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.

Blog 16

Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst

“Considered the property of men in their tribes, life was hard for Native American women.”

The joy of recapturing my childhood by reading books for kids is that I get to read some non-fiction too. Fantastically Great Women is wonderful and there were women in here I’d never heard of and I guess that is the issue. It’s 100 years since women were allowed to vote (saying “allowed” makes me cringe) and, sorry girls and ladies, we are still struggling to see equal pay for the same work as men do and we are still seeing appalling abuses of women by men in power. As I read in Writers Forum this month, “two out of three lead characters (in the top 100 selling picture books) were male, males accounted for almost nine out ten ‘baddies’, while non-human creatures were male in 86.6 percent of case.” This is shocking. So this month, I have been doing my own reading about amazing women, explorers, writers, scientists and more.

Kate Pankhurst’s beautifully illustrated book is full of little gems of information. The woman I was most fascinated by was Sacagawea, a Native American woman. She was kidnapped from her tribe when she was young but her ability with languages meant that she could speak and translate more than one tribal language. Even more remarkable, having then met with two American explorers she travelled with them to help them on their journey through some of the unchartered parts of America. She did this while carrying her baby on her back and she was still only a teenager. By the time the expedition was over, she was respected as an equal by the men, unheard of at the time.

Other amazing women featured in the text, are Emilia Earhart, Jane Austin, Marie Curie, and Anne Frank amongst the most famous. But there’s some lesser known women too. The depictions of them in the book are beautiful with each woman having a double page spread that would make wonderful posters (I hope Kate’s marketing department read this!). I’d love all of these women drawn like this on mugs, bookmarks and so on. They would be perfect for a wonderful display in a classroom.

Who Should Read This book?

I think this should be located prominently in all primary classrooms! There are plenty of others but this one caught my eye. It’s easy to dip in and out of and would be a great stimulus for some research about some of these women,  or it would be wonderful to write some letters to these women. In the back of the book is a Gallery of Greatness and it would be so good for schools to have Galleries of greatness with students in too, both girls and boys. The essential message, get out there and do it, regardless of gender, be the change you want to be!

Kate’s fantastic website: katepankhurst.com 

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2HRpwCT