She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated

When Nadia Shoeb moved to the U.S. for boarding school, she decided to wear the hijab. She wore the scarf for five years before taking it off. Shoeb is one of 12 women who described for NPR why they stopped wearing the headscarf.


2 Comments

The Betrayal

image

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

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

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

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

By The Undercover Feminist

 

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

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


1 Comment

The Joys of Shopping as a Hijabi

image

Mariam François, presenting BBC programme ‘The Muslim Pound’

My trip to Zara without the kids in tow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Anjum Peerbacos

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

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


Leave a comment

From The Mother of The Child Who Broke Your Concentration During Tarawih Tonight

Muslim women beginning prayer

Muslim women beginning prayer

Thank you! To all those people in the mosque who bore with us tonight as my son tried – and failed miserably – to learn the art of serenity in prayer; as he lost his balance multiple times and bumped into you trying to stand on one foot while you were trying so hard to focus on the recitation; as he loudly whispered ‘Shhh!’ to his friend – who until then was perfectly quiet; as he half-whispered, half-sang out loud the chorus of Harris J’s Salam Alaikum; as he pretended he was a dinosaur and roared at his friend before both of them broke out in muffled laughter, thank you!

Thank you, for understanding that your kindness and consideration for his young age will be a building block that will lay the foundation of the relationship he will have with this place that is, unfortunately, being increasingly perceived as alien and unwelcoming by young people. Thank you, for your empathy towards me as a mother who is struggling to balance between teaching her child to respect this as a place of worship and helping him form a positive bond with this space. Thank you for smiling kindly at us after you offer your Salaam at the end of every pair of Rak’ahs instead of facing us with a frown on your face. Thank you.

Because of you, my son will likely not resist the idea of joining me to the ‘long prayers that go on for-EVER!!!’ – as he tends to call the Tarawih. I will not second-guess my decision to bring him along to the mosque every step of the way as he scurries along ahead of me singing about how ‘The bare necessities of life will come to you.’ Because of you, every mistake he makes will feel less like a failure on my part as a mother, but as an opportunity for me to teach him about the etiquette of being in the mosque.

We promise we will try our best to behave better tomorrow night. We will bring along some more interesting quiet things we can do to keep us busy when the prayers get too long for us to stay put. But we will still probably make some noise. By the end of Ramadan, we would have likely stretched you to your limits and forced you to move your spot in the prayer room a couple of times. We apologise of that in advance.

And thank you, once again, so very much!

By Aisha Hussain Rasheed
www.facebook.com/i.sha.hr

Aisha Hussain Rasheed is a Maldivian Muslim woman, who believes our Islamic heritage is the key to the future, if only we know how to use it. She is a student of Islamic jurisprudence and a political and social activist.
Image credit: Muslim women in prayer by Glenn Halog
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


Leave a comment

From One Single Woman To Another

66229616

There are many ways in which a woman may find herself single at any point in her life. Whether by choice or an inability to find a suitably compatible partner, by way of divorce or being widowed through a tragic loss – singleness can happen to any woman at any time.

Sadly, the vast majority of society places a great amount of pressure on single people, especially us women, to get hitched up and to do it soon. So it’s easy to feel like a despairing busker lurking on the outskirts of a city seemingly teeming with married couples, trying to explain to them all about how challenging single life really is – to get them to understand. But I want to say to you, stop. Yes, being single sometimes does have a few snags, your parents and aunts might find every opportunity to tell you how ‘worried’ they are for you, perhaps you turned down a man and your fear has you doubting yourself and your decision, well I want to say relax, trust yourself, it is going to be alright.

“You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your life and choices.”

What’s more important for you right now is to understand the reasons you’re in this position at this point in your life. It could be a gentle push from above, a loving nudge in the direction of The Almighty, encouragement to strengthen your connection with Him with no distractions. Maybe this is the time for you to realise your talents and figure out how to use them to better your life and the lives of those around you. Maybe this is the part where you learn patience and resilience and discover your self-worth, so you can validate yourself by yourself.

