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The BBC’s “Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade” doc Reveals Some Ugly Truths

 “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.”

IMAM HUSSAIN (AS)

Last week, the BBC released a documentary called “Undercover with the Clerics – Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade”. The documentary highlighted that some clerics in Iraq are selling young girls for mutah, or temporary marriage, or as the documentary refers to them, pleasure marriages.

In harrowing detail, the film highlights that the cover of mutah is being used to sexually exploit women and rape young girls, in some cases, allowing men to rape children as young as 12. It is important that it is made absolutely clear that this is rape, as children are not able to give consent.

Given that the documentary is associated with cities that are home to some of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines (including Kāẓimiyyah and Karbala), the documentary has been accused of stoking sectarianism, promoting Islamophobia and presenting a biased view, particularly given that the timing of documentary is close to Arbaeen (the observance of 40 days after the day of Ashura).

After watching the film, although some aspects of the film were problematic, overall the documentary was well-balanced, providing the view of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who unreservedly condemned these practices). This post looks at some of criticisms of the documentary, and why these criticisms are minor compared to the bigger, uglier truths depicted in this film.

If you love the Holy Prophet (SAW), and his Holy Household, then you must also love truth, and therefore, we need to recognise some of the facts that were presented in the BBC film, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Our discomfort at seeing such crimes is secondary to the pain and suffering of vulnerable women, who are raped, sometimes by men old enough to be their fathers, on a daily basis.

This is happening and we cannot turn a blind eye. It is not the first time that the western media has covered the issue of the exploitation of short-term marriages. In 2006, NPR’s Anne Garrels’ interview highlighted the rising popularity of temporary marriage after the fall of Saddam.

One of the criticisms of the film relates to the use of the phrase “pleasure marriage” as being inaccurate and sensationalist. This is a fair criticism, since the word “mutah” is more accurately defined as temporary marriage. Mutah is a point of contention among Muslims, and is a controversial and poorly understood practice. It can be utilised appropriately but it is also open to abuse.

However, the film was talking about the abuse of temporary marriage for a very specific purpose, i.e. primarily for sex, and so in this case, “pleasure marriage” is a phrase that encompasses the purpose of the men pursuing a temporary marriage for a distinct and specific purpose: for no strings attached sex in exchange for a price. In other words: prostitution. There is no other purpose than the pursuit of pleasure for the man.

In addition, such pleasure marriages violate the rules of mutah where there must be a two-month waiting period after the marriage expires.

Let’s make it clear that this practice as shown in the film is an abuse of religion and certainly does not reflect the beliefs of the majority.

A second criticism is that the film asserts that places of Shia pilgrimage are “dens of prostitution”. We don’t get an idea of exactly how widespread these cases of abuse are across Karbala or Kāẓimiyyah, but the film does state that many places around the shrines facilitate mutah marriage.

This takes nothing away from the sanctity of the pilgrimage itself. It is obviously not the reason why millions of pilgrims flock to the holy sites, year after year.

The key point is that it is happening, whether we like it or not, whether we choose to accept it or not. It does not need to be widespread to recognise it as an injustice.

In addition, it is crucial to understand that this abuse is not happening in the shrines themselves, but rather in the cities that are associated these shrines. And while Karbala of course resonates with Shia Muslims especially, as the final resting place of Imam Husayn ibn Ali (AS), the city itself is a city like any other city in the world, with normal people, and unfortunately, sinners, like in every other place in the world.

We cannot deny the reality of these crimes simply because they are happening in Karbala, a revered and holy place for Shia Muslims. Karbala holds a special place in the hearts of those who love Imam Husayn (AS), as a place where people go to seek truth, spirituality and nearness to Allah, and to pay their respects to the King of Martyrs.

However, it is also a city of abject poverty, widows, and orphans who have suffered in the aftermath of the Iraq war. And with poverty, comes desperation. It’s a toxic environment of desperation and poverty that allows sexual predators to exploit vulnerable women.

