“They want us to apologise,” he said eventually, words mumbled between mouthfuls of bread.
“For what? Did I orchestrate the killings? Or think they are good? Innocent until proven guilty. Unless you are Muslim and they forget which order the saying goes.” – Us, Chimene Suleyman
Did you forget that you enslaved a race, deeming them to be inferior and savages, for centuries? Did you forget that you colonised nations, deeming yourself as the bearer of civilisation, for centuries? But yet you blame us, fear us, attack us for the actions of others that the majority of us did not commit, for actions that we condemn, and which bring shame to what our religion stands for. You gloss over your ancestors crimes, and expect us to apologise for crimes we did not commit.
The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write by Sabrina Mahfouz
From established literary heavyweights to emerging spoken word artists, the writers in this ground-breaking collection blow away the narrow image of the ‘Muslim Woman’.
Hear from users of Islamic Tinder, a disenchanted Maulana working as a TV chat show host and a plastic surgeon blackmailed by MI6. Follow the career of an actress with Middle-Eastern heritage whose dreams of playing a ghostbuster spiral into repeat castings as a jihadi bride. Among stories of honour killings and ill-fated love in besieged locations, we also find heart-warming connections and powerful challenges to the status quo.
If you want to know about real Muslims and not the distorted version you see in the media, then this book is for you. I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliant collection of complex and insightful poems, essays, stories and plays written by British Muslim women. I cannot express enough how refreshing it was to see myself being represented in a multitude of ways. This book is a testament to representation when done well.
There were many pieces that stood out to me that I am going to draw focus on:
The Girl Next Door by Kamila Shamsie
I was in a complete daze after reading this. It sincerely caused me to reflect.
The story starts off quite innocently, a gossipy tone adopted as our main character, Noor, takes us through her day as a makeup artist for a TV studio. Before Noor prepares the Maulana for his show, Ruby, a talk show host for their channel is also getting herself ready in the same makeup studio having refused Noor’s help. Noor is not the biggest fan of Ruby and offers some scathing assessments through her stream of consciousness.
They watch a talk show hosted by two Maulana’s which the present Maulana was fired from. The talk show receives a call from a woman who has performed the Hajj pilgrimage as she hesitantly reveals that she was unable to view the Kabah having found that her vision faltered. One of the Maulana’s on the show interprets it as the caller having had a veil placed on her heart which is a terrifying thing. Everyone discusses what she could have done wrong that has prompted such a thing to happen.
By the end, the present Maulana reminds Noor that she should focus on herself instead and Noor subsequently is given a lift from Ruby and they start getting along!
It’s all very easy to judge our Muslim brothers and sisters and other people, but we must remember that we ourselves will be judged one day. Focus on your own actions, before anyone else. And that includes me.
It was a powerful story, one of the most powerful stories that I have ever read. It took me completely by surprise. Kamila Shamsie is a terrific writer; her writing draws you in because there is a refreshingly relatable feel to her style. As a reader, I am excited to read more of her books.
Us by Chimene Suleyman
This story highlights the discrimination that has been the experience of countless Muslim people living in the West. “Go home, paki.” Yep, we’ve heard it before, even if we’re Bengali, Indian, etc.
Chimene Suleyman also brings to attention the hypocrisy in such actions. Our religion is taunted as being barbaric, backwards and oppressive towards women. Firstly, that’s culture’s doing, not religion. And did you know Islam gave women inheritance rights before the West did? Remember when Henry VIII was so embarrassed for not having produced a male heir that he created and inserted himself as Supreme Head of the Church, so he could divorce his wife and then he beheaded the next until he finally produced a male heir? Did you know that, in Islam, Heaven lies under your mother’s feet? That mothers take priority three times before a father does?
Secondly, the moment a white man/woman spews racist comments towards and attacks a Muslim woman for practicing her religion, the white man/woman becomes the oppressive one.
Thirdly, when nuns wear their religious habit and abstain from intercourse, they are not oppressed but we are?
New Blood by Aliyah Hasinah Holder
Aliyah renews a fresh sting of schoolgirl nostalgia as she narrates her school days which every Muslim girl from East London will relate to. She summed up the experience of our teenage glory days so well in a matter of three pages. I mused to myself, rolled my eyes and remembered too fondly: “Bubblegum lipgloss, PE kits, Impulse Musk and warm packed lunches.”
And let’s not forget PFC (Perfect Fried Chicken)! For £1 you can get a portion of chips drenched with ketchup, chilli, mayonnaise, chutney, pepper, and chilli flakes and two juicy chicken wings (better knows as ‘hot wings’) – which often taste better than the ones at KFC – and where you refer to the shop owner(s) as ‘bossman.’ If you smile just enough, they may give you an extra hot wing.
Islamic Tinder, by Triska Hamid
It’s a lot like Tinder, but without the haram and I’m sure you are aware of the specific type of ‘haram’ I am referring to. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this is the story of many educated Muslim women who have worked hard to abstain from what has been prohibited and thus dedicated themselves to their education and career. The end result is that the options for marrying, sadly, become scarce.
It is difficult to find an equal or to even find a relationship in our present times of modernised sacred religious principles without relinquishing specific honours. That’s what it boils down to: many educated Muslim women do not wish to trade in the possibility of a lifetime in hell for a few moments of pleasure (three seconds, to be precise, given the limited space the hostess is entertaining). I am euphemising here, but I’m sure you guys will deduce the gist of what I’m saying.
