She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Amina Easat-Daas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So remove your clothing.

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

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

Bravo. Bravo

by Sabbiyah Pervez

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

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


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Jamilla’s tips on dealing with anxiety around exam time (Part 2)

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Read Part 1 here.

In addition to depression, I was diagnosed with anxiety, which tends to worsen during exams. Even though I take medication for depression and anxiety, I still experience panic attacks before, during and after exams. I wanted to share with you a few things that help me get through exams without letting my depression and anxiety overwhelm me.
1. If, like me, you don’t really get nervous until right before the exam, then consider waking up as late as you possibly can (whilst still making it in time to the exam of course). This is because waking up hours beforehand will give you more time to stress yourself out. If you’re unoccupied, it gives your mind a chance to wander, to think bad thoughts or just play up your anxieties.
2. Make dua, lots of dua. When I don’t know what to do or if I’m scared and just need my mind to stop from wandering, I recite any dua or Surah that I can think of. The idea is to try something that helps you feel calm.
3. Don’t sit still. Go for a walk, pace up and down or even just move your legs up and down. I always find that movements distract me from my anxiety.

 

About the author: Jamilla recently graduated with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and is VP of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. Follow her on Twitter@JamillaTweets.

Image credit: Photo by PracticalCures.com.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Jamilla’s story of dealing with Depression and Anxiety (Part 1)

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If you’ve met me, just like everyone else does, you wouldn’t expect me to be dealing with a mental illness, especially of this severity. I’m in my final year of university, expected to graduate with a 2:1 (Inshallah), VP of a society and always up for hanging out with my friends or getting involved in extracurricular activities. When people discover that I have depression, and that I’m on strong medication to help me with it, they act shocked, almost as though they think it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be.

It is a daily struggle, from waking up each morning to completing my university tasks as well as my basic duties as a Muslim, all the while dealing with sporadic suicidal thoughts. And that’s the reason I want this series of posts to be able to reach out to those who are going through the same or similar things. For those who have been told their mental health is caused of lack of imaan (faith), or that it is taboo to talk about it.

Depression, anxiety and all other mental health issues are real illnesses, ones that need to be dealt with appropriately, and ones that require support which we, in Muslim communities, have not really acknowledged. Sometimes, people don’t understand why we’re finding it hard to pray, or fast, or read Qu’ran. I want this blog to help myself and you, not only to deal with your mental health, and for you to know that you’re not alone, but to increase our faith in Allah slowly, so that step by step we can build ourselves back up. Inshallah.

Whilst depression symptoms can vary from person to person (I, for example have depression and anxiety, so I won’t have the exact symptoms as someone with only depression or only anxiety), there is lots of misunderstanding surrounding depression. I hope to clear that up from my own experience.

1. There is often no direct cause. Whilst someone can have many triggers, for example, with anxiety it can often be triggered by loud noises or being around too many people, there isn’t one thing that causes it all. It’s often not one thing that can be the reason for depression, but a series of things that build up over time. For me, symptoms of depression and anxiety have been building up over a few years, and it was only 6 months ago (when I went through a week of not being able to eat or sleep) that I chose to get help.
2. Depression and Sadness are not the same thing. “That’s so depressing”, “That’s made me so depressed”. We’re all guilty of using these expressions wrongly – I know I am, but depression is so much more than one thing making you sad. Depression is not a mood that you can simply “snap out of”, it comprises of good days and bad days, some days you might feel totally fine, other days you might not want to leave the house, but these last over long periods of time.

3. Depression can be easy to hide, so just because someone looks fine, doesn’t mean their depression isn’t bad. When I tell people I have depression they are often surprised. This is because I am usually walking around with a big smile on my face, not looking like anything is wrong. Just because someone is smiling doesn’t make their depression any less valid; you’d be surprised at how well people can hide these things.

4. Depression isn’t a weakness of imaan. Depression can stop someone from fulfilling basic Islamic duties, but this isn’t because a person doesn’t have faith or because there is something wrong with their imaan, it’s because maybe they are finding it hard enough to wake up in the morning, or just keep themselves alive. Maybe they don’t want to pray because they feel so guilty that they’ve let their illness get the better of them, even though it is not their own fault. Depression is an illness like any other, and it needs to be seen as such from the Muslim community.

The best description of depression I have seen comes from a Reddit post which said: “Depression, when it is present, is more like the force of gravity. It is there, pulling down on you under all circumstances. Though I’m depressed I am often very happy – but still there is the unfeeling wet blanket of muddled confusion and writhing frustration seething under it all. Waiting.
A creeping numbness that insidiously degrades and diminishes every aspect of conscious life. A storm of screaming and hatred in dreams. A dull apathy in waking. A sinking stomach in the face of joy and a faithless lassitude in the face of hope.
Depression isn’t an emotion. Depression is a contradiction to every worthy aspect of life.”

I hope this post helps give people a better understanding of what depression is and what it isn’t.

About the author: Jamilla recently graduated with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and is VP of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. Follow her on Twitter @JamillaTweets.

Image credit: Photo by Amen Clinics.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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The Betrayal

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

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

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

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

By The Undercover Feminist

 

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

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


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The Joys of Shopping as a Hijabi

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Mariam François, presenting BBC programme ‘The Muslim Pound’

My trip to Zara without the kids in tow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Anjum Peerbacos

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

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


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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.