Archive by Category "reclaiming narratives"

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.

Social Media: To Use or Not To Use?

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, nearly all of us are using at least one of these if not all and I think it’s safe to say that the word sharing encapsulates best what these platforms do. Thinking about it, the saying “sharing is caring” comes to mind, but how much of this “sharing” has been elevating the opportunities for Muslim women and how much of it has been not “caring” in the least?

I explored how using social media has been instrumental in putting Muslim women on the map, working to challenge many preconceived notions about them and Islam. However, some of the darker realities of these open platforms became very apparent. That doesn’t mean to say the downsides have been a deterrent in every case! Especially when you look at those building careers through social media, using it as a podium for their voices to be heard. Sadly though, it seems to have a resounding impact on how and who is using them in a number of ways. The recent negative press about Amena Khan’s L’Oréal campaign highlighting her comments made on Twitter in 2014, illustrates this point exactly. Suffice it to say that due diligence probably wasn’t done thoroughly on L’Oréals part, nonetheless, it ended up with Amena taking most of the backlash from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. On the other hand, there are plenty of those who are going very far with the use of social media and taking full advantage of its benefits. Look at Dina Tokio, Nabila Bee, Zukreat, Huda Kattan, Habiba Da Silva, Nadia Hussain and those are just to name a few.

In order to make the most of these platforms, Muslim women have to create the fine balance between deflecting the negative and actively participating.

We all have a multitude of opinions and social media allows for these to be heard. Working on the campaign Change the Script has given me the scope to understand why some Muslim women are often reluctant to use it nowadays. For most, it’s about the current icy climate blustering in the direction of Muslims. How can you blame them? When you put yourself on these platforms, it’s a given that you will be thrown some kind of abuse no matter who you are. Putting it simply, people can be very mean. The thing is not everyone you come across in life will like you, and I think that’s just the point. That concept spreads through social media like wildfire. It’s even more apparent because of needing to have that “like” button pressed to attract adequate amounts of attention to in order to establish your online presence. Because of this, we spend a lot of time singling ourselves out. When you consider the current state of affairs in the UK, singling yourself out isn’t just an exercise you practice on your own. It is placed upon you. That is because the media seems to think that being Muslim comes hand in hand with being an irate extremist owning nonsensical beliefs. We know that is far from the case, and demonstrating that through social media is quite possibly the best way to tackle that absurd narrative.

In order to create the balance mentioned before, here’s what I have come up with lately – the three steps you ought to take is to accept, deflect and utilise.

Accepting the negative sides of social media isn’t about condoning the unwarranted attention you might get, instead, it gets you further by showcasing your identity just as any non-Muslim would. This is especially the case when you take into consideration that it will challenge the very stereotypes which attracted that negativity in the first place. Deflecting the negativity won’t make it go away, granted, but being exposed to it when using social media shouldn’t be a reason to stop you. It’s a tool you can use to show how determined you are! Lastly, utilising the hell out of it is important whether it’s to endorse and build your career or simply as a means to live as human being in the 21st century. Oh, and all of this acts to serve as a platform to challenge the narrative the world has placed on Muslim women, which is most certainly not our own.

Amira Hasan is the Resident Writer for Change the Script. She has a passion for writing, style and design. In her spare time, she writes short pieces and blogs on lifestyle.

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.

Karl Magnuson

Three Awesome Muslim Women From History

Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, Fatima al-Fihiri, Razia Sultan. These are three extraordinary Muslim women, amidst many, in history whose stories are more than just exemplary; they are awe-inspiring and most importantly empowering. All three played pivotal roles in their communities as a warrior, educator, and ruler. These roles of monumental power that Muslim women held centuries before us should be used as examples to encourage a continuance of empowerment today.

A Brave woman

Advocacy of women’s rights isn’t anything new in Islam, in fact, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab is said to be one of the first to note to have done so, being one of only two women to have pledged her allegiance to Allah and his messenger in the religions early years.  Her most notable role was her defence of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at the Battle of Uhud. When he was left vulnerable by archers uphill leaving their post in a moment of false victory, she was the first to his defence from the Quraysh acting as a shield, utilising bow and arrow to protect him. She was wounded 13 times in the process. This bravery wasn’t just demonstrated on the battlefield but in her questioning the Prophet about why only men were mentioned in the Qur’an. It was because of this that Ayat 35 of Surah Al’Ahzab was later revealed, where women are first mentioned in the Qur’an.

