I am young.
I am a Muslim.
I am a feminist.
These beliefs have become second nature to me. However, many will question my feminism, and many will further state that my faith is incompatible with gender equality. This reality provides many young Muslims with fear of openly displaying and discussing faith in academic circles and in the workplace.
We should strive towards eradicating the narratives that have been handed to us. We are told that we cannot practice the Islamic faith and be feminist, that we are oppressed just for the simple fact that we are Muslim. There is a constant attempt to band together every Muslim under the same experiences and to create an overarching definition of what it is to be a young, Muslim woman. Is that not oppressive in itself?
There is no simple or universal definition of what it means to be a young, Muslim feminist.
To be young in the 21st Century is, unfortunately, to be growing up in difficult times. Generation M is to face the highest levels of debt, fewer opportunities than generations before us and we are witnessing the worldwide political chaos. That being said, I’m still proud to belong to this generation. In the wake of political unrest, and the rise of hate crime, the sense of unification has been overwhelming. Many young people are now beginning to engage in politics, and are becoming aware of the impact that policy has on their lives. In London, the mass majority of youth will not stand for hate and bigotry.
My definition of what it means to be Muslim, may coincide with some but differs to many. Every single person has an individual relationship with their faith. It is something which is deeply personal and private. Every declaration of faith is valid.
To be able to call oneself a feminist, one must simply believe categorically in gender equality. It means believing in gender equality and recognising that it currently does not exist. Whether you choose to shave your legs or wear a burka or not should have no impact on the way in which you are a feminist. To be feminist means being unapologetically female, in which ever way you deem suitable, while demanding equal rights and respect.
As a young, Muslim feminist, I feel oppressed. But the only oppressor I face is the society which tells me I cannot possess egalitarian ideals while still holding on to my faith.
Rihana Osman is a postgraduate in Global Ethics and Human Values and a bachelors in Law. Rihana is an advocate for gender equality and social justice.
“No, Ray-hana.” I explained, using an Arabic emphasis on the ‘ha.’ This assertion usually led to puzzled looks, which ultimately led to me stating, “Rihana, if that’s easier.”
I don’t remember the moment that I stopped being Ray-ha-na and became Ri-ana. My name is officially spelt Rihana, but it was not until I had the burning desire to be accepted in the workplace, and in academic circles, that I went by the name. I felt embarrassment having to consistently teach people how to pronounce my name. This conversation usually led to questions about my heritage, and I started to associate this with questioning why I am there.
At a similar time, I began to subconsciously train myself to change my vocabulary. I stopped greeting people using “Salaam,” I would no longer use “Bismillah” before eating, or “inshAllah.” I yearned to be accepted, while not realising I was turning my back on my identity.
I began to believe that there was simply one way to be British and that my culture clashed with it.
I’ve spoken to many women who have different heritages, and they all recount the same change once they entered the workplace. Names were shortened, nicknames became actual names. Family phone calls were hushed, ‘mother tongues’ were forgotten.
I should have been proud to explain the pronunciation of my name, and not stopped explaining until the pronunciation was correct. I should have taken pride, and explained that it means fragrant and that it was the name of Prophet Muhammed’s wife.
I have now realised that my culture, my faith, and my heritage do not clash with being British. I have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. There is no definitive or correct way to be valid in British society.
Rihana Osman is a researcher, with a postgraduate degree in Global Ethics and Human Values and a bachelors in Law. Rihana is an advocate for gender equality and social justice.