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Five Things I Love About Being a British Muslim Woman

Who would have thought that there could be plenty to love about being a British Muslim Woman? …

The media is smitten with bringing us bad news. It creates villains and demons and tells us the worst about humanity. And it does this in particular when it comes to Muslims, and oh-so-extra-specially when it is about Muslim women.


“Poor, oppressed, miserable, battered Muslim women!” cry the media harpies. They take lustful pleasure in oppression of their own kind, by misrepresenting us, by stifling our voices, by denying us our identities. “It cannot be that you love being Muslim!” say the politico-journo-lobbyist voices. “You must not partake of Britain and its values,” say the Muslim voices that also try to own us. In true British style I say to all these voices, two fingers! I follow this embarrassing slip of emotion by a further display of British Muslim style which means I blush at the brazenness of that gesture.


I’m here to set the record straight. I like being a British Muslim Woman. In fact, I love it. Ol’ Blighty is the place of my birth, and I am very much a child of the empire, my origins being in the far flung reaches of the reign on which the sun never set. Like all good British Muslim women, I love a good gossip, and a good moan. I am careful not to talk to people on the underground (except in a crisis). I talk about the whether and traffic in immense detail. I love fish and chips, with lots of vinegar. I am love-struck with the Britishness that venerates Stonehenge, despite its toy-sized pebbles when compared to the great wonders of the ancient world. I am besotted by the fact that we haven’t won the world cup for forty years, and yet we are adamant that we will certainly win the next time we play. Hurrah for being a British Muslim Woman!


I can make the world a better place

Prophet Abraham was thrown onto a large fire when he challenged the establishment. Miraculously the fire didn’t burn him. He was, quite literally, cool about it. Nor was his ardour to pursue the truth diminished. This Islamic parable of the fire makes me aspire to be a British Muslim woman Abraham. I too want to be a good citizen in the best of British and Muslim traditions. I too want to gather the courage to challenge what is wrong with the status quo. Despite the enormity of Abraham’s fire, little ants ferried drops of water in their mouths to try and put out the blaze. They didn’t expect to solve the crisis alone, but they wanted to do their bit. I desire to be a British Muslim woman who can also do her bit, who can make a contribution to the society I live in.

Despite my disagreements with the political views of the government, I am enamoured of the fact that I can protest about their loathsome views. I won’t get arrested for lobbying, demonstrating, writing about my views or speaking out. Whether we Brits always live up to our values of fair play and justice is one thing, but I’m proud that as a nation we at least aspire to them.


The very best of British however, is being able to challenge stereotypes and having the opportunity to make Britain a better place. When Britain closes its eyes and its heart as it seems to be doing in understanding the issues of Muslims and of women, it is a disappointing and dark place to be. But Being British means I have hope that we can make this a great nation. Being in a country where I can have the good fight, and be proud that I am doing my duty as a citizen is why I love being here.


Pink hijabs are a fashion possibility…

… as are green ones, black ones, yellow ones or even Union Jack hijabs. As a Muslim woman living in Britain, I am joyful that I have choice to dress modestly, and that I can exercise that choice. I like the fact that hijab is a word that transcends into British culture. I am quietly proud to have a faith which is constructed around respecting my personality and my individuality rather than my vital statistics. It gives me pleasure to say that I have not replaced the corsets of yore, with the breast enhancements and liposuction of today.

My personality harbours a desire (like most women) to express myself through what I wear. I don’t want to dress anonymously in black or grey. I like it that Britain is a place that gives me the space and creativity to express myself aesthetically.


Being superhuman is a choice, not an obligation

I admit that I’d like to have it all – career, family, fashion, fitness, domestic utopia and corporate success. I want to be perfectly attired, cook food that puts Delia to shame, and burn the dragons in their own den. The reality of being a woman means I’m likely to suffer discrimination in the workplace, be paid less than my male counterparts, and bear the weight of domestic duties and childcare.

Being Muslim gives me a new perspective – I can choose to have it all, but I don’t have to have it all in order to be validated. But I retain the choice to try everything. My loyalties to the sisterhood, both Muslim and in wider society, mean that I share the pressures, pains and desires, and I too want to make life for women better. I too want to make society a more equitable place.


Diversity is a celebration of more than just food

Chicken Tikka Masala is the national dish now, and stir-fry noodles and hummus are not far behind. As a nation we love sampling food from other cultures and incorporating them into our cuisine. But diversity encompasses more than that. Multiculturalism celebrates cultures and respects them by understanding the equal value they offer. I am smitten with the principles of diversity that Britain has been trying to uphold, and have felt that sinking feeling with recent talk about belittling other cultures.

As a Muslim I support the principles of diversity, being expressed in the Qur’an with the words that “All human beings were created as tribes and nations so that you may know one another.” Trying to live by the principle that we should respect others for who they are, not where they come from or what they look like stems from all parts of my British Muslim woman’s identity. We don’t always hit the bullseye with our policies, but at least we know where we are aiming.