Maybe it’s all of the above.

Look to this as a blessing in disguise and embrace the period of solitude you’re lucky enough to have received, few others are in possession of such a luxury. You are in a place in your life where you can spend all your time, if you so wish, thinking about yourself and doing good things for you. The door to a new, glorious journey is in front of you and all your decisions lay at your feet.

Don’t feel disheartened at having no reply to those questions of ‘when?’ and ‘why?’ pertaining to your single status. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your life and choices. Don’t ever feel like less of a Muslim by statements like ‘marriage fulfils half your deen’. This simply means that half the problems you’ll face after acquiring a spouse will be related to your marriage and the implications that marriage has on your imaan because quite often marriage is one of the greatest tests we are given. We already have various levels of imaan, we go into marriages with these, and it then either deepens and flourishes or lessens depending on us and the efforts we put into the partnership. There are many who go around scaring single people into rushed marriages with this statement, not fully comprehending themselves exactly what it means. You are not inferior to anyone because you don’t have a man at your side, you are and always have been a complete entity made with the purpose of praising God, solely, not made to acquire a partner or else. That is a bonus of this life.

Know, that no matter how long a period of time you’ve been single, in the grand scheme of your life, it’s not even a drop in the ocean even if it’s been ten years. Hold firm to your coveted cloak of autonomy and wear it with pride, a symbol of your individual strength. Because when the days of love come around once more, these finite moments will be memories to cling to during times of adversity, reminders always, of your personal power, your bravery, your courage.

Make this time of your life the best of your life.

By Fadila Henry

Fadila Henry is a creative writer currently working on a collection of flash fiction stories. She is interested in feminism, defending single women and foreign languages. You can find her on Twitter @apricotpinks or her blog fadilahenry.com
Image credit: https://memegenerator.net/instance/66229616
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 of a Muslim couple


1 Comment

Marriage Tips for Muslim Women (and Men)

Image of a Muslim couple

Image of a Muslim couple

I love married people, really I do, I am surrounded by them on a daily basis in both my corporeal and virtual life. Some of them are my closest friends, I work with them even and I feel that my approach to married people is largely tolerant and caring, despite everything.

I am one of those people that Mr Amin choses to slight in his article, I am divorced and over 30 and therefore not fit for giving advice on marriage despite the fact I have been married and I am part of a family. You could say I am the polar opposite to Mr Amin; not only am I divorced and unashamedly not married I am also unmarriagble, something I regard as a bit of an achievement. As a married friend said to me recently, and it was meant kindly, finding someone who I could realistically marry would be a miracle. Since Islam is not big on miracles I am not holding my breath.

I am often bemused at married people and how they communicate their marriedness to others. Usually they just get on with it and don’t make a big deal out of it and certainly never attempt to involve you in it. But there are exceptions and Mr Amin is one of them.

Mr Amin is what is known as a smugly married. One of those blessed individuals for whom life has been a series of making the right decisions. For whom life has simply been knowing the right thing to do and when it is done knowing that the right outcome will be achieved. Life is reduced to a series of choices in a geography of opportunity or a slightly complex recipe, if followed correctly and performed perfectly will achieve the satisfactory outcome. This result is then presented to the world for us to either desire to imitate or for us lesser mortals such as myself, to remind us of our poor decision making and our failures.

“Not only am I divorced and unashamedly not married I am also unmarriagble, something I regard as a bit of an achievement.”

For many of us life has not been so simple, and I am aware that there will be many married people out there who also grind their teeth in frustration when presented with the smugly married, because there are a lot of unhappily married people out there who made the right decision and the right choices, who married a desirable commodity but who found they had married a human being with all their failings and imperfections and who found that life is complex regardless of what you do and that for many reasons things didn’t go according to plan.

There are also a lot of single people who know that their chances of marriage are hugely reduced or non-existent but we chose to never consider the fates of these individuals. Individuals who in Mr Amin’s capitalist marriage market do not constitute a desirable acquisition, such as women over 30, the disabled, people from the wrong type of family, the divorced obviously.

