Muslim women: between a rock and a hard place

By Unsa Athar
Fri, 09, 20

Try to picture yourself in the shoes of the writers. See the world from their perspective for a day!


Book: It’s not about the Burqa

Edited by Mariam Khan

Reviewed by Unsa Athar

“There are so many tales missing in the world; consequently, we need more storytellers to tell them. No one woman can speak for all Muslim women – for that rich and varied tapestry of experiences, practice, belief, and ways of being. We need as many stories and storytellers as there are people, a greater cacophony of diverse voices and views, and listeners who welcome them.”

Nadie Aisha Jassat – Daughter of Stories

The legend says that the wand chooses the wizard. I have a similar theory regarding books. I believe that books belonging to different genres find me at a point in life when I need them the most. And that the evidence lies in front of us.

Surviving as a single lady who dreams of breaking the cycle of patriarchy in a desi household is not an easy task. It takes you a lifetime to learn your values as a young Muslim woman, and then another lifetime trying to unlearn them and re-learn the difference between culture and Islam. I firmly believe that my body is my property and my business alone. But if I support ‘Mera Jisam, Meri Marzi,’ I am un-Islamic and ‘bey-haya.’ Supporting Aurat March equalizes to supporting fornication and nakedness! Calling yourself a feminist automatically translates as ‘I hate men and all men are trash.’

Struggling with these new labels and my moral compass, I stumbled across a Facebook post about this collection of essays called ‘It’s not about the Burqa.’ The book includes several pieces from British women from different walks of life. You shall cherish stories of engineers, entrepreneurs, and stay-at-home moms. There are heartfelt stories of women struggling with the hijab and its monetization as well as perspectives of black women who were too black to be Muslim! A queer queen pens down her story as she tried to find her place in this world as a Muslim!

How scandalous, I know! But if you take my word for it and read that article, you will get an insight into the mind of a woman who is different than you and me. This book has that magic trick; you will find relatable stuff in here as well as some mind-boggling content that you never thought existed!

As Muslim women trying to fight the double-edged sword of Islamophobia and misogyny, our only shot at winning is unity and kindness towards each other. We have to listen to different people’s stories. We have to internalize and process them.

“Patriarchy demands that of all women, but the more women fall within intersections of oppression, the more they are expected to live by those demands, and Muslim women are especially vulnerable to what I call a trifecta of oppressions: misogyny (faced by all women), racism (faced by women of color) and Islamophobia (faced by Muslims).

Muslim women are caught between a rock – an Islamophobic and racist right-wing that is eager to demonize Muslim men, and to that end misuses our words and the ways we resist misogyny within our Muslim communities – and a hard place: our Muslim communities that are eager to defend Muslim men, and to that end try to silence us and shut down the ways we resist misogyny. Both the rock and the hard place are more concerned with each other than they are with Muslim women. They speak over our heads – literally and figuratively. Our bodies – what parts of them are covered or uncovered, for example – are proxy battlefields in their endless arguments. It matters little what we women think because ultimately, both the rock and the hard place agree on and are enabled by patriarchy.”

Mona Eltahawy – Too Loud, Swears Too Much, and Goes Too Far.

My absolute favourite essays included the ones tackling depression in Muslim communities, divorced women going for a second (and third for that matter!) marriage, the first feminist of Islam aka Hazrat Khajida R.A., and the concept of shame that chokes our men and does not let them express emotions. If you are looking for a book that will help you break that readers’ block, get this one! There are however some rules to follow before you decide to read:

Keep an open mind. This is not a book guiding you about the ways of Islam.

Try to picture yourself in the shoes of the writers. See the world from their perspective for a day!

If you, my friend, are trying to find a sense of belonging in this world while managing to keep your own unique identity, this book is for you. And it is not intended for women alone, I highly recommend all my brothers and allies to read it as well. You might comprehend better what your sister was whining about last night!

Is this book worth your money? I am going to leave this blurb here now for you to decide:

“In 2016, Mariam Khan read that David Cameron had linked the radicalization of Muslim men to the ‘traditional submissiveness’ of Muslim women. Mariam felt pretty sure she didn’t know a single Muslim woman who would describe herself that way. Why was she hearing about Muslim women from people who were neither Muslim nor female?

Years later the state of the national discourse has deteriorated even further, and Muslim women’s voices are still pushed to the fringes - the figures leading the discussion are white and male.

Taking one of the most politicized and misused words associated with Muslim women and Islamophobia, It’s Not About the Burqa is poised to change all that. Here are voices you won’t see represented in the national news headlines: seventeen Muslim women speaking frankly about the hijab and wavering faith, about love and divorce, about feminism, queer identity, sex, and the twin threats of a disapproving community and a racist country. These essays are funny, warm, sometimes sad, and often angry, and each of them is a passionate declaration calling time on the oppression, the lazy stereotyping, misogyny, and Islamophobia.

What does it mean, exactly, to be a Muslim woman in the West today? According to the media, it’s all about the burqa.

Here’s what it’s really about.”