In an ideal world, our company wouldn't exist

In an ideal world, our company wouldn't exist
Comment: One of the biggest challenges facing Muslim women, is constantly being defined by others, write Nafisa Bakkar and Selina Bakkar, founders of
7 min read
Amaliah seeks to surface the many different voices and experiences within the community [Amaliah]
In an ideal world, our company, Amaliah would not exist. 

In an ideal world, it would not be difficult to hear the voices of Muslim women, it would not be hard to see Muslims represented authentically across all media platforms, and above all, for a Muslim woman standing on the edge of a train platform, it would not mean dancing with death.

Amaliah is a platform that seeks to amplify the voices of Muslim women internationally, with over 100 contributors writing on topics ranging from mental health and mosques, to dating and current affairs.

It was born out of a need to present discussions that transcend the hijab, terrorism and oppression; discussions that Muslim women (we) are often expected to partake in, with no other dialogue seemingly present.

And when we are asked to speak about our achievements or opinions outside of the above, we find ourselves being railroaded into representing 1.8 billion Muslim women as opposed to oneself, the most recent example of this being Hoda Katebi on Chicago's WGN News.

Many Muslims feel as though we cannot speak about the problems that exist internally in our communities for fear that our own words will be used against us to fit certain Islamophobic agendas. We have moved to occupying a space of reactionary discourses and apologetic tropes, where we react and speak only when expected and requested to.

Yet the space we ought to be occupying is a place we can speak on our own terms, just like everybody else.

A place of thought, and safety.

We are so distracted with normalising ourselves and reacting to the latest tragedy plastered in the headlines, that we forget to accept that we are indeed "different". When I say different, our presence as "different" is something that can be celebrated and does not necessarily stand to antagonise what it means to be British. True inclusion doesn't require everyone to be uniform.

True inclusion doesn't require everyone to be uniform

Amaliah in its current form is here to amplify the voices of Muslim women through celebrating, documenting and challenging Muslim culture in all its varying forms.

The overarching theme of our work has been around Muslim identity and the last two years have given us a bird's eye view of what it truly means to have an identity crisis.

On identity and our Britishness

Evidently, there has been a lot of conversation surrounding the idea of a "British Muslim", and to what extent the two are compatible.

This narrative has also led to the need to "humanise" ourselves as Muslims; problematic in itself.

For some however, this is something that we as a community need to do in order to reconcile our Britishness with our "Muslimness" - recently we saw Penny Appeal, a Muslim charity, compelled to explain just how British they were, through their TV ad and billboard campaign.

The fear of being perceived as too Muslim in the public space or not Muslim "enough" in our communities, is a constant battle with ourselves, for many.  And it is these realities that show us that there are indeed thousands of Muslims who find themselves constantly questioning their "Britishness", and contemplating whether their religion is an obstacle to it.

Given that many of our parents are from minority backgrounds, and that 47 percent of Muslims in the UK were born in Britain, society looks very different today, to 70 odd years ago.

This conflict in identity is not only a personal one, but one that has repercussions on a societal and collective level.

If we don't "feel British" what does that mean when it comes to civic engagement? If we feel like tourists, what does that mean when it comes to voting, why would one engage politically in a country with which they feel no affinity?

When we feel conflicted or confused in our identity, the wider repercussions are felt, and at times to our detriment. The root of an identity crisis can come from a number of factors - mix cultural influences, Islam and "British values" with an added backdrop of rampant Islamophobia which fuels an "Us and Them" narrative, and you are left with an appreciation of just how complex the British Muslim experience can be.

This conflict of identity however isn't just a product of how Muslims are viewed from "the outside" and their subsequent treatment.

If we don't 'feel British' what does that mean when it comes to civic engagement?

With so many Muslim households a diverse mix of first and second generation, the intergenerational gap has often resulted in a whole host of challenges.

My parents came to the UK as economic migrants, eventually aiming to "go back home". But women like my mother, now find themselves having spent more years here in the UK than in their country of origin, creating a complex understanding of "home" even is anymore.

And for some Muslims, this has meant living a double life of trying to seamlessly fit into pub culture at work, while living up to both cultural and religious expectations at home.

On bringing your whole self to work

This "double" life syndrome can also be felt outside of the home. One of the challenges that comes as a result of an identity crisis, due to lack of inclusion of intersectional identities, is found in the workplace.

Over the last two years we have been inundated with messages from Muslims wanting to work at Amaliah. While this is something we are always excited to see, the deeper reasons are unnerving. Ultimately, there are thousands of Muslims in the workplace who do not feel like they can bring their whole self to work.

This isn't a struggle unique to Muslims however, it is a struggle that is felt across the board amongst minorities.

In a recent conversation with Arlan Hamilton from Backstage Capital (a venture capital firm that invests in minority founders) it became apparent that a number of minorities were looking to the startup world as a way to be unapologetic about their culture, principles and ultimately themselves.

But while this is great for the startup world, it does not negate the fact that we need to create alternatives routes and make existing workplaces more inclusive.

The aim of Amaliah is to empower others in their identity, and we believe that when you cannot bring your whole self to work, you are not giving the opportunity to reach your potential.


Many Muslim women have turned to intersectional feminism to uphold justice.

Within our community, we often find men speaking on our behalf. All male panels are the norm, regardless of the issue. Look out into the world outside of our religious and cultural communities, and it seems like everyone wants to speak for us.

A number of programmes on BBC and Channel 4 have tried to highlight some of the issues Muslims face, with shows like 'My Week as A Muslim Woman', 'Muslims Like Us', 'The truth about Muslim Marriages' and 'Islam, Women and Me'.

It often appears that these shows are produced not to empower Muslims but to explain to non-Muslims that we aren't scary.

This version of humanisation that exists may be to the community's detriment; it reduces an entirely full and complex community to a few anecdotes of what it means to be Muslim.

These ideas are then fed into advertising where the last two years has been what I call a "diversity frenzy". With fashion and beauty ads trying to represent all Muslims in a three second window, they are increasingly creating an archetype of the "cool Muslim woman", which has also worked to exclude many.

It can be exhausting, and perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face - as what it means to be a Muslim woman - is constantly being defined by others. Across society and culture, we are constantly given cookie cutter models of who we are and who we are not.

However, this crisis has given rise to a number of organisations, initiatives and individuals, who want to create spaces for the exploration of identity, and who provide support across a number of sectors. 

These organisations, which also wouldn't exist in an ideal world, are all levelling the playing field for Muslims, to name a few; Muslim Women ConnectMuslamic MakersMuslim Women CollectiveInspirited MindsKhidr CollectiveBlack and Muslim in BritainCut From The Same ClothMuslim FestNew HorizonsProject RibcageEveryday MuslimFemale Muslim Creatives, and Mend.

No doubt there is a lot of work to be done but the Muslim renaissance is coming.

Selina Bakkar is one of the co-founders of Mum of two little ones, who believes she has to change the narrative to ensure the future generation grow up in a world of acceptance and understanding.

Follow her on Twitter: @Selina_Bakkar 

Nafisa Bakkar is one of the co-founders of With over 100 contributors covering fashion and beauty to world events, Amaliah is here to surface the real voices of Muslim women. Named by Forbes as one to watch and featured in CNN, Metro and WIRED.

Follow her on Twitter: @Nafisa_Bakkar

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.