In Mr Amin’s world these are people who simply didn’t make the right choices.

The reality is that a happy marriage is an accident for which there is no explanation. As an observer and a great listener I am often amazed and delighted at the variety of ways in which people have found contentment with another human being, and how many people, even undesirable acquisitions have, despite the prejudice, also achieved this. Often it is the stories of these individuals that make for far more interesting and relevant reading.

“Divorce is a necessary release and is often the beginning of a far more positive and meaningful phase in a person’s life but again, this is something that is taboo to discuss in positive terms.”

Muslims should weary of the elevation of marriage to a state that it is only accessible by the economically and physically perfect that excludes and divides; it causes misery for those deemed not perfect enough to marry and misery for those who are married but find themselves suffering with that particular misery that can only be found in a relationship. Marriage can also ruin and cost people their lives. Divorce is a necessary release and is often the beginning of a far more positive and meaningful phase in a person’s life but again, this is something that is taboo to discuss in positive terms.

Mr Amin, what us elders should be talking about is how to have emotionally healthy loving relationships and also educating young people on what is unhealthy. We should be giving people the permission to know when a marriage is at an end and that divorce is not in fact the end of life. This would be far more productive and caring than creating the illusion that you can control all your outcomes and that people are simply commodities that are more or less valuable to be traded in.

By Mrs Rumiyya

Image courtesy of Cara_VSAngel on Flickr

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


2 Comments

For Almost 30 Years I Wore A Headscarf

Image courtesy of Khashayar Elyassi

Image courtesy of Khashayar Elyassi

For almost 30 years I wore a headscarf.

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

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

For almost 30 years, I was misguided.

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

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

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

“It’s haram you have to”

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

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

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

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

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

by The Undercover Feminist

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

Image Courtesy of Khashaya Elyasi on Flickr  


Leave a comment

The Writer Woman (Thoughts on ‘Black Milk’ by Elif Shafak)

by Roszeen Afsar

@Roszeen

In my previous piece, ‘The Unwritten Woman’, I highlighted the need for women of different backgrounds to write about their experiences,  here I want to focus on women writing as a profession.

The idea for these two blog pieces really came into my mind when I picked up a book called ‘Black Milk; On Motherhood and Writing’ by Elif Shafak, a favourite author of mine. Wanting to know about the female voice in literature, I was immediately interested in reading this and it did not disappoint me. Shafak discusses her struggles in choosing between her career and motherhood, believing that there has to be a choice between the two until she finally accepts what she wishes – to have both. She talks about her experiences in facing and overcoming post-partum depression and what this time in her life meant for her. In the end, I felt in Shafak’s writing a warmth towards the notion of motherhood, perhaps an understanding that it is in some ways part of the essence of the female and important to her own femininity.

Image courtesy of Roszeen Afsar

Image courtesy of Roszeen Afsar

In between these struggles, Shafak writes about other female writers having to grapple with this dilemma too; embodying the all-encompassing role of motherhood whilst also holding onto an all-encompassing profession. As opposed to those women I talked about in my previous article who couldn’t imagine writing about themselves or engaging in any kind of creative activity, this books brings up the lives of women who chose to sacrifice their conventional roles in order to pursue their creative passions. Shafak shows through biographical examples that when female writers have made the decision to become career authors, they have often felt the need to sacrifice the possibility of becoming mothers completely.

At the same time, however, Shafak does look at the other side of the spectrum. She brings up the idea of a woman who denounces her creativity and expression to a life of marriage and motherhood. An example she gives is the wife of famous writer Leo Tolstoy, Sophia Andreevna Bers, who Shafak imagines could have had aspirations of writing as she was a diarist and helped Tolstoy with his manuscripts. However, Sophia does not get the chance to pursue a course of life similar to her husband’s because from a young age she enters into their marriage and becomes pregnant – in fact she has thirteen children in total. Because of the consistency of the pregnancies and the short time between each, Shafak describes Sophia as a ‘moon woman’; her stomach like the phases of the moon. The phrase ‘moon woman’ I think is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life; when I read it I thought immediately of my mother-in-law who has (incredibly) given birth to ten children. She is a moon woman – most of her life spent in pregnancy, breastfeeding and raising those children.