A pioneer

Education and academia being of significant importance make it striking to note that the worlds oldest operating University was opened by a Muslim woman in 859 AD. AlQarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco is recognised in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ as the oldest institution in the world that operates as a university which grants degrees. The library itself holds a 9th century Qur’an still in its original binding. The woman behind it? Fatima Al-Fihri, a Tunisian who migrated to Fes. After the death of her Father, Fatima used the money that she inherited to establish what was first a Mosque and later became a university. It was one of the first in the Islamic world. The subjects available were diverse, ranging from mathematics to music, encouraging people from all over to study there. It remains today as one of the most respected universities in Morocco, where both women and men can study.

A strong leader

A Mamluk Ruler in the 13th century, the first and last that Delhi saw of that kind; a Muslim female. Her name was Razia Sultan. She is one of the few females in all of Islamic civilisation to have held magnanimous a role as this. Ordinarily, the females were referred to as Sultanas, meaning wife or mistress of the Sultan, but she refused to be known as either. During her reign from 1236 to 1240 she broke away from conservative Muslim tradition by adopting male attire and not wearing a veil, having coins minted in her name as “Pillar of women, Queen of the times, Sultan Razia, daughter of Shamsuddin Altumish.” Even though she broke religious traditions she remained not only respected but also her faith did not falter; establishing schools and public libraries that taught the works of the Qur’an. Despite not having a female ruler since the time of the Mamluk dynasty, her example demonstrates how the role of a woman in Islamic society is contrary to peoples perceptions today.

Growing up, I wasn’t taught about the role of women in Islam from a historic stance. At 24 years old the ability to learn about the religion has not only played into my love for history, but it’s also allowed me to rediscover Islam on a personal level as well as understanding the roles I have as a woman. The past makes the present, and with examples like these, there is hope to inspire Muslim women to challenge current societies and break stereotypical perceptions.

Amira Hasan is the Resident Writer for Change the Script. She has a passion for writing, style and design. In her spare time, she writes short pieces and blogs on lifestyle.

Why Aren’t There More Muslim Women in Design?

Scanning an office floor of a popular furniture company in London it was clear that first, it’s dominated by men and second, most of the females there were not of an ethnic let alone Muslim background. I am both those things, a Muslim woman of British Asian nationality, attempting to break into the design industry. It leaves me wondering about why there is such a lack of familiarity.

The office floor in question was for a job interview I had, which I didn’t get. I’m stuck in this position of how to get my foot in the door of the industry that so much of my enthusiasm lies. Looking into why this is the case has led me to identify that it isn’t always about the experience I have, but the whole package I have to offer as a person. In every environment I have worked in within this industry, I have always been the only one of “my kind.” In my previous job, a well known British paint company, I was lucky to have had colleagues who were actively interested in understanding multiple cultures. This was likely down to a large international customer base, but it gave me the opportunity to educate my colleagues about my background.

Having that platform,where even though their inquisitiveness had the potential to make me feel uncomfortable, taught me that it is ok providing I am not being singled out. The main challenge I have found working in the design industry is having to question myself as a person because of my identity: will I be taken seriously? Will clients know I actually work here? What do I do to fit in and progress? Questioning who I am and where I stand has in fact cemented my beliefs and taught me that getting where I want does not mean conforming, instead using it to my advantage to empower my individuality. Ultimately, it is about accepting who I am, allowing that very difference to ground me and using it as the tool to further myself in my career. It sets me apart from my colleagues in a positive way by driving me to prove my capabilities and strengths.

Just as the late Zaha Hadid paved the way, a shining torch as it were for women and Muslim women alike, I will strive to work towards one being able to walk into an office, scan and find familiarity by advocating that there needs to be equality for not only gender but also religion. When questioned in an interview with Interview magazine on the role of women in Islam, Hadid states “many women don’t have the encouragement and support they need to [advance in their careers].” That support manifests itself on multiple levels: from family, friends or the workplaces themselves. In my opinion, without the support from this industry itself, there will be a continuance of little to no women let alone Muslim women making it through the gaps.

Amira Hasan is the Resident Writer for Change the Script. She has a passion for writing, style and design. In her spare time, she writes short pieces and blogs on lifestyle.

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.