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Why we need to change the way we talk about Muslim women

Time: 2018-12-28 07:27cheongsam dress Click:

Why we need to change the way we talk about Muslim women

Sayeeda Warsi is a British lawyer, politician and member of the House of Lords. In her programme, How to be a Muslim Woman Sayeeda spoke to a variety of British Muslim women about their lives, revealing some of the many other ways it’s possible to be a British Muslim woman in 2018. Here Sayeeda discusses her reasons for making the documentary, and highlights the women involved in the programme.

Why we need to change the way we talk about Muslim women

A couple of years ago, I gave a copy of the book I’d just written to my sister. Having grown up with me, I wanted to see what she’d make of how I’d told my story. But when she’d finished reading it, her response was simple: “Your life sounds quite ordinary – there’s no dramatics”.

More often than not, Muslim women are only heard in public life, or in the media, when we fit an existing narrative or reinforce a lazy stereotype

That pleased me enormously, because in many ways my story has been quite ordinary. Yet as Muslim women, being able to tell the ordinary bits of our stories is in itself, well, extraordinary.

Because more often than not, Muslim women are only heard in public life, or in the media, when we fit an existing narrative or reinforce a lazy stereotype. If the story’s about polygamy, FGM, forced marriages or – most often – the burka – you’ll hear Muslim women on the radio. It sometimes seems that we are only seen as the sum total of our bad experiences.

But as I travel around the country I know we are so more than that. I’m always meeting brilliant, ambitious and innovative British Muslim women. And so now for my new documentary and podcast ‘How to be a Muslim Woman’ for BBC Radio 4, I’ve sat down with seven of them to share some of the many other ways of being a Muslim woman.

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan

I spoke to women who are victims of Islamophobia, and of terrorist attacks; women of the political right and left; women whose main challenges come from within Muslim communities and those who see them from outside.

It’s not just Muslim women who need a space to tell new stories, and find new ways of being, but Muslim men, too

We’ve shared tears, laughter – lots of laughter, and conversations which are uplifting, tragic, intimate and sometimes shocking. We’ve talked about sex, prayer, the Daily Mail, the British Army, parents, patriarchy, dressing up as a pig, and yes, even the burka.

I started with spoken word poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan (pictured above with Sayeeda Warsi).

She was reluctant to get involved at first, tired of being asked to fit into a mainstream narrative, or made exceptional, or create a new norm.

Ammani Bashir

After Suhaiymah and I had finished our interview, and had an ice cream – it was a warm, sunny day in Roundhay Park in Leeds – I travelled to Saltaire, the other side of Bradford.

There, beside the Leeds to Liverpool canal I sat down with Ammani Bashir, a young woman whose lifetime ambition was to be a medic in the British Army.

She told me that, much to her surprise, it was in the Army that she was able to develop her own relationship with Islam.

Why we need to change the way we talk about Muslim women

Sayeeda Warsi with Ammani Bashir, a medic in the British Army.

In one day, I heard from a critic of state violence, and someone joining the Army – yet these young women had much in common. Both feel their faith is intrinsic to who they are; both want to see a more open conversation about the causes of violence; and both would like less judgement about what Muslim women wear.

Back in London, I heard echoes of that from activist Julie Siddiqi and trade unionist Shavanah Taj: why do so many people feel they should have access to our wardrobes – and when will they get out?

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