What makes this book more thought-provoking is that Shafak does not pass any judgement on the choices of the women she talks about, but shows how in the past the nature of the writing profession was such that women felt forced to follow one extreme or another. I believe these polarised perspectives on a woman’s role are still present in other forms. Amongst some aspects of feminism there is an argument that the identity of a woman is as an individual personality and the role of motherhood is in contradiction to this. Motherhood is thus presented as a burden to female liberty as opposed to how it is seen from an Islamic perspective; a defining aspect to the nature of a woman. Islamically, whether or not a woman gives birth, the mothering qualities of mercy and gentleness are understood to be part of the female soul. I have found a refreshing quote from Bosnian politician and writer, Alija Izetbegovic, which sums up this latter sentiment perfectly;

‘One of the arguments of the feminist movement is that a woman has been expressing herself as a mother and that it is now time for her to express herself as a personality. In their argumentation, mother and personality are opposed terms. I would like someone to explain this to me. I have always thought that there is nothing more personal or richer in personality than a mother, that a mother is a superb personality.’

Because many female writers of the past believed that they had to cut off their personal lives in order to continue their writing, the female voice in the written world seems to miss out on the potential of the raw female experience from the eyes of many women. This is because those writers never choose to write about it or have very little experience of it themselves, having chosen a different life. Elif Shafak talks about how she suppressed her femininity in order to be taken seriously in the writing world. She gives an example of becoming aware of this suppression when stood next to a pregnant woman who glowed with the femininity she says felt the lack of.

In the previous article I wrote of my despair at the women around me choosing not to make a note of their own life experiences. I did this because we have a lot to lose by not knowing about them. They are comfortable as women, as much as the pregnant woman in Shafak’s book, and for this reason it would be profound to read about what makes them so. I can try to create something, for example, from the perspective of a woman during her time of labour, but I cannot know what she experiences in that time or how she feels when she holds her child in her arms unless it is something I too have been through, and even then it will be solely from my perspective not the perspective of another woman.

When I really think about it, in terms of literature I have only ever read about a woman having a child as a plot device connecting to something else in the story. I am sure that there will be examples on the contrary, but my main point is that a great deal of spiritual and creative ground is being lost. There is a huge potential for the communication of stories about the female experience – not just about giving birth, but about the woman in ways rarely seen.

I witnessed such a creative potential first, funnily enough, within the diary of Anais Nin. Anyone who has read Nin’s novels will no doubt believe that she should never be associated with motherhood, however her diaries are very different from her fiction. The particular passage which comes to mind was one she wrote after giving birth to a stillborn baby. This was emotional to read, as you can imagine, especially as it was the result of what she describes as an extremely painful labour and her lack of will to give birth. It is true that Nin refused to have children after this, however she was a woman who fostered her maternal instinct into her personality and expression. Nin wrote unashamedly with her femininity – she was never shy to write as a woman. She openly suggested that her books were her children, that her writing was her creation and that her ways of communicating and being around others were solely from her maternal instincts. An example of this is in the same passage regarding the birth;

‘A dead creation, my first dead creation…The failure of my motherhood, or at least the embodiment of it, all my hopes of real, human, simple, direct motherhood lying dead, and the only one left to me, Lawrence’s symbolic motherhood, bringing more hope into the world…Perhaps I was designed for other forms of creation.’ 

Though she believes her literal motherhood to be destroyed, Nin still writes with a voice from an experience no man could imagine. This is a kind of voice rarely heard in literature, even today.

As a final thought I must add that I do not believe a woman’s only expression is in her literal ability to give birth. But the symbolic motherhood is a profound metaphor of the female in all her innate qualities, and as a bringer of life – be it through words or worlds. If we look into ourselves, we can find these words and worlds waiting to open their eyes.

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