This injustice happens everywhere in the world where you have poverty and war. The bombing of Iraq’s infrastructure and fifteen years of war left people (especially women without a support structure) no option, but to resort to any means possible to survive.

It is argued that the so-called clerics shown in the documentary are fakes and charlatans, and have no standing in the Shia world. While this may be true, it is important to consider this from the point of view of the victims shown in the film. Potentially, anybody can claim to study at a hawza, or at an Islamic University and declare themselves an expert on Shia theology.

We see this clearly in the world of social media. The so-called “Imam of Peace” is neither an Imam, and arguably, nor does he stand up for peace. According to independent journalist, CJ Werleman, he’s nothing but a fake. He has also been denounced globally by many Muslims.

While it may be true that Sayyid Raad (shown in the film) may be nothing more than a pimp, from the point of view of women on the ground (and the men seeking such marriages), he is someone who claims to be qualified to perform the rites and rituals associated with temporary marriage. Women approach these kinds of clerics for help and charity, and some are advised to engage in temporary marriage as a solution.

The film could have made it clearer that the clerics were mutah brokers, although at least one of the men featured in the documentary was dressed in traditional religious garb. The film could have done a better job of getting commentary from more authoritative sources, although it was made clear that these men are abusing the religion. In no way were the men associated with the entire religion.

Of course, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and it happens everywhere, but the key difference is that in Iraq, the men are falsely claiming abuse to have been made halal and religiously sanctioned. The film included a statement from “Ali” (who regularly uses pleasure marriages for sex): “This is not about religion, it is about money.”

In the majority of these cases, religion has been used as a tool for sexual grooming. Initially, the women are made feel that entering into a temporary marriage is a legitimate (and “halal”) way to alleviate poverty. It is only when they enter this dark world of exploitation that they find themselves trapped with no way out. It’s the shame that keeps them quiet; their groomers use the tactic of fear to keep them from telling anyone.

The documentary provides balance in three ways:

  • It makes clear that these so-called clerics are violating both Islamic and Iraq’s legal laws. In reality, the age of consent (or marriageable age) in Iraq is 15.
  • The clerics are offered a right of reply via telephone. The unabashed lying shown on camera makes it clear that these frauds have no moral standards and certainly no Islamic credentials.
  • Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani is approached and the respected scholar makes it clear to condemn this practice. It isn’t covered up, nor does the Ayatollah make excuses for these crimes.

I do not see the film as an attack on Shi’ism, nor is it anything to do with the holy pilgrimage itself. The power of Arbaeen, and the call of the prominent personalities is so great, that nothing will stop this movement. It is certainly true that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, but I do not understand why we would expect the BBC to promote Shia beliefs. That said, in 2004, the BBC covered the pilgrimage to Karbala that many Muslims from the West undertake during Arbaeen, in their documentary ‘2004 Karbala: City of Martyrs’. In addition, this film isn’t about Shi’ism itself; it is about the topic of exploitative criminal behaviour by a minority.

It is quite possible to be nuanced enough to understand that sexual exploitation in Iraq is a reality, while also recognising that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, which is one of the world’s largest peaceful gatherings. That being said, these critiques of the documentary do not reduce the authenticity of the narrative.

It is clear that so-called clerics (or perhaps more accurately, mutah brokers) are enabling bad men who take advantage of short-term marriages for their own sexual perversions.

There will be many who will use this documentary to make an attack on Shia beliefs, but that should not prevent anyone from exposing the practices shown on camera. Because this isn’t about Shi’ism, and it certainly isn’t about Islamophobia. It is about the victims, and this is happening everywhere.

Ultimately, as Ayatollah Sistani said in the film, it’s happening (and notably, the Grand Ayatollah did not deny this as a reality) because the police are not doing their jobs, and this is because women are not empowered enough to speak out. How can anything be done unless we recognise that this is happening? We need to stop putting our heads in the sand and wake up to reality.

