Archive by Category "Muslim Women"

Amina, Warrior Queen of Zaria

The first of her kind, a Nigerian warrior Queen of Zaria (née Zazzau), Amina broke the bounds of a male-dominated society. A little side bit to note; she was Muslim. While much of her history is that of legend (due to word of mouth tradition) she remains an integral part of Nigerian history, a statue spear in hand, on horse, erect in Lagos. Her legacy remembered. She is amongst the many Muslim women who often go unheard of or unspoken about in history. Moving forward with plans for the National Photographic Exhibition with CTS, celebrating 100 women and marking the centenary of women’s suffrage, it is integral to celebrate Muslim women throughout history. They demonstrate that they have and always will contribute to whichever society they belong, deconstructing the misinformed narrative placed upon them. Here is one amazing example to start with, and plenty more are to follow.

Amina was born in 1533, 200 years before British colonial rule, to the ruler Bakwa of Turunku and resided in the city state of Zazzau. She grew up surrounded by wealth as her family traded in imported metals, cloth, cola, salt and horses. Her time was spent improving her military skills with the Zazzau cavalry warriors. Her devotion to the military practice led her to become a leader of the cavalry, over which time she accumulated notable wealth and numerous military accolades.

One of the many beauties of pre-colonial Nigeria was that men were not threatened by power and strength held by women, which made Amina’s forthcoming role as Queen all the more respected and a matter of commonplace where assertion of female authority is concerned.

Throughout Amina’s reign, she faced relentless competition to expand her kingdom amongst the Hausa states. These states belonged to neighbouring powers of Zazzau,  where she ruled. There lay three trading routes through northern Africa which connected the Sahara with the south and western Sudan. These routes were imperative to hold power beyond her own kingdom. To conquer these sites, she conjured an army of 20,000 men who went on the serve a 34 year long war the length of her reign, expanding her kingdom to the largest in its history. With this expansion, she brought indescribable amounts of wealth to the lands, introducing new skills and trades to the people. Amina’s skills knew no bounds, looking beyond her military life she also established her architectural skills whereby the earthen walls around the city became a prototype for all Hausa states.

Refusing to marry and never to have bore children, Amina instead chose to take a temporary husband from foes whose legion had been vanquished after every one of her battles. She disposed of them shortly after and left no heir, her brother assuming the throne after her death. Her legendary tales led her to be the model for the television series Xena Warrior Princess. She truly represents a woman who is not as capable as a man, but in this case, more so. She is the perfect case to show that Muslim women have and always will be challenging the narrative by, simply, existing.

Reflections on Migration

Almost half a century has passed since I stepped off a plane with my family leaving behind everyone we held dear to our hearts, fleeing the ravages of war and stood down on a grey winter of London.

Our family journey to an unknown land is a narrative familiar to millions of others, here and elsewhere in the globe. Each person representing their own set of circumstances, motivations and reasons, be it wars, economic necessity or more simply following their destiny.  I believe, each of us have one common thread, that is, searching to better our lives, hoping to give our children a better future and a safer place to grow.

As a migrant you are forced to grapple with a multiple set of complex experiences, the most difficult of which is uprooting your family. This is not for the faint hearted, even though for many, what you leave behind is usually bleak or hopeless. I have always believed that, only those with innate strengths and courage will undertake and tread such uncertain futures to another country, seeking to make a new life.

I am not sure that as a child, one arrives in a new country owning a dream or accomplishing a better life, but I am certain that many adults of my mother’s generation may have indeed believed, that no matter how difficult the journey, it would end with a safer home, new beginning, and better education for their children. I cannot imagine that many would have countenanced the stark cultural contrast, lifestyle, new language, and most significantly the blatant and brutal hostility of racism.

As a teenager, growing up in London, my own sense of self respect, valuing my upbringing, acknowledging my cultural heritage and my faith was an intrinsic asset in aiding my efforts to building our new home in Britain. Just as important was the willpower, ingrained from a lovingly nurtured childhood, which came with having grown up amongst strong, highly educated women in my family.

