When was the last time you heard a Muslim woman speak for herself without a filter?
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. Funny, warm, sometimes sad, and often angry, each of these essays is a passionate declaration, and each essay is calling time on the oppression, the lazy stereotyping, the misogyny and the 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.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher but this did not affect my opinion at all.
I have been eagerly anticipating this book ever since Mariam told me that she was working on it back in early 2017 so it’s been a very long wait for me but it did not fail to disappoint. I thought this was an excellent collection of essays on a range of different issues that Muslim women face today. I’m going to briefly touch on each essay and discuss my thoughts about them in one or two lines, throwing in a few of my favourite quotes from the book.
Too Loud, Swears Too Much and Goes Too Far by Mona Eltahawy
This was incredibly short and it felt like an introduction which I assume it acted as. As it was quite short, it didn’t have the similar sort of impact that the rest of the essays did.
Immodesty is the Best Policy by Coco Khan
I really enjoyed this one. I especially loved the focus on how Muslim women are discouraged from doing sports as it is something that I can relate to and that I feel strongly about. I also really loved the ending of this essay.
‘They push you to behave a certain way, which they say is the right way, but why is the right way always less than a man?’
The First Feminist by Sufiya Ahmed
This was definitely the most religious of the essays which I loved. I really enjoyed learning more about Khadija as ashamedly, I didn’t know much about her to begin with.
‘When a woman travels from A to B, she will encounter mad dogs along the route who will bark at her. Some men (and there are many women too) will always shout discouragement to a woman on her path to success. The thing to do is ignore them. Never stop to reason with a mad dog.’
On The Representation of Muslims: Terms and Conditions Apply by Nafisa Bakkar
This was an extremely intriguing essay but it seemed to lose its way slightly in places. It felt like a speech rather than an essay.
The Clothes of My Faith by Afia Ahmed
This was the essay that I probably liked the least as some of what she was saying I did not agree with. Whilst she made more valid points, I do not agree that it is easier to wear a hijab now as it has become more ‘fashionable’ and I don’t really agree that representation of Muslim women in the media is making Muslim women more insecure. However, I appreciate the fact that she says that she doesn’t speak for everyone.
Life Was Easier Before I Was Woke by Yassmin Midhat Abdel-Magied
I think this was an extremely interesting concept for an essay but it didn’t feel like it was fully fleshed out. I also feel like it focused more on Muslims as a whole whereas I would have liked more discussion on the impact on Muslim women in general.
‘There’s No Such Thing as a Depressed Muslim’: Discussing Mental Health in the Muslim Community by Jamilla Hekmoun
I absolutely loved this essay. I am very passionate about mental health so I loved the focus on mental health in the Muslim community.
Feminism Needs to Die by Mariam Khan
As expected, Mariam’s essay was easily one of my favourites in the whole collection, if not my favourite. She really did echo my issues with feminism as a whole as well (but I don’t know if that’s because I’ve made many discussions with her about feminism so she has impacted my views on feminism).
‘I am a woman, but I am also a Muslim and a person of colour, and these identities cannot be separated. I can’t set aside being a woman of colour when it comes to being a feminist and I can’t set aside being a Muslim woman when it comes to being a feminist. More to the point, I will not set it aside.’
Hijabi (R)evolution by Afshan D’souza-Lodhi
This was a really interesting essay. I really liked the parts about living out for university because it’s not a discussion that Muslim women usually have. I would have liked to have heard about being queer and Muslim though as I found it intriguing.
Eight Notifications by Salma Haidrani
I really liked how this essay focused on what its like to be a Muslim woman online with an opinion as it echoed some of my own fears about sharing my opinion online.
Shame, Shame, It Knows Your Name by Amna Saleem
This was an excellent essay as well. I also loved how it touched on how toxic masculinity in the community can negatively effect Muslim men as well.
‘Being a Muslim feminist too often means taking the blame for Muslim men’s weakness.’
A Woman of Substance by Saima Mir
I found it very intriguing to read about divorce in Islam in this essay as it is not a commonly discussed topic.
‘Times have changed and our women have changed with them, but our men have yet to catch up.’
A Gender Denied: Islam, Sex and the Struggle to Get Some by Salma El-Wardany
This was another essay about a topic that is never really discussed. I found it really intriguing and I especially enjoyed the part about how Muslim women are expected to stay away from Muslim men but when it comes to getting married, they have to know one as it is something I have always found very weird.
How Not To Get Married (or why an unregistered nikah is no proection for a woman) by Aina Khan OBE
I learnt a lot reading this essay as it is very law focused which I didn’t think I would enjoy but it worked.
Not Just A Black Muslim Woman by Raifa Rafiq
This essay focuses on intersectionality and touches on the privilege that I have being a South Asian Muslim and it’s something I have never really thought of before but it’s so true. I also liked the focus on identity and how we should get to choose how we identify ourselves.
Between Submission and Threat: The British State’s Contradictory Relationship with Muslim Women by Malia Bouattia
This essay was okay but explaining all of the politics made it quite dull for me. I enjoyed it more towards the end when it started to become more personal about Malia herself.
Daughter of Stories by Nadine Aisha Jassat
This was a great essay to end on as it reflected my own love for stories.
I do not normally read non-fiction but this is one of the best ones I’ve ever read. I really hope that everyone picks up a copy of this, whether you’re a Muslim woman or not, because everyone will learn something whilst reading it as it is so incredibly eye opening and thought provoking.