Bri­tish Mus­lim women speak out

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

From a jaded TV chat show host to a Mid­dle East­ern actress who longs to be cast as a ghost­buster, not end­less ji­hadi brides, the sto­ries in Sab­rina Mah­fouz’s an­thol­ogy of Bri­tish Mus­lim women all do one thing: Chal­lenge stereo­types. Mah­fouz, a poet and play­wright, brought to­gether 22 women, with roots rang­ing from Pak­istan to Pales­tine, to lift the lid on their minds and lives, which are of­ten in­vis­i­ble in Bri­tain.

“There is such a nar­row per­cep­tion in the UK of who a per­son of Mus­lim her­itage can be, act, think or look like and I wanted to chal­lenge that in any way that I could,” Lon­don-born Mah­fouz told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “At a time of such ex­treme Is­lam­o­pho­bia, the more lit­er­a­ture can do to chal­lenge this de­struc­tive nar­ra­tive, the bet­ter.”

More than three per­cent of Bri­tain’s 65 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion are Mus­lim, with the high­est pro­por­tion liv­ing in Lon­don, gov­ern­ment data shows. Po­lice said hate crimes against Mus­lims rose after a se­ries of Is­lamist mil­i­tant at­tacks, in­clud­ing an at­tack on Lon­don Bridge and dur­ing a mu­sic con­cert by US singer Ari­ana Grande in Manch­ester in north­ern Eng­land.

“The Things I Would Tell You” in­cludes po­etry, es­says and short sto­ries from award-win­ning nov­el­ists, such as Leila Aboulela and Kamila Sham­sie, emerg­ing tal­ents and new writ­ers. Jour­nal­ist Triska Hamid de­scribes the frus­tra­tions young Mus­lim women have find­ing love via Is­lamic dat­ing apps that al­low them to swipe through pho­tos, chat on­line and meet up. The poems of Su­danese-born Asma El­badawi, 27, who suc­cess­fully lob­bied the In­ter­na­tional Bas­ket­ball Fed­er­a­tion to al­low play­ers to com­pete in hi­jab, re­flect on the dual iden­ti­ties of many im­mi­grants in Bri­tain. “Our par­ents picked a bet­ter life for us over be­ing with our fam­i­lies,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion, de­scrib­ing how her par­ents moved from Khar­toum to Brad­ford when she was just one-year-old.

While most Bri­tish Mus­lims were born over­seas, the ma­jor­ity iden­tify as Bri­tish, ac­cord­ing to the Mus­lim Coun­cil of Bri­tain, the coun­try’s largest um­brella Is­lamic or­ga­ni­za­tion. Women are the main tar­gets of anti-Mus­lim prej­u­dice, ac­count­ing for six out of ten com­plainants, ac­cord­ing to Iman Atta, di­rec­tor of Tell MAMA, a Bri­tish or­ga­ni­za­tion that mon­i­tors such in­ci­dents.

In ad­di­tion to en­dur­ing abuse for wear­ing Is­lamic cloth­ing like head­scarves and face veils, Mus­lim women of­ten face a triple eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tage, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 par­lia­men­tary re­port, be­ing fe­male, Mus­lim and from an eth­nic mi­nor­ity group. The an­thol­ogy con­fronts taboos, such as Shaista Aziz’s hard-hit­ting es­say on “honor” killings in Pak­istan, in­clud­ing that of Qan­deel Baloch, who was stran­gled by her brother in 2016 for her risque so­cial me­dia posts.

More than 500 peo­ple - al­most all women - die in Pak­istan each year in such killings, usu­ally car­ried out by mem­bers of the vic­tim’s fam­ily for bring­ing “shame” on the com­mu­nity. “It is pro­foundly shock­ing that young women’s lives can be taken with such breath­tak­ing ease and with no jus­tice, no re­dress for them,” the Bri­tish-Pak­istani jour­nal­ist and stand-up co­me­dian told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. Aziz said the book’s in­clu­sion in the on­go­ing Chel­tenham Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val in the west of Eng­land high­lighted its broad pop­u­lar­ity and that the Bri­tish public are keen to hear more Mus­lim women’s voices. “It just shows you, this is Bri­tain,” she said.

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