In every step I took, as an adult, as a community worker and later in parliament, my mother, aunts and grandmothers have always been my pillars. They have been the benchmark, encouragement for education as well as their reinforcement for a future careers. Their individual choices of some of the women have led the way for opportunity enjoyed by siblings of my all my family members, over the past generation.

Many of our peer groups often reflect about the ease with which they as children were able to adapt to their new home despite the many bitter incidents of physical and verbal racist abuse. My siblings still recall their childhood at a time when ‘paki bashing’ was rampant sports for the young thugs of east end of London. Despite such traumas, resilience and courage seems to be the quintessential common thread, which run through the many narratives I have heard and witnessed first-hand, over the past 45 years.

Why the Media should deal With ‘Humans as Humans’

The media has generally caricatured Muslim women as meek, passive, oppressed and in need of liberation. This formed a cluster of stereotypes that are a hallmark of our generation. Nevertheless, much of this has changed recently. However, the change, in my opinion, has not been completely positive. We are seeing Muslim women, with hijab, on ads and even on TV shows (including the newsroom). Yet, much of this has been a shift from stereotyping to playing identity politics. The complexity of the issue surrounding Muslim women intersects with issues of religion, politics and their interaction in everyday civil society.

What overshadows some of the positive aspects of the portrayal of women in general, and Muslim women in specific is the constant need for justification. Muslim women always need to prove themselves, whether in a Nike advert to show themselves as active or to participate and break some ceiling of what is expected of them. This does not help solve the problem of their representation but exacerbates the problems. This is a natural process of globalisation that seems to rob women in general of their sense of autonomy. To conform to some global outlook that is dictated by a given company. The narrative of everyday women of faith (Muslim in this case) is ignored. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind how much we have moved on in the discourse from misguided representation to a place where we can discuss this as an issue rather than deny its existence.

There are also economic aspects and the much ignored colonial gaze that seems to still be present in how Muslim women are portrayed. 2017 was a tragic year in terms of the abhorrent attacks taking place across the world, both from terrorists and institutional state based wars. At the forefront of these events are the slow but certain rise of the far-right (as seen from the recent elections in Germany) and the normalisation of violent rhetoric from many groups. With the Burka ban in Austria, we can see how fear of the ‘other’ is building. Yet, in all this, we don’t have a space in which true expression of grievances can take place, for all sides.

The media, unknowingly or knowingly, is engineering a clash by not dealing with humans as humans, but seeing them through the lens of identities. Muslim women are the new frontier for exploration and patronising activism that lacks touch with the reality of individual life. We are not victims, we don’t wish to be victims nor do we appreciate being turned into victims. We wish to be portrayed as we are in our daily lives; we are not exotic beings who need to be discovered. If we wish to break the pattern of self-righteous rhetoric, then an appropriate structure and framework for dialogue need to be constructed. An environment in which we solve our problems through knowledge, acknowledgement and progressive dialogue. That is, to be simply human beyond all other labels.

What Does It Mean To Be Young, Muslim and Feminist Today?

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.

change the script

Muslim Women: Falling Behind In The Workplace

Research completed at the University of Bristol shows that Muslim women are 71% more likely than white Christian women to be unemployed. This study was made by comparing women with similar language abilities, education, marital status, number of children and strength of religious belief. It is a very sad fact that Muslim women are problematic to most Brits, whether they say it out loud or not. David Cameron made his views loud and clear when he announced that Muslim women should be taught English to tackle “backward” attitudes. Our very existence is a rejection of the mainstream discourse which perpetuates a view that in order to be liberated you must wholly subscribe to western values. So, Muslim women must work twice as hard as their white, female counterparts to be taken seriously in the workplace and not be written off as the ‘other.’

“Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in British society, according to a report by MPs. They are three times more likely to be unemployed and looking for a job than women generally and more than twice as likely to be economically inactive” Says The Women and Equalities Committee, BBC News 2016

The Muslim women I have grown up with are strong, powerful and influential. They are patient, aspirational and brilliant and have shaped who I am today. This might come as a surprise, as it is very rare to come across Muslim female role-models in the media. I was first introduced to a leading Muslim woman in a dusty history book passed down to me. In this book, I read about Khadija, a prominent and hugely successful merchant of her day. She was influential in pre-Islamic Arabia which was overwhelmingly patriarchal and made a name based on her own merit; a true example of a powerful Muslim woman and what the roles they are truly meant to take. The view that all Muslim women are passive, withering wallflowers is a western social construct. It is a dangerous label to give which derives from a lack of cultural understanding and often Islamophobic views. Dealing with this label is draining and impedes our growth and ability to flourish in the workplace.

Perhaps it is about time we stop underestimating Muslim women and take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror… and ask “when is the last time you made a judgment on a woman who just so happens to be Muslim?”

Maymouna Osman works in the Education sector and blogs in her spare time 

My Mother, My Role Model

I am often asked whether I have a female British Muslim role model. My mother is a British Muslim and happens to be my role model. She’s inspired me to be a strong and motivated. I’ve also drawn a lot of strength and good values from her and I’m probably not wrong here when I say that most Muslim girls will talk about their mother this way.  But when considering whether or not I have a role model who exists in the public sphere, and in sectors of which I have always had a personal interest in i.e. politics I sadly have to say that I did not have one growing up.

This is not to say that there aren’t amazing, driven British Muslim women making their mark and having successful careers, but they simply have not been given the platform to be able to be seen as role models for young women. Many people do not seem to see this as an issue, for as long as you have a role model in the field you feel passionate about, why does it matter they do not reflect who you are? However, not seeing people that represent you, and all you stand for in the public sphere is highly damaging, especially on young developing minds. It creates the belief that people like yourself don’t belong in these institutions, therefore the barriers are too entrenched to attempt to break through. It leads young people from various ethnic minorities to consider themselves as unworthy, or incapable.

Additionally, it can lead people from ethnic minorities to change who they are, suppressing their cultural roots in order to appear more ‘palatable’, or simply more alike to their white colleagues. A young British Muslim woman may simply begin to refer to herself as a British woman, as she knows most of her role models, or people in the field she is attempting to break into, are also simply British women.

As Dr. Line Nyhagen, from Loughborough University, states that some organisations such as Parliament, the BBC, churches and mosques “have particular barriers to the inclusion of women”. With this gender-based barrier set before them, “women from minorities face triple discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and religion”. When seeking to gain statistical evidence to show that in fact, Muslim women are not represented in positions of power, it became clear that almost no data of this kind is being collected. It is hard to paint a clear picture of the situation, due to how diversity is usually examined. Ethnic diversity (rather than religion) and gender are the characteristics which tend to be reported. However, in light of the recent rise in Islamophobia, hate crime and that British Muslim women are “70% more unemployed than white women”, does the way in which data is collected need to be revisited?

The reconsideration of diversity data collection is one way of attempting to solve the issue of the absence of British Muslim women in powerful positions. Another way of combating the issue is to provide women who are currently fighting to break these barriers with a platform. Change the Script’s research into exemplary British Muslim women has led us to discover some remarkable and inspirational women. By providing these women with a nationwide platform, not only do they finally have their success acknowledged but they also become examples to young women and girls in demonstrating these barriers can, in fact, be broken, and there are role models in which they can personally see themselves in.

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.

Media representation of Muslim

Media Representation of Muslims: Why We Need Change

Simply entering the words ‘British Muslim women’ into the News Google Search will provide you with clarity on the issue of misrepresentation in the media. The search comes back with articles based on the topics of oppression, terrorism, submissiveness or simply the words of British Muslim women attempting to defend themselves against hateful rhetoric.

Fauzia Ahmad links the rise in the Islamophobic hate crime following terror attacks to the way in which the media creates a narrative of the events. She explains that the media creates a divide between the public, it becomes a battle between ‘“modern/Western” values and “traditional/Muslim” dichotomous frameworks’. In 2016/2017, 62,685 race-related hate crimes were reported (a rise in 27%) and 5,949 religious related hate crimes (a rise in 35%).

