Love, politics and patriarchy: British Muslim women are taking back their narrative

Love, politics and patriarchy: British Muslim women are taking back their narrative

Comment: A new generation of British Muslim women is shaping profound changes within Muslim communities and challenging lazy assumptions in wider society, writes Sadek Hamid.
4 min read
14 Sep, 2018
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan performs her poetry at London's Roundhouse [Twitter]
This week marked the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that triggered the so called global "War on Terror".

In subsequent years, America and its allies embarked on a "crusade" to pursue Al-Qaeda and
millions suffered in the Middle East, Africa and Asia as a result.

An entire generation of Muslim young people around the world has now come of age in the shadow of this conflict, and they are still struggling with the consequences. In Britain, the London bombings of 2005 were a similarly traumatic event that ushered in unprecedented levels of scrutiny and
security concerns about British Muslims.  

This generation has been forced to deal with suspicion and discrimination and it is women who are most often on the receiving end of anti-Muslim violence and bigotry.

British Muslim women face a
'triple penalty' of gender, colour and faith and are particularly disadvantaged in employment, experiencing ethno-religious prejudice and greater levels of Islamophobic hate crime. This comes in addition to a wider societal expectation to 'prove their Britishness,' even though Muslims as a faith group have demonstrated greater levels identification and loyalty to Britain.  

Despite all of these difficult issues, young Muslim women are positively defining their place in British society, by challenging negative attitudes and becoming agents of change within their communities.

Philip Lewis and I have written about these transformations in our recent book, British Muslims: New Directions in Islamic Thought, Creativity and Activism. We discuss the work of this new generation of women change makers and influencers in a number of different fields including literature, arts, media, academia, religious leadership, community activism and politics.

This generation has been forced to deal with suspicion and discrimination and it is women who are most often on the receiving end

Muslim women are rewriting the script on an ever increasing range of online news and advocacy platforms such as Amaliah - a space which centres the voices of Muslim women, offering positive representations of Muslims in the public sphere. Similarly, Project Ribcage broadcasts podcast interviews with influential Muslim women, and AVOW is a digital project advancing the voices of women to help tackle Islamophobia.  

There is also a growing and vibrant creative culture driven by Muslim women that  includes  musicians, poets and film makers expressing themselves through art, and raising political consciousness. Sukina Abdul Noor and Muneera Rashid, dubbed the 'Hip-hop Hijabis' have been at the cutting edge of British Muslim spoken word poetry, and Rabiah and Sakinah, aka the Pearls of Islam, write and perform a range of styles that includes rap, folk, soul and nasheed songs.

Last year, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan performance at the Roundhouse Poetry Slam went viral as she argued that Muslims should not be valued on how relatable or recognisable they are, or by the public pressure to be a 'Good Muslim', in her 'This is not a Humanising Poem.'  

Racial representation is one of the most frequently raised issues within British Muslim communities, as many Muslims of African-Caribbean ancestry feel their voices are not adequately represented in British history, but are also absent from debates about Islam in Britain.

In response, Halimat Shode launched the
Black Muslim Times, which is a quarterly publication created to showcase the achievements of Black Muslim professionals, sports people and artists.

Within community media, British Muslim TV broadcasts a range of programming that is women-led such as the panel show, 
'Women Like Us'Muslim women are also the creative force behind the camera, as screenwriters, producers and directors such as Sheila Na'imah Nortley demonstrate. These women are also making their presence known in mainstream media, as Channel Four News' international correspondent Fatima Manji, and the BBC's Sabbiyah Pervez demonstrate. 

In terms of novelists and memoirs there's no shortage of talent either: Naima Robert has authored an engaging series of stories aimed at young adults navigating the complexities of growing up in multicultural Britain. Ayisha Malik's romantic comedies have been described as the Muslim Bridget Jones, while Mahfouz Sabrina's 'The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write', is a lively anthology of short stories and poetry, covering love, politics and patriarchy.

A number of emerging religious scholars such as Glaswegian Safiya Shahid, the principal of the Muslim Women's College, and London-based Fatima Barkatulla - experts in their field - are helping to shape a relevant, contextualised Islam that responds to the challenges of being a Muslim women in Britain today.

British Muslim women face a 'triple penalty' of gender, colour and faith

Another interesting initiative to build capacity in the religious realm is the Bradford Muslim Women's Council which is working towards creating the UK's first women-led mosque.

These women, who are part of 'Generation9/11', are likely to shape profound changes within Muslim communities and challenge lazy assumptions in wider society over the next decade, as they continue to empower themselves, push for change and carve out the space they deserve in Britain.

Dr Sadek Hamid is an academic who has written widely about British Muslims. He is the author of 'Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism' and is co-author of 'British Muslims: New Directions in Islamic Thought, Creativity and Activism'.

Follow him on Twitter: @sadekhamid

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.