Exciting news! My book is out now, and available to purchase at all good bookshops and online. Yes, yes, it’s shameless promotion, I know, but a first-time author’s gotta do what a first-time author’s gotta do. Click on the book cover to find out more. And if you like the look of it (and it seems quite a few people have), a couple of key-presses and postal delivery later you’ll be the proud owner of the book, which is today covered in a double page spread in the Guardian.continue reading
You can also read more about the book at www.loveinaheadscarf.com
I wanted to write about my experiences – not of oppression, or turning away from religion – but of love.
I sometimes wonder what someone who has never met ordinary Muslim woman thinks we are like. Perhaps they see us all as black-veil-wearing creatures in voluminous cloaks. Certainly those who search for images in Google under “Muslim women” are likely to think so.
Perhaps if you’ve never met a Muslim woman you might think we are all failing to “integrate”, whatever that means, or to communicate with the people we live amongst, as Jack Straw would have us believe. It’s possible that they think we are all opposed to freedom of speech and will use violence to attack it.
If you walk into any bookshop you will find stories of Muslim women with words like “oppressed” “sold” or “kidnapped” in the titles. Their tales of horror rightly need to be told, and the abuses which have been perpetrated need to be stopped. However, this genre of misery-memoir about Muslim women is fed constantly by publishers eager to confirm and exploit this stereotype. The tales are topped off with accounts of rejection of Islam and the nirvana of “liberation” from it. Both of these archetypal stories feature book covers almost exclusively of women with sad oppressed eyes staring out from behind a tightly wrapped niqab, camels and deserts in the background.
It is hard to tell whether publishers illustrate their books in this way because it reaps easy commercial rewards. Or is it that they themselves cannot see the complexity and variation amongst Muslim women, or are simply too lazy or cowardly to bring us new stories that avoid this one-size-fits-all approach.
I speak from experience – today sees the publication of my first book “Love in a Headscarf“, a memoir of growing up as a Muslim woman. I was fed up of seeing the same old stories told all the time, and wanted to share one “from the inside”, and in a way that itself was groundbreaking.
So I chose to write a humorous and light-hearted tale. I wanted to tell a story that touches each of us as human beings, looking at questions of love, life and meaning that we all share, but through the eyes of a Muslim woman. Most of all, I wanted to explore the contradictions and contrasts that we all face, and humour was the best medium for that. As Peter Ustinov said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”
I took the book to a number of publishers whose commissioning editors loved the story, but couldn’t see it fitting with the existing mould of books about Muslim women. “We need an ‘alias’ of a book that is already out there so people understand how it relates to previous books,” they explained, meaning it should be either a forced marriage story or one of escape from Islam.
With such black and white views about the stories that Muslim women are permitted to tell, how can it ever be possible to create an understanding of our diversity and complexity?
I hope my book brings a fresh perspective to the discussion about Muslim women. But there is a serious question to be asked – will it provoke the Muslim community to look into itself and wonder why these lazy stereotypes exist? Sometimes as Muslims we lack an intellectual honesty about ourselves, and are not brave enough to tell our stories as human beings on a journey, with all our flaws. If publishers are guilty of monolithic misery memoirs, then Muslims must also take some of the blame for not sharing our universal experiences in a language and context that everyone can relate to.continue reading
We need to connect to those around us at that very fundamental level of human experience. Today, on Valentine’s Day, let’s do it with love.
Over the weekend Spirit21 was three years old, and it’s been an exciting three years! This year has been packed full of new year resolutions, conferences and some thinking about Palestine and about love. You can read what happened in 2008, as well as a few thoughts I’ve had previously about birthdays.Over these years since I first dipped my toe into the blogosphere, and into the wider world of the media, I’ve been asked constantly to write a memoir of my experiences as a Muslim woman. I’ve been asked to share the honesty, humour and insight that I try and put into my articles in a book. And this weekend, just as we celebrate Spirit21’s third birthday, I will be announcing the publication of my first book, called “Love in a Headscarf“.You can read more about it at www.loveinaheadscarf.comAnd for those of you who are in and about London you are invited to the launch on Friday evening at the City Circle.
This article was recently published in EMEL Magazine.
February plays host to Valentine’s Day, and to the declaration of those ‘three little words.’ But what exactly are those three little words, and what do they reveal about our modern psyche?
A colleague of mine will be abroad, but will be sending flowers to his wife with the message: “I’m sorry I can’t be there to take you out for an over-priced meal. Here are some over-priced flowers instead.” He humorously conveys his love, but his words reflect a modern-day fatigue of being told what, when and how to feel, beholden to the manufacturing and commercialisation of emotion.
“Happy Hallmark Holiday” encapsulates our disillusion with modern angst for total perfection. Our very real, natural and rough-round-the-edges human processes are turned into flawless airbrushed ideals that do not resemble our lived experiences.
At the opposite extreme of expressing our feelings, we face another far too common three word phrase: “it is bid’ah“, denying our natural fitrah to express love. Last year, the Saudi Vice Police were sent to all shops the week before Valentine’s Day to ensure that nothing red-coloured was sold. Kuwaiti MPs declared that Valentine’s Day was ‘not compatible with our values.’ The Internet is replete with questions asking whether Valentine’s Day is haram, halal or bid’ah.
How did Muslims reach the point where we ask legal authorities about matters of celebrating love? Consider other questions that are asked: “Is falling in love allowed in Islam?” or “Can a husband express his love to his wife?” They reflect the increasingly legalistic approach that Muslims are taking in all matters of life.
Today, as Muslims, we have become servants of the law, instead of the law serving us in order to achieve higher spiritual perfection. Abiding by the law is not a purpose in itself: it is a means to an end. It is critical to respect the law, and our jurists and scholars, but we must be careful not to derive a false satisfaction from following the law for the law’s sake over striving towards the underlying objectives of the law. Our current pre-occupation with legalities rather than ethos is directly connected to the fact that we have become unclear about our goals, our values and our principles as human beings who follow the faith of Islam.
Bluntly put, we focus on the minutiae instead of freeing ourselves to ask world-changing questions. Let’s ask our scholars big questions that focus on Islam’s concern for all human beings. If Islam is about social welfare for the whole of humanity, then let’s ask: how do we use the institutions of zakat to put an end to world poverty? If the Prophet emphasised education by saying ‘seek education even to China’, then how do we ensure that every child goes to school? If Islam is concerned with physical as well as spiritual well-being, how do we ensure healthcare reaches all human beings?
What of those other three little words, “I love you”? We often hear that Christianity is the religion of love, but Islam – wrongly in my opinion – is characterised as far from this. Why is Islam portrayed in this way?
We must challenge the ideas that modern discourse – which includes Muslims themselves who have been brought up on a diet of legalistic directives – perpetuates that Muslims and Islam are lacking in love, or worse, are averse to it. The discussion of love – for Islam by its nature is predicated on love – is critical to our survival and contribution to the modern world. So much so, that I wanted to explore these forgotten ideas of love that underpin the very essence of being a Muslim, with humour, humanity and lightness of touch. The title and subject-matter of my forthcoming book, Love in a Headscarf, for these very reasons creates surprise at the juxtaposition of the idea of Muslims and love.
Muslims say that Islam is the religion of peace. Some go further and say that it is the religion of justice, and that justice underpins peace. I would go further still and say that Islam is the religion of Rahmah, compassion. For compassion to be exercised, justice must already be inherent. But compassion also expels the lurking remnants of hatred, fear and pain through love. Hate cannot push out hate, only love can push out hatred. Allah insists we know Him by His name Rahman, the Lovingly Compassionate. We too must reclaim our role as the people of Rahmah.continue reading