may not have survived – or may have been destroyed over time in a patriarchal system.

One of the most important books to collect their voices, however, is Women of Sufism by Camille Adams Helminski. This treasury of female Muslim saints was a guiding light in our work for the book, unveiling women from across cultures and social classes, and providing more sources that we could explore. For many women, we were only able to source one referenced saying.

This being an illustrated guide, Daniel spent a lot of time working on appropriate and sensitive visual representations of all the key figures quoted. One of my favourite images is of Khadijah with Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them both, illustrating the attribute of al-Mumin, the Inspirer of Faith. The image illustrates the time when Muhammad, on first receiving his prophethood, rushed to Khadijah who comforted and reassured him that he was not mad and had truly been chosen as a messenger of the Almighty. Khadijah’s strength and faith are beautifully encapsulated in this Name and the accompanying words she is believed to have said:

khadijah

Another favourite is Rabiah of Basra, the great mystic who was renowned for sincerely loving God for God’s sake alone. Daniel’s illustration is based on her famous saying, used for al-Khafid, the Abaser, and ar-Rafi, the Exalter:

rabiah

The book also contains sayings from Hagar, Mary, Aishah, and Fatimah, as well as introducing lesser known figures such as Shawana, renowned for weeping out of love and awe of God; Lady Nafisah of Cairo, known as ‘the Jewel of Knowledge’; Fatimah al-Bardaiyyah of Iran, who was renowned for speaking words of ecstasy; and Unayzah, a witty and spirited mystic from Baghdad.

This book is offered as a guide to help us witness the Divine Majesty and Beauty. For children it is a rich treasury of wonder that will reveal greater depths as they grow and mature, whilst for parents and teachers it will offer much to inspire, inform, and remind. Each name is accompanied by engaging reflections and activities, with signs to highlight the Name both within our hearts and outside in nature.

I wonder how I would have been affected if I had been given access to an education that offered me a deeper understanding and awareness of my mothers and sisters of Islam at a younger age. It is my fervent hope that we can create quality resources that give a new generation what so many of us missed out on.

We are launching The 99 Names of God in London on February 6th at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Daniel will speak more about his personal journey with the Names, and we will be joined by Azim Rehmatdin who penned the original calligraphy for the book, and Julia Katarina from Music With Refugees who will be singing Qawwali and Nasheeds on the Divine Names.

You can book your ticket for the launch, see more about the book and get your copy here: chickpeapress.co.uk

By Saimma Dyer

Saimma Dyer is the Managing Director of Chickpea Press and Co-founder of Rumi’s Circle. When not busy publishing or organising interfaith events, she can be found exploring the Divine Feminine and how to be a Sufi Feminist. Follow her @SaimmaDyer

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