It’s Not About the Burqa
A collection of essays explains what it is to be Muslim - and feminist
In April, following a spate of suicide attacks, Sri Lanka banned the burqa and face veils in public, amid protests that the decision violates women's right to practise their religion freely. Similar demands have been routinely raised in other countries too. In a world where a growing body of research points to a rise in Islamophobia, It's Not About the Burqa is a timely collection of essays by Muslim women in the U.K. - poets, writers, journalists, lawyers, engineers, researchers - on a panoply of subjects ranging from clothing and sex to marriage, divorce, discrimination, immigration, mental health and representation.
In the first essay, author Mona Eltahawy speaks of how Muslim women are caught "between a rock - an Islamophobic and racist right wing that is eager to demonize Muslim men, and to that end uses our words and the ways we resist misogyny within our Muslim communities - and a hard place: our Muslim communities that are eager to defend Muslim men, and to that end try to silence us." It is a short essay calling for nothing short of a revolution. It sets the tone for the rest of the book: pleasing everyone is impossible, so upsetting the apple cart is a necessary precondition for any change.
In 'The First Feminist', Sufiya Ahmed writes about her role model, the Prophet's wife, Khadija bint Khuwaylid. Through her story, she unpacks many stereotypes surrounding Muslim women - what Islam teaches versus the many interpretations of these teachings. In fact, the dissonance between what is preached and practised is a common thread through the book. These women go against the tide - Saima Mir at 25 walks out of her second marriage, despite honour being the "strongest currency in South Asian families"; Salma El-Wardany has her first sexual experience with a white man outside marriage and speaks of the need for more conversations on sex within the community; Afshan D'souza-Lodhi writes on her love-hate relationship with the hijab. In some essays the women grapple with seeming contradictions - being Muslim and feminist, or being Muslim and queer. One particularly brilliant essay by Nafisa Bakkar examines the representation of Muslim women today and its disquieting link with capitalism.
The book provides a collection of diverse experiences and opinions, a refreshing change from the staid representation in the mainstream media of the Muslim community as a monolith. But while some essays are very good, some others, such as Afia Ahmed's and Raifa Rafiq's, pale in comparison.
The new Prime Minister of the U.K., Boris Johnson, sparked outrage last year when he suggested that women wearing the burqa looked like "letter boxes" and "bank robbers". In a world where controversial leaders are at the helm in many countries and minorities are under attack, this is an essential and engaging read.
Courtesy: THE HINDU