• Winner of the Big Red Read Festival (Non-Fiction)

    I was absolutely thrilled with a winner’s award at the Big Red Read Festival. They held their awards ceremony yesterday evening, which sadly I couldn’t attend.

    I spoke about “Love in a Headscarf” at the Festival earlier in the year, which was a wonderful opportunity to interact with readers. All books that are part of the Festival are eligible to be nominated by readers as their favourite book, and so by readers’ votes the winners are selected.

    This makes this a meaningful award for me because it means that it is the readers themselves who have picked it. Thank you to everyone who voted!

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  • Support Love in a Headscarf and cast your vote

    Dear friends, and readers of spirit21,

    Earlier this year, my book Love in a Headscarf was nominated as part of the Big Red Read, a book festival being held in London. Readers are encouraged to cast a vote for their favourite book from the nominations, and one will be declared the winner!

    If you enjoyed Love in a Headscarf, I would ask you to show your support by sending your vote by email to: The deadline for votes is tomorrow, Saturday 18th September.

    You can learn more about the festival, and see the other books that have been nominated, here. (although obviously I’d prefer you to vote for LIAH) :)

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  • Asian Women of Achievement awards – nominate now

    The Asian Women of Achievement awards are now in their eleventh year, aiming to honour the vibrant contributions of Asian women across all aspects of life and unearth inspiring and humbling stories of achievement.

    Nominations for the 2010 event are now open and you can nominate someone you know, or even yourself! Categories are: Art and Culture, Public Sector, Social and Humanitarian, Business Woman, Entrepreneur, Media, Professional, Young Achiever and the Asian Woman of the Year Award.

    Nominations close on Friday March 5, 2010. You can see more info here, and download the nomination forms. It’s a great chance for Asian Women to be recognised for all their incredible achievements.

    (although where is the one we most expect Asians to honour – Mum of the Year??!! Is that too typical?)

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  • Spirit21 in 2008 – a year in review

    We are nearing the end of the year, and it is the traditional time to look back and see how we fared over the last twelve months. In particular, it’s been a year since I won Best Blog and Best Female Blog at the Brass Crescent Awards. Much to my excitement I’ve been nominated again. It’s not the only recognition the blog has received. I won Best Non-Fiction Writer at the glamorous Muslim Writers Awards, and was named an ‘influential blog’ by the BBC.

    Shari’ah was big news this year. The Archbishop of Canterbury made some comments about Shari’ah courts which created a national controversy, and which reverberated round the world. I tried to get underneath the dense text with a detailed analysis of his speech. I mentioned a few other words too to highlight that we need to have a conversation about real meaning, not just tabloid screaming. (I used words like Shariah, fatwa, hijab, apostasy, niqab, cousin-marriage, Imam, Muslim women. I think some readers had anxiety attacks after that.) Separately, the Lord Chief Justice re-ignited the debate started by the Archbishop, and I commented that we had a significant problem with the S-Word.

    I spent a lot of time writing about Muslim women, and declared that it was Time for a Womelution. It is time for things to change, and I kept up the pace demanding “Let Muslim Women Speak” both here at Spirit21 and at the Guardian. It seems that everyone out there is happy to tell Muslim women what they should think and say, but won’t let them say it for themselves. It wasn’t the only thing that made me cross. I was riled by the book Jewel of Medina, written by an American author about Ai’shah the wife of the Prophet. It wasn’t about blasphemy or censorship that the author annoyed me, but rather at her delivery of a sex-obsessed Mills and Boon frippery, about a woman and a period of history that was crying out for a high calibre text. What a wasted opportunity. I read the book and wrote a review for the BBC. It was painful. Watch paint dry, I advised readers, it is more fascinating than the book.

    I was still fascinated by hijab, niqab and modesty and wrote several articles trying to understand the different perceptions of modesty and hijab. Modesty is not a black and white issue got some interesting feedback – some people told me in person that it was the best piece I’ve ever written, others said they didn’t get it at all. I also asked, whose body is it anyway, and wondered why it is considered inflammatory by some for a women to cover her hair or face. I made reference in the former article to the rise of the muhajababe, the fabulously stylish and sometimes skimpily clad be-headscarfed Muslim woman, and posted a cartoon asking, what is the meaning of hijab, and wrote a piece considering, can you dress provocatively and be religious? It should all be based around a woman choosing her clothing for herself, but is it really a free choice, and what exactly is she choosing?

    The amazing Muslim women who often are considered oppressed and forgotten inspired me to create The Magic Muslims, ordinary Muslims with Extraordinary superpowers, foremost amongst them being SuperJabi. They also included MagicMullah, HipHopHalalMan and WonderBibi. Watch out for them, there will be more in the coming year!

    I was also published in the book Conversations on Religion, alongside other high profile dignitaries in the field of faith (or absence of) such as Richard Dawkins, the Chief Rabbi, AC Grayling and the Archbishop.

    On the subject of conversations, I had some amazing dialogues with people in Indonesia and Turkey, where I spent a good amount of time this year. Indonesia prompted me to think of sun, smiles and spirituality, whilst in Turkey I found myself asking, what does a Muslim country look like? Hopefully I made some fans whilst out there too…

    My comments about Valentine’s Day being banned generated some interest as i was asking if it was the day or love that was being prohibited; just as exciting was an interview with the charming and sparky Riazat Butt for the Guardian about hajj. They also enjoyed posting a piece exploring our modern ideas about what kind of hero, messiah or mehdi, we are looking for these days. Do we really need one?

    Most controversial were two pieces related to what was happening on the political scene. I had people respond to them with enormous prickliness (or excitement, depending) even months later in person, so they’ve hit a chord! I tried to separate out the political agendas that have confused the need for social cohesion with preventing violent extremism, and seems to see Muslims only through the prism of (potential) terrorism. Later in the year the political insinuations that Muslims were not wanted in politics appeared to grow stronger, and I wrote with much passion that it seems that we Muslims were being told that “The only ‘proper’ Muslim is a non-political one.” The article proliferated wildly and despite a certain level of anonymity as a writer, i had people ‘in person’ searching me out to comment on it.

    Phew! What a year! And inshallah, 2009 is going to be even more exciting – there are already some fabulous things in the works – watch this space!

    (p.s. vote for Spirit21 Best Blog and Best Female blog at the Brass Crescent Awards to show your support!)

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  • Brass Crescent Awards, nominations now open – please vote (for me!)

    The nominations for the Brass Crescent Awards for 2008 are now open. I’m pleased and honoured that Spirit21 has once again been nominated for Best Blog and Best Female Blog. There are some great sites that have been shortlisted, so do spend some time reviewing them all and enjoying the diversity and expanse of the ‘Islamophere’.

    And of course, if you feel that Spirit21 deserves it, please nominate it for Best Blog and Best Female Blog.

    Closing date is December 19th, so get yourselves down there and happy voting!

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  • Spirit21 wins Best Blog and Best Female Blog

    Clears throat, lights dim, drum roll, audience hush
    I’d like to thank my parents, my brother, my uncles and aunts, my inspirational husband, my friends, my colleagues, my nieces, my fans, my readers, the British public, my porter, those who sit stuck on the M25 with me, my fellow Londoners, the nation, the world, the universe…. Speech continues fading into distance

    I’m thrilled that Spirit21 has won Best Blog and Best Female Blog at the Brass Crescent awards this year. The awards are designed to recognise and honour the best of the Muslim blogosphere, so I’m truly honoured to have won. Many thanks to all those who showed their support by voting. I hope you will continue to enjoy my writings, and hopefully find a voice in my words, along with hope, humour and insight.

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