My faith and my country push me to be a better person

I’m constantly challenged by my faith to improve. External standards do that – they pull you up and make you face the depths of your weaknesses. Religion is about thinking of others, fighting your childlike tantrums and greed to be free and happy in spirit, and to make those around us live better lives too. That’s what our beloved “Land of Hope and Glory” does as well. In case you’ve forgotten the lyrics of this erstwhile national anthem, it refers to the nation as “Mother of the Free”, an acknowledgement to us lovely ladies that keep the nation going, if ever I heard one. “Truth and Right and Freedom, each a holy gem,” proclaims the song further. Such words are rousing to the heart, and if we dig deep into the essence of Britain, and what it truly means to be British, we will push ourselves to regain these values and make ourselves better people.

I can be sure that there will be people who feel sorry for the delusions they will claim I suffer from being proud to be a Muslim woman. And I am even more certain that there are those who will tell me that it is shameful for me to be proud of being British. “How can you be proud of a country that attacks the Muslim nations and kills innocent Muslims,” they will reproach me ardently.

The following I say to all of you. All human societies have their strengths as well as their failings, whether they be Muslim societies or otherwise. It is my duty as a British citizen, and it is my responsibility as a Muslim woman to try and make the place I live in a better place. If I can practice my faith as I have understood it, if I can contribute to society and try to improve it, if I can express myself in that society so that I can be who I am and pursue my dreams, then that is a society that I can be proud of. My society may not be perfect, but I will support its aspiration to be a better place.


Why I love being a British Muslim Woman…

The media always makes it look like Muslim women have a rough old time of it, and we’re miserable… In an upcoming article, due to be published next week in The Muslim News, I’m writing about Five Things I Love About Being a British Muslim Woman. If you come back here on the 27th of September, you’ll be able to read the whole piece. In the meantime, here is a teaser-taster for you…

Read the full article now which is posted here: http://www.spirit21.co.uk/2007/09/five-things-i-love-about-being-a-british-muslim-woman/



‘Poor, oppressed, miserable, battered Muslim women!’ cry the media harpies. They take lustful pleasure in oppression of their own kind, by misrepresenting us, by stifling our voices, by denying us our identities. “It cannot be that you love being Muslim!” say the politico-journo-lobbyist voices. “You must not partake of Britain and its values,” say the Muslim voices that also try to own us.

I’m here to set the record straight. I like being a British Muslim Woman. In fact, I love it. Ol’ Blighty is the place of my birth, and I am very much a child of the empire, my origins being in the far flung reaches of the reign on which the sun never set. Like all good British Muslim women, I love a good gossip, and a good moan. I am careful not to talk to people on the underground (except in a crisis). I talk about the whether and traffic in immense detail. I love fish and chips, with lots of vinegar. I am love-struck with the Britishness that venerates Stonehenge, despite its toy-sized pebbles when compared to the great wonders of the ancient world. I am besotted by the fact that we haven’t won the world cup for forty years, and yet we are adamant that we will certainly win the next time we play. Hurrah for being a British Muslim Woman!”


My first radio experience…

Just to let you folks know, I’ll be co-hosting my first ever radio show and appearance tomorrow from 12pm – 2pm on Radio Ramadhan in Hendon (also known as Radio Reality 87.7FM). Exciting! Can I talk for that long? I guess we’ll find out…


Welcome to Ramadhan! Ramadhan Mubarak!

A big welcome to Ramadhan, as we enter a month dedicated to spiritual focus, becoming a better person, and improving ours (and others’) lives.

May we be showered with mercy and forgiveness, and may there be light and hope for us in the coming days.


Are Muslims allowed to have a sense of humour?

Check out this spoof blog about a tongue in cheek Islamist: http://theislamicist.wordpress.com/

The nameless author is weaving a chapter by chapter insight into his parody of growing up to be an Islamist. It’s well worth a read, for a humorous few minutes. I particularly like comments such as:

“I was surprised at how many women their were. The next thing I was surprised at was how many men there were. ” which for anyone who has been to an Islamic society at university and been exposed to the obsession with gender, will find very sharp as an observation.

Other moments include: “They successfully lobbied for a new prayer space, and we got a lobby.” and “It was then that I became involved with my first Islamicist group, the Hizb-ut-Tizer (party of Tizer). They wanted to get rid of corrupt Muslim states and replace them with a superstate, based in Scotland, made from girders.”

The blog was picked up by the Guardian who wrote a comment piece

Reading through the comments, however, it seems that the public don’t like Muslims to have a sense of humour, or can’t seem to compute that Muslims might be able to poke a bit of fun…

ASBOs and terrorism: the problems of bombs, beer and bling

A man was recently stabbed to death for standing up to a gang of aggressive young men who were throwing rubbish into his car. Another was murdered when he came out of his house to ask some young men to quieten down while he tried to sleep for an early morning start. Two teenagers have been charged. Binge drinking, and in particular under-age drinking and related violence is on the rise. Violence instigated by young women is increasing too. The police say that they have to change their working hours to accommodate the late night violence and youth crime. The government’s solution? Slap an anti-social behaviour tag on the perpetrators – this is just labelling the problem, but not addressing the causes.