We have seen this all over the world through the MeToo movement. By no means are sexual crimes or exploitation restricted to religious groups or the Shia community. It is happening in Hollywood. It is happening in mosques. It is happening in churches. It is happening in Hajj. And yes, it has happened historically at the BBC. This is not about particular groups of people. Sexual exploitation is about power.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves that just because someone wears religious garb or prays five times a day or “acts religious”, that such things are not possible.

Last year, female pilgrims spoke out about sexual harassment at hajj, which started the #MosqueMeToo hash tag on Twitter. Women used the platform to talk about their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault while they were at pilgrimage in Mecca. It is still taboo to talk about sexual harassment within the Muslim community, but things are slowly changing.

Just last week, GBBO’s Nadiya Hussain bravely revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child. Nothing will change unless women have a voice to talk about their own experiences.

This documentary is one part of the beginning of that journey, and the target of people’s outrage should not be the BBC. Rather, the focus should be on the criminals shown in the film who have the audacity to try to legitimise such heinous crimes in the holiest cities in the world in the name of Shi’ism.

Don’t be outraged that the truth has been revealed; be outraged that it is happening in the first place.

The writer of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

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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Interview with Hanan Issa Welsh-Iraqi poet and writer.

Image credit Hanan Issa

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

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

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

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

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

SSWH: Have you always been a writer?

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

SSWH: Please tell us more about yourself!

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

SSWH: Why poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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THANK YOU MR. TANMANJEET SINGH DHESI

Today I want to talk about the Labour MP for Slough, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi. Because he deserves all the praise he has got, and more. It’s not often a Sikh man stands up on behalf of Muslim women. Hell, it’s not often anyone stands up for Muslim women.

Tan Dhesi MP

“I was so blown away by Tanmanjeet because he spoke with conviction and sincerity.”

But what a breath of fresh air he was. His question in the only PMQ’s of this new Parliamentary session went viral with over 1.7 million views on Twitter alone.

I want to thank Mr Dhesi because he’s done something that not many MP’s have done. He’s done something that Muslim MP’s have not done, and that is to hold Boris Johnson accountable. And whether you might think this wasn’t the time or the place, I think it was perfect because it’s sending a message to not only Boris but to the whole country. There is no room for racism or anti-muslim rhetoric in Britain in 2019 and it will not be tolerated. It will not be tolerated by MPs and it will not be tolerated by minorities.

The reason why I was so blown away by Tanmanjeet is because he spoke with conviction and sincerity. He genuinely cares about religious minorities and Muslim women especially. The ridiculing of certain Islamic attire that a very small number of women within the Muslim community wear, is so damaging because these are the women that are already portrayed as being ‘oppressed’.

The ‘oppressed Muslim woman’ narrative is so prevalent that instead of trying to understand these women Boris Johnson thought it’s acceptable to liken them to bank robbers and letterboxes, and perpetuate this stereotype further. (I’m not going to link to THAT Telegraph article but that’s basically what he called women in niqab.) And yes I know he was writing about defending our choice to wear what we want but if you ridicule and belittle the same people whose choices you’re defending then your point becomes insignificant.

The fact that this MP is a Sikh, warms my heart. I have the utmost respect for anybody that stands up for an already marginalised section of society. Mr Dhesi’s call felt like a call for solidarity, a call for unity which is just what we need in this time of division.

With recent tension between Indians and Pakistanis because of Indian Prime Minister Mr Modi’s brutal action in Kashmir, it seems like a slight division has been born amongst these communities in the UK. Occasionally in the past there has been a bit of tension from time to time but generally the South Asian communities live harmoniously in the UK and have done so since the 60’s. 

Growing up, for us Asians, any other brown person was seen as a friend and someone to cling on to. Somebody who would understand your culture, pressures and restrictions the way your white peers wouldn’t. Religion didn’t play a part, we were all in the same bracket as ‘the other’. 

