Mariam Khan, freelance writer, editor and feminist, has compiled essays from seventeen Muslim women in the UK, who challenge some of the stereotypical views we have about Muslim women and their communities.
How many of us look at Muslim women and think of oppression, silence, abuse and misogyny? I read this book because I wanted to hear from the Muslim woman herself, and It’s Not About the Burqa, though not representing ALL Muslim women, shed light on many issues I had never thought about. Issues that a lot of us do not care to consider. The women in this collection speak about feminism, racism, sex, sexuality, faith and other issues that concern Muslim women in the West.
Some of them take us through a journey of how they found their voice, and how they shed identities that were given to them by the communities they came from and the ones stamped on them by the rest of society. Sufiya Ahmed shares her experience of discovering Prophet Mohammed’s first wife, Khadija bint Khuwalid, who was not a silenced and oppressed housewife, but rather a successful businesswoman and the wealthiest merchant in Mecca at the time. Not only do you find such stories in the history of Islam women, but the essayists share how the Quran, contrary to the spread laws or rules of tyrannising women, supports and empowers women.
What I found the most interesting is how these Muslim women discuss the balance between identities, and how they’re expected to only be one thing, get rid of one to become the other. Things such as being queer and Muslim, being feminist and Muslim or being black and Muslim. I had never thought about it that much but it made me realise how mainstream feminism can be so damaging instead of freeing. For example, one essayist discussss how feminism talks about equality and liberation of all women, and yet will expect a Muslim woman to choose between her faith and being a feminist, which becomes pointless because it is doing the very thing it claims to fight against.
There’s also so much about how representation of Muslim women has gone wrong, in the way that it’s done by fashion designers, or on magazine covers, where what they are doing is representing a Western model and ideal of a hijabi. There is also the idea of representing only what Muslim women look like but when they have to speak for themselves, their vocal representation is not given a platform.
It’s Not About the Burqa also challenges members of their communities themselves, to stop doing things that give the rest of the world the wrong perception of the religion, giving them even more armour to attack their identities and their faith. They do not deny the existence of things such as misogyny, as they do exist in so many other cultures and religious communities.
I appreciate the honesty of the essayists in admitting their inability to speak for all Muslim women, because it’s impossible. They’re all different, from different communities and with different experiences and cultures. However, as Muslim women they should be able to create a platform where Muslim women are not spoken for. We cannot say Muslim women are silenced by their religion yet not give them a platform to speak.
This is a well written, edifying, enlightening and empowering book. It’s also light, you can breeze through it, it doesn’t burden you with complaints and noise. No, it’s bold and it challenges the narrative about Muslim women.
I want to say feminists will love this, which they’ll do, but I think anyone with good sense and who wants to see all people given a chance to be fairly represented, seen and heard will enjoy this.
It’s really not about the burqa, or the hijab, abaya or dupatta. It’s so much more.
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