Mezaterra, by Ahdaf Soueif
Ahdaf Soueif explores the role the media, the USA and the West has played in creating an us v them dynamic, targeted against Muslims, that has permeated the world by and large. She expounds the importance of broadening the ‘mezattera’ – the common ground – and taking up residence in it. My words will fail to deliver justice to Ahdaf Soueif’s astute political commentary; I am no heavyweight writer. So, all I will say is this: I highly recommend that you read this.
Blood and Broken Bodies by Shaista Aziz
“There is nothing honourable about killing a woman. There is nothing honourable about killing anyone.”
This was a truly disturbing and terrifying read and reading stories like this is enough to prevent any desire to visit my motherland. There are thousands of honour killings that occur every year and 2017 recorded a 53% increase in cases that have been reported.
The murder of Qandeel Baloch is a story that many are familiar with, I believe; and I became acquainted with the honour killing of Farzana Parveen while reading this. Shaista Aziz shares an account of her visit to Kashmir, Pakistan, where she met the shy and timid Sania who would cover her mouth when she spoke. The next year, when she returned to Kashmir, she discovered that Sania had been murdered by her brother after being accused of looking at another man. So, even the most seemingly timid and ‘modest’ women are not safe. No woman is safe.
This is what happens when men become high and mighty, when they are taught to be the mightiest by culture. It transgresses into an obsessive need for control to put women in their designated ‘place’ even if it means resorting to murder. Raging about your sisters bringing shame to your family, but what about the shame that is cleared by your browsing history?
Staying Alive Through Brexit by Aisha Mirza
“They pretend to listen but they don’t hear a thing.”
A resonating piece on the white middle-class who talk over us when we talk about race believing they know more about us even though they’ve never actually been us. You don’t know how to approach it? It’s very simple: ask questions, then listen. You know, basic communication skills. Not just one question and then up and leave and then you’re back to monologuing about yourself. Dear white people, some of you exhaust me.
Aisha Mirza details why the leave voters weren’t the scariest thing about Brexit, but the white middle-class who voted to remain and think they know more. Now, there are some good white people, but I have to agree that for the majority of my experience, most white men have talked over me when I bring up anything not them-related, and some white women will give you the silent treatment and pretend that they don’t hear a thing. “They are the kind of people who will read this and think I am talking about someone else.”
But, of course, there are white women who I have met who are absolutely amazing and actually take the time to get to know more about us, same with some white men. Sometimes it boils down to generosity of heart and a lack of self-absorption.
Which brings me to this excerpt from Hibaq Osman’s poem titled July and the Following Months on the reaction of some white people to Black Lives Matter:
How you can be called ‘rational’
when you say things like ‘at the bottom of this case a man was murdered, he should have been put away for that.’ (I say: no shit, Sherlock, how d’ya figure those ‘two cents’ out?)
Not guilty meant ‘you are unworthy of our protection even in death.’
that they will always be on trial
no matter who pulls the trigger.
Battleface by Sabrina Mahfouz
This play gripped me from start to finish. It is a tense interview that takes place between Camilla (an MI5 employee posing as a journalist) and Ablah (a cosmetic doctor specialising in facial rejuvenation). I don’t want to give away too much, but this play felt like it could be on the screen and I very much enjoyed acting it out.
You know what makes me sad? I see many people of colour reading books that exclude them, histories that forget them, news that distort them, yet it is a rare instance to see a non-POC read books that feature a main character who is a POC and/or read up and do research on our histories and religions. Sometimes you think you know more about Islam and Muslims than the Muslim woman writing this, but oftentimes it is also because you don’t care, isn’t it? Why acknowledge us when it is only your history, your life, that is important to you?
Yes, there are more diverse books available now and publishers have come to the realisation that inclusive and diverse books will bring in new audiences which will result in an increase in profits, but what about books outside the mainstream YA genre? Also, why is 90% of your staff white?
The Hate U Give was a tremendously relevant book which should be included in the school curriculum effective immediately. It is worthwhile to note that it will be easy for some to detach from it too… effective immediately. Which is why we need more: more people of colour in publishing, both authors and employees, especially editors.
The Things I Would Tell You is an excellent example of why representation matters, especially for us Muslims who so rarely find ourselves represented well both in the media and in literature – I’m looking at you, Kiersten White, please do your research as I can assure you that Muslim women do not fast when they are menstruating.
But reader, when will you learn more about us? When will you start using the M word? Muslim. Does that scare you? Do you know that we can smell your fear from a mile away? All our attempts at integration amount to nothing when your eyes dance fear at the drop of the ‘M’ word. Oh, I have seen it. Even in my melting-pot, as diverse as it comes, city: London.
*sighs* – More books like this, please. And, oh yeah, I know, how dare I be so outspoken? But, you know what? I am done out here. There are certain things that I do not need to put up with and this is one of those things.
What is the last diverse book you read from a diverse author? What are your thoughts on the representation of Muslim people in the media? As a white person, how often do you have conversations with people of colour about race? As a person of colour, what has your experience been like talking to white people about race? Let me know in the comments.
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