Religion is playing a bigger part in South Asian communities in recent years where religious symbols are more common place like a Sikh turban or a Muslim women’s hijab or a Hindu’s forehead marking. This has made our communities more distinguishable from each other but we sometimes forget that all brown people are immigrants or children/grandchildren of immigrants. If we can’t stand up for each other’s values than who will? The combined communities of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the UK have far more in common with each other than what drives them apart. There’s always safety in numbers and the South-Asian community should be able to look to each other for support despite what might be going on in our homelands thousands of miles away.

And when it comes to Britain, the combined voting power of Asian communities is phenomenal. It would serve the Conservative party well to attempt to eradicate racism from their party and launch an investigation into Islamophobia like Sajid Javaid promised on national television not so long ago. In a bid to appease right wing voters and the far right, Boris seems to have forgotten about all the ethnic minority voters he’s angered in the process. A price he might have to pay sooner than he thinks.

By Sharmeen Ziauddin

She is passionate about politics and faith and you can find her tweeting about these things @britpakgirl.

This post has been modified and originally appeared on Britpakgirl.com

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

Image credit: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-islamophobia-pmqs-tanmanjeet-singh-dhesi-muslim-letterbox-racist-a9091506.html


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Dehumanising sex and stereotyping Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mrs Rumiyya

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. We often have no visible prayer space

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

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

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

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

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

2. Female faith leaders are few and far between

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

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

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

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

3. We are critically lacking in female scholarship

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

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

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

4. Violent interpretations aren’t being challenged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. We’re tired of the hijab-hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Our sexuality is closeted, sensualised and shamed

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Divorce is our God-given right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Elizabeth Arif -Fear

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

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. The images used in this piece have been sourced and chosen by the author.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Aisha Ali-Khan

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

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

 

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

 

 


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Book review: ‘What if it were you?’ by Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Image credit: Elizabeth Arif-Fear and Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers)

 The title of Elizabeth Arif-Fear’s excellent collection of poems, ‘What if it were you?’ is a reminder, if we need one, of the fragility of many women’s lives. Hopes and dreams may be shaped by the political landscape and the country we are born into. Often our belief in God is what helps to define us.

” It’s uncomfortable reading, the visual imagery is raw as if Ms Arif-Fear has cried her way through each stanza.”

The short verses of each poem pack a powerful punch through the exploration of FGM, free speech, genocide and mysogyny. Each poem is like a stick of dynamite, exploding myths and breaking down barriers. The force of the descriptive language literally takes our breath away.

It’s uncomfortable reading, the visual imagery is raw as if Ms Arif-Fear has cried her way through each stanza. The poetry is gripping; it’s a book which draws us through it at an incredible speed, as if you are on a train passing through the very worst and occasionally the best of human nature. The book contains stories of women that must be told, deserve to be applauded.

It is a book detailing the power of faith and the equality with which that faith is bound to. Elizabeth Arif-Fear seems to effortlessly step into the shoes of an unimaginably large number of women, each with their own extraordinary story. Her writing is so perceptive that it is as if we are taken on a journey through the depravity of the human soul. We do not leave unscathed, our senses are left reeling from the experience. Ms Arif- Fear has a gift for propelling the reader on a real life roller coaster through the streets of Syria, the UK and within the confines of any place where a woman is suffering.

Sometimes we are filled with despair, at other times we sniff a glimmer of hope for a future where true equality between women and men is a reality.

By Anna Hussain

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By George Halfin

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

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


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Trailblazing Muslim Women – introducing Zainab Khan and Maaria Lohiya

Squad -5.jpg

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. 

Saima_Fotor

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

Maheen Nusrat

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

Esmat Jeraj_Fotor

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

Onjali Rauf photo_Fotor

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

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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 

Eid Reception

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

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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. 

Zahra AwalehFotor

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

Nabila Pathan_Fotor

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

Akeela Fotor

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