The phrases and terminology used by the media, such as attacks on “British values” and failure to integrate make Muslim women appear to be the enemy, and subsequently make them easily recognisable targets. The splaying of images of women in traditional Islamic dress across papers following attacks or on topics of terror creates a lingering link in minds of the public. The suspicion and vilification. Ahmad additionally views the terms ‘moderate’ and ‘extreme’ as problematic. To use these terms is to say that Muslims are ultimately grouped together with terrorists, they simply practice to different levels.

Aside from the representation of Muslim women in the media leading to hate crime, there is also the on-going narrative of submissiveness and oppression. Women who chose to wear religious clothing are branded as brainwashed and controlled, people cannot fathom that it is the woman’s own choice- they must have been coerced. Although sadly, some women do not have a choice, these women are the minority. Some people go as far to say that a woman cannot call herself a feminist if she calls herself a Muslim.

The focus on negative and damaging representations of British Muslim women allows their success to be ignored, ‘the successful, well-socialised Muslim woman is completely invisible’. With the accomplishments of British Muslim women being largely ignored by the media, it appears as though she is not permitted to have positive existence in British society, she remains as the ‘other’. Female Muslim narratives should not only be permitted in the media when they are speaking out against their narrow representation, they should instead be permitted to inclusion- eradicating the perception of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

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.

change the script

The Invisible Others

Growing up, I was an absolute bookworm. I still am, but over the years I’ve been faced with the realisation that the formation of my identity was through literature. Literature and film play a role in forming young minds. People from ethnic minority backgrounds are largely absent* from both, so how do young people from ethnic minorities form their identities through these mediums?

Literature

Darren Chetty’s chapter in The Good Immigrant: ‘You Can’t Say That! Stories Have to Be About White People’ explores the effects of underrepresentation of BAME characters in children’s literature. He believes that it links to something so much bigger than beauty. There is the expectation that children are “colour blind,” so therefore it has no longstanding impact on their development whether they are represented in literature. Critics of Chetty’s thoughts will state that children are simply too young to be considering ‘race’ issues and it is not something that they consider when reading.
Young children, who are not yet able to grasp the concept of racism, do not think of themselves as representative of success or power. When given the task of writing their own short stories, the descriptions of their characters were worlds away from what they are and did not necessarily culturally represent themselves. This, in turn, has an effect on the way in which BAME children feel about their own success, and even exploration, as their ‘own life does not qualify as subject material.’
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains the effect that literature had on her own work as limiting, ‘because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify.’
“When you’re young, you translate yourself through representations of people that look like you.”

Film

Reni Eddo-Lodge’s chapter in The Good Immigrant, ‘Forming blackness through a screen’ explores the issue surrounding the lack of British black people on Television. “When you’re young, you translate yourself through representations of people that look like you.” Eddo-Lodge speaks of television shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, although this was not a British show, it was the closest thing many young people viewed as BAME representation. Comedian Shazia Mirza relates, describing family excitement at Trevor McDonald appearing on the news as “he was the closest thing we had to a British Asian woman at the time.”

‘a rare acknowledgement of our existence in the U.K’

Wei Ming Kam, co-founder of ‘BAME In Publishing,’ recalls her mothers reaction to seeing a culturally representative person onscreen. It was something which she assumed to be excitement, but came to realised it was simply shocking: “I’ve noticed our long, gaping absence from the cultural landscape and come to recognise the mix of shock and curiosity at seeing a face like mine onscreen, a rare acknowledgement of our existence in the United Kingdom.”

‘Long, gaping absence from the cultural landscape’

The large absence of positive depictions of familiar faces on screen does not mean that they are not displayed entirely, however, the existing displays are usually negative. The display of black women is as loud, angry and rude. Arab and Asian women as docile and submissive, the illiterate African and the suspicious Muslim. A British actress who is of African heritage should be able to easily play the role of doctor, princess, mechanic, lawyer, and vampire. The basis of her casting should not be, “we need an African, to play an African.” A character is a character and an actress is an actress.

