(Picture: Mariam Khan Book/Amazon)‘I hate Islam,’ revealed 19-year-old Muslim student Mariam Khan to a Quran teacher at her local Mosque. After confiding in the elderly ‘aunty’ figure – a middle-aged Pakistani woman who spoke little English, a young Mariam gave her an A-Z list of things she didn’t like.
‘Oh, that’s not Islam, that’s culture,’ replied the teacher. And in that quick interaction – one where Mariam felt heard – she realised a lot of her grievances were aimed at the cultural impositions and not inherently the religion of Islam.
And yet when it comes to representations of Muslim women, it’s these cultural aspects of it that the media focuses on.
‘That was one of the most empowering things to happen to me,’ Mariam tells Metro.co.uk. ‘If someone hadn’t made that distinction I don’t know where I’d be because culture suffocates women.
‘Culture is so intertwined with religion, it’s hard to pull them apart.’
The impositions of culture, the empowerment in religion, plus a myriad of other topics like sex, sexuality, mental health, sexism are all topics Mariam and 16 other writers explore in a new book It’s Not About the Burqa.
Literature graduate Mariam Khan was tired of the way Muslim women were being depicted (Picture: Mariam Khan)Whenever any issue arises in the news regarding Muslims, the limelight is usually on men.
When it comes to discussing Muslim women’s issues, Muslim women are still left out of the conversation – especially when looking at Muslim women’s clothing. It seems everyone has an opinion about the burqa.
In an attempt to take back the narrative and show that there are many sides to Muslim women and not the traditional submissive damsels in distress without agency that the media portrays, Mariam decided to call upon other Muslim women from various walks of life to recount their experiences.
Having been inspired by Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant, Mariam decided she was tired of waiting to hear these voices reflect her and her communities.
‘I was tired of waiting for someone else to show Muslim women in a diverse way true to who we actually are and what our identity is,’ she explains. ‘I was tired of this single narrative that was constantly perpetuated around us.’
The compilation explores how mental health is brushed under the carpet, queerness, losing one’s virginity, divorce, racism in the workplace, and of course gender.
One essay looks at representation and how it’s not used to foster meaningful change but rather show how ‘woke’ brands are without real engagement with Muslim women, another about being the only Muslim woman in a far-right rally, and another in an Australian oil rig dominated by men.
‘One thing I wanted to do from the offset is to provide a diverse representation of Muslim women as is possible,’ continues Mariam.
‘It’s a collection of essays from many different Muslims to hound in on the point that a Muslim woman can be more than a hijabi or woman in a burqa or niqab.
‘There’s nothing wrong with those things, there are so many iterations of a Muslim woman in society. And I have to keep asking why there’s only that one side of a Muslim woman that’s being shown.’
Despite offering a plethora of voices, Mariam still worried about not doing justice to the rich diversity of Muslim women.
‘I worried the most about not being diverse enough, as there are only 17 perspectives. But you can never capture everyone, what you can intend to do is capture a wider representation of a minority to cause a fairer representation instead of having a single story of a group who share one value.
‘I still wanted to go beyond the brown Muslim experience.
‘When it comes to representation we need to question the meaningfulness of it now. Someone just showing us a Muslim woman without offering her a platform for her opinion raises a question about meaningful representation, it’s just at face value.
‘If we’re never allowed to talk, no progress, all we’re going to essentially be used as is figureheads for a capitalistic world.’
Another recurring theme is Muslim men’s attitudes to Muslim women, but Mariam has little concern about the way they consume the essays.
‘When I was writing this, I didn’t just want to interrogate the outside world (i.e media) but also the community. In regards to Muslim men’s reaction, I wasn’t apprehensive about being called out for “airing our dirty laundry”, they can have whatever reaction they want (as long as they read the book).
‘Men are always looking at what women are doing that make them look bad but hardly the inverse. If men really want to have a conversation, they should, I’m not out here to explain things to them.’
With the same unapologeticness, the other writers go about to dissect, question, and demonstrate the way the world is set up for Muslim women; it’s refreshing and badass.
It’s Not About The Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality, and Race is out now.
MORE: Muslim women explain why it’s so hard for them to find a partner
MORE: Feminism needs to cater to Muslim women, not the other way around
MORE: Islamophobia has crept into the Conservative party and trickled down to its voters