Where is this intense aggression coming from? Why do young people feel so angry, why so little concern for tolerance of those around them? Where is the sense of community and honour that used to bind people together and create a framework for social interaction? Where are the aspirations, direction and connections that are needed to fill the void that is possessing youth? It is being filled with anger, despair and destruction. The disaffected generation of the turn of the century takes pride in creating havoc and distress.

We’ve heard a cry in recent days that young black men need better role models, people who can offer them different options other than rapping, violence and drug dealing. Success is material and ephemeral. Expensive outfits and outrageous jewellery along with angry lyrics and a gun are the leitmotifs. Clothes, bling and attitude maketh the man in the 21st century. The only thing in reach is the aggressive attitude, everything else is beyond their touch through legitimate means. The world that they see before them seems so appealing, so idyllic and so out of their reach, and they have nothing else on which to model their ambitions and drive them forward. They follow the lead of those who seem to have the answers – those glamorising gun crime and violence.

Young Muslims are just as disaffected. They too suffer from the same malaise as their peers. Why should they be any different? The world around them has little meaning to them, and there appears to be no way to change it. They see and experience discrimination, they are ostracised from being British, despite the fact that they identify themselves as such. Media and political rhetoric tells Muslims they must ‘fit in’ and do it ‘their’ way or go back home. But this is home, for the young Muslims. But they feel unwanted in their own home, rejected and ridiculed. When trying to communicate through the political system, their dress code is challenged. When trying to talk to the government about its policies, as the government asks citizens to do, then they are ignored. They turn to those who seem to succeed in creating impact – those advocating violence. Instead of rappers glamorising gun-crime, it is extremists glamorising terrorism.

The government, policymakers and the media treat these groups differently. They are different problems, they tell us. Heavy drinking, violence and anti-social behaviour are a cultural phenomenon, we are told. Young black men suffer from discrimination, reduced life chances and an identity crisis. Young Muslims are being poisoned by Islamic extremists, cry the tabloids and the neo-cons.

These evils do indeed exist, but they find their fertile breeding grounds in the same ugly causes. Young people have been let down by our ability to give them aspirations and opportunities. There is a failure to offer a framework of values, self-worth and the belief that they can achieve something in their own right by being part of society rather than trying to destroy it.

When success is measured entirely by the wealth and celebrity that can only be bestowed upon a few, and which we all know deep down is only a fickle yardstick, why bother trying? When you have never been taught at school about what faith and values are, and why morality is important, why do we find the disappearance of ‘traditional’ values a shock?

Neighbours and communities were once the bedrock of bringing up children, allowing them to learn how to interact, behave with and respect others. Now anyone taking a caring interest is labelled as ‘interfering’ and attacked. Why then are we surprised when the value of others is diminished?

There was once a drive to succeed and achieve your potential, now it is about gaining success and wealth. When simple material measures become meaningless, and you feel helpless to improve things any other way, then the void can be filled by ideology which offers clear directions and answers.

The murky grey of liberalism lurks like a mournful cloud over young people who want direction. It offers no pointers on how to break the deadlock and create something better. No wonder strong ideologies that paint a more vivid picture of the world and how to deal with it are so popular. Is it any surprise that the stark black and white nature of neo-conservatism or extremism and terrorism are so appealing to young people who have little aspiration, and less optimism about their future? When there appears no way to create change, then what is unexpected about using violence and terror to finally be heard?

The symptoms need treating. Violence, whether through over zealous addiction to bombs, beer or bling has to be dealt with firmly and with zero tolerance. They will all destroy our society. Beneath these we need to see that young people are bearing the burden of the deconstruction of our values and communities.

Muslims are accused of not being ‘British’, and are told they must be more British and adopt British values and live as part of the community. But accusations are usually most revealing about the self-same accuser. Do these directives uncover a longing to return to values and community life?

Being British is about sharing the same values. Sadly, as a nation, the values we once held dear of living together with respect, the importance of self-worth and of ambition to make something of ourselves, however small that ambition might seem, have been lost. We once loved to succeed. Now our younger generations are bearing the brunt of the self-loathing we feel at our failures. Young people of whatever background feel that the world around them has nothing to offer and that today’s Britishness is of little relevance.

For young Muslims, we need to instill a sense of empowerment and inclusion in society. Everyone wants to be part of the community they live in. Only when they see or experience rejection does anger build up and do alternatives become appealing. For young Muslims, it may be that they already have a grounding in the basics of faith. They may already have understood in their hearts that they want to live in a good society and create a better world for themselves and the people around them. But with the inability to create change and channel their aspirations through legitimate means, then extremist ideologies step in to show them how they can make a real impact. Young people learn by what they are shown. If governments can use violence to create a better world, then they will ask, why can’t they? And if a community has rejected them, then what responsibilities to they have to that community?

Anti-social behaviour and terrorism are degrees of difference. They both create fear, violence and death, albeit on enormously different scales. But for each individual that is affected by the fear, violence and death, for every single person murdered, the actions are equally mindless, and show equal disregard for the worth of others and the importance of community. What we need to recognise is that their roots lie in the same dark place of rejection, role models that glamorise violence and a seismic lack of hope and frustration.