2019 Blog 2

It’s Not About the Burqa by Mariam Khan

Muslim Woman on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race

‘This isn’t a children’s book,’ I hear you all scream from across the giant internet room. Well, no, it’s most definitely not but, in my opinion, it’s definitely a book everyone regardless of gender, race or religion should read. I can’t remember where I saw it first; I think it was on Twitter and possibly a review in one of the papers. However, as I was about to head off to America just as it came out, I thought I might be able to pick it up at Heathrow. No. Failed. So once in the enormous Barnes and Noble in Baltimore, I asked in there.

‘Hi, do you have a copy of It’s not about the Burqa by Mariam Khan,’ I ask the girl on the desk. She looks at me slightly blank and says she’ll check on her computer. After a few minutes hunting she says to me, ‘Would you normally find it in the food section?’ Eh, I am looking slightly confused. ‘You know in the section where they have other books on burgers.’ This is not going well. She then proceeds to tell me she can order it from Amazon in the UK. I decline. I had to wait until I returned home, where I found a single copy lurking on the shelves of Waterstones in Exeter. I was delighted that I could find it and have the opportunity to read it straight away.

This collection of essays from Muslim women was enlightening. There are essays about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a woman of colour, what it means to be a muslim woman, but to limit it to such vague ideas would be to do it a disservice. There are so many perspectives gathered into this short book, starting with something as simple as what we wear, as women and how muslim women are often defined by what they choose to wear. Note that word choose. There are fascinating insights about why women CHOOSE to cover themselves or not. But also the inherent sexism they have to face by muslim men too (not all men, just like those who are not muslims, there are plenty of men who do not treat women with any respect). It was a revelation to me and seeing the absolutely stunning muslim supermodel on the front of the Sunday Times style section this weekend, there is a sense that ALL women face the same issues of body dysmorphia and have far too many insults slung at them for wearing the wrong thing.

Another essay reflected on failed marriages and the great sense of shame that came with it. But what struck me about this essay was the sense that the family made no judgements about the idea of a marriage not working. They supported their daughter regardless bringing her home from a loveless and abusive marriage. However, by the time she finds her third husband she is a very different person and thank goodness she is now very happy. Saima Mar writes a passionate essay and explains how Islam has for too long been ‘interpreted through the eyes of men.’ This is something that is not the preserve of muslim women. Our world has been defined for men until relatively recently and there’s a long way to go yet.

Now, I should say, I didn’t agree with all the ideas expressed with this essays. In fact, there were one or two where I thought that the women hadn’t expressed their arguments very well and I felt little sympathy. But those were the exception. Most of them gave me a much better understanding of the predicament of growing up muslim in a country where Islam is defined by the right wing press as ‘dangerous’. The reality is far from that presented in the press. The doubts expressed by these women about where they ‘fit’ in the UK despite being born here, made me angry and upset for them.

This is a thought provoking collection of essays from a diverse and intelligent group of women. They left me feeling that I would like to sit down with each and every one of them and discuss the ideas they raise. If there is one non-fiction book you read this year, this is it. Learn, understand, embrace because women, now more than ever, need to be a collective voice of reason.