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. With a mix of British and international women writers, from activist Mona Eltahawy’s definition of a revolution to journalist and broadcaster Saima Mir telling the story of her experience of arranged marriage, from author Sufiya Ahmed on her Islamic feminist icon to playwright Afshan D’souza-Lodhi’s moving piece about her relationship with her hijab, 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, 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.
There are people – be they MPs, members of the far right, White feminists, or Islamaphobes – who get quite vocal when it comes to discussions about Muslim women. In 2016, David Cameron, the UK’s then Prime Minister, talked about how Muslim women are “traditionally submissive”. In 2017, former EDL leader Tommy Robinson claimed that the hijab symbolised the “slavery of women”. When a Muslim woman identifies as a feminist, there are White feminists who will question how they can be a Muslim and a feminist, as if there is a dichotomy between the two (It’s Not About the Burqa, page 107). When I was a child, a member of my family would angrily jab their finger at the TV whenever there was a news segment about Muslim women, declaring that “the burqa is just the men’s way of making sure no one looks at their women”.
But do you know whose voices are absent from these discussions? Muslim women’s. It’s Not About the Burqa gives seventeen Muslim women a chance to speak for themselves, though. The essays within this book cover a wide range of topics, from feminism to queer identity, from the hijab to sex, and their authors are far from submissive and oppressed.
I implore anyone reading this review to go grab themselves a copy of It’s Not About the Burqa and read it. It’s essential reading in the current sociopolitical climate, particularly for those who will happily spout nonsense claims about Muslim women despite never having spoken to one.
Want to read It’s Not About the Burqa? Order your copy through Amazon, or through your local bookstore.
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