*This does not mean that I am blind to the recent rise of BAME writers, actresses, poets, photographers and models. By largely absent I am referring to the bigger picture, in which if you were to see all works in one space, the work from BAME creatives would be overshadowed.

< https://www.thebookseller.com/news/diversity-drive-track-call-more-bame-authors-318340 >
< https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story>

Rihana Osman is a researcher, with a postgraduate degree in Global Ethics and Human Values and

What Does It Mean To Be British?

Rhi-hana??”

“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.

Am I Beautiful Now?

“And my daughter pointed to the image of the woman with blonde straight hair and said

Mummy I want hair like her’.  

Selina Bakkar from Amaliah.com at Stylist Live: ‘Meet the Muslim Women Empowering Others’ “

The misrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the media is recognised as a widespread issue and different narratives are being published in order to counter it. Despite that narrative, a time old issue still remains; the lack of representation of ethnic minorities in the arts, culture, and fashion. When those from ethnic minorities are included they are usually misrepresented or displayed as ‘exotic,’ which feeds into the harmful trend of fetishization and alienation.

BEAUTY REPRESENTATION

“Society has prescribed one ideal of what it means to be beautiful, and this is something that is in desperate need of change”

During the Stylist Live panel on Muslim Women Influencing Others, Selina Bakkar spoke of when her young daughter pointed out an image of a white, blonde woman and expressed her wistful thoughts on looking like her. This was the moment where she realised there is a desperate need for change.

The effects of under-representation in fashion and film can be devastating on one’s self-esteem and can even lead to severe complexes. When everything you are shown as beautiful (models, actresses etc) are so far from how you appear yourself, you naturally begin to question whether you can ever be worthy of beauty. In secondary school, I absolutely hated my thick, curly hair. A majority of my closest friends were from different ethnic backgrounds too, we made daily habits of attempting to change our appearance to fit in with the societal definition of beauty, we attempted to tame our hair and wild eyebrows, and are naturally different body shapes were subject of ongoing despair.

Advertising plays a huge role in this. For example, the advertising for hair products growing up persistently projected the image that big, frizzy hair was ugly and that it should be tamed in order to be beautiful. I received my first hair straighteners as a gift when I was 13 years old. I was overcome with excitement, thinking I’d finally have something close to beautiful hair. Two hours later, in a room filled with the odour of burnt hair, I turned to look in the mirror. Of course, it was nothing like what I had wished for. I didn’t suddenly have long, smooth, shiny, straight hair.

“our features being surgically placed on others and described as beautiful is hurtful to many”

So after years of being told by society that is natural features were not synonymous with beauty, to see our features being surgically placed on others and described as beautiful is hurtful to many. Of course, people are free to do as they please, the aspect of the trend that is hurtful is that these features were never described as beautiful until they were placed on others. They are now heavily featured in fashion campaigns, and many models and influencers now possess these characteristics. They are on front pages, used in fashion campaigns, however, they are still not represented by those who possess the features naturally through their heritage.

POSITIVE ACTION vs REPRESENTATION

Now we come to considerate and deliberate over what the best way forward is. The term ‘positive discrimination’ is usually met with eye rolls or disgust. ‘If people are truly capable, they will eventually reach that position.’ Some individuals who could benefit from positive action also refuse it, stating they do not want to be a token, they should be recognised for their achievements alone. I believe that these individuals are simply not looking at the bigger picture. The bigger picture is the representation and encouraging participation. I believe they are failing to recognise the drastic impact that inclusion could have on an individual’s self-worth and the impact it would have on the changing of monotonous beauty ideals.

If you want to feature plump lips, frizzy hair, a curvy body, dark skin, thick eyebrows, braids or a hijab in campaigns, advertising or film, then simply hire women who have these traits. Trust me, there are plenty of them who are dying to be recognised for their talent. If you need an actress to play a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh- then employ the actresses who actually belong to and understand these cultures. They are being ignored, they are not tokens and they have talent.

< https://www.amaliah.com/ >

Rihana Osman is a writer 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.