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.