On Muslim women and political engagement

February of this year marked 100 years since White, Middle Class, property-owning women won the vote in the UK. The Suffrage movement is a significant part of our national history, whether we like it or not.

I say this because I don’t particularly like the Suffrage movement. I roll my eyes at it, and the subsequent trope on social media. However, I recognise that it did get the ball rolling for many women in this country. I can argue that my Muslim identity means that I come from a religion which determined I had democratic rights from the moment I was born. That argument is whole and valid, and something I am immensely proud of. But a large part of my identity is also made up of the fact that I am a British citizen. This means I recognise how far this country has had come to give me my rights as a citizen. This also means I recognise the significance of politics on my everyday life.

Since September 11, and indeed, the more recent, harrowing contexts of 7/7 bombings, London Bridge, Manchester Arena, I feel, along with many other Muslims, that I am a walking, talking stereotype. Assumptions about my beliefs are constantly being made, from assuming I am from Pakistan, that I am oppressed, that my headscarf means I have a link with ISIS, or any other political conflict in the Middle East for that matter.

Religion and politics have become inextricably linked in so many ways, and has begun to shape policy which affects us all, and the future generations of Muslims. It is important now, more than ever, for Muslims to use whichever platform is available to challenge the narrative which has shaped our faith for us.

When I first began to study Politics at A-Level, I was asked to introduce myself and share why I chose this subject. My answer was very simple: politics is in play in every aspect of our lives, and I want to understand it. There were many who scoffed at my choice of subject; politics is all illusion, they said. Yes, maybe so, but does it not affect you all the same when budget cuts mean a change to your benefits? Are you not affected all the same, outraged even, by changes to your child’s education? This reasoning carries through to this day, amplified through the politicisation of my religion.

As women, we often face backlash by male peers who are affronted by our engagement or  vocality around politics. Unfortunately, this is all the more the case for those of us who are in misogynistic family units, attempting to quieten us down into ‘seen. not heard’ women. We must remind ourselves of our worth. Moreover, we must remind ourselves that we need to strengthen our arguments and our positions, as we are visible targets of microaggressions and growing Islamophobia every day (this Islamophobia in itself being a manifestation of right wing politics).

Aristotle said “man is by nature a political animal”. I am inclined to agree, with the extension: ‘so is woman’. When we understand that politics is understanding the structures of power all around us, we may begin to better understand how we fit in.Even for those who have made an informed decision to stay away from organised politics (I am of course referencing the incredible Lowkey here), are still vocal about politics. They still hold valid, informed, and well-reasoned opinions. They are still engaged.

When we look back at our Islamic history, we can see that the Seerah is rich with examples of the Prophet pbuh engaging in political life. Take the example of the Treaty of Hudaibiyyah, for one. His pbuh ruling of Makkah and Madina came about through his diplomacy and strategy. The Muslim Ummah was able to flourish and expand all the way to Europe through engagement with governance. This essential part of our history should be used as a strong example for us to be engaged citizens, rather than used as a defense mechanism or an argument for politics being out of our reach.

Emmeline Pankhurst may not have represented us, and she may never do. But we are part of a society which means we can engage on our level, regarding issues which matter to us. In whichever shape or form is accessible to us, we should stand up and not allow our civic power to be taken away.

Patriarchy in floral print

I wrote another piece for Slaney Street on why the £22 price tag wasn’t the only thing wrong with the Poppy headscarf which hit us by storm in November 2014. Whilst Slaney Street is no more, you can still have a read of my rambling below.


It is a dangerous double edged sword when a public campaign is both sexist and anti-Islamic.”

In the spirit of all things ‘British’, Muslim women are currently being urged to don a headscarf printed with the red poppies now synonymous with Remembrance Day. Despite apparent support from Islamic Society of Britain, the concept of asking Muslim women to wear the Remembrance Day symbol around their heads as a Hijab (Head covering worn by Muslim women) is fundamentally flawed.

If we are to accept -and we do, as this was the driving force behind the campaign- that this hijab will allow Muslim women to accurately represent British values, then perhaps we ought to examine the notion of British values. David Cameron PM, as well as his cabinet ministers have driven home the rhetoric that being British means to understand, accept, and implement the fundamental values of democracy, equality, respect and tolerance. How then, does dictating what a woman should wear in order to appear British, represent tolerance and equality? How then, are we allowing the perpetuation of a patriarchal status quo wherein society dictates how a woman must dress?

No. Islam is about a woman opting to (many do, and many don’t) dress modestly; opting to cover her hair. Many Muslim women believe the inherent feminism to the concept of Hijab is instrumental to their identity. Their religion and their femininity are intertwined, and they represent it through their Hijab. To then allow an increasingly embarrassing culture of Muslim Apologism – from the #NotInMyName media storm to shortening the name Muhammed to ‘Mo’ – to override a component of Islamic faith, in turn overrides the British value of mutual respect and tolerance of every religion. It is simply not tolerable to expect Muslim women to become inadvertent brand ambassadors for fallen soldiers through their dress. Not only does it undermine their right to dress as they please, it undermines their intellect. The Remembrance Day rhetoric cannot be enforced; many Muslim women (myself included) make informed decisions to adopt an anti-war stance. To presume that a Muslim woman is not educated enough to make up her own mind about wearing a Red Poppy again contradicts the British values we are so dearly promoting.

Personally, I interpret pushing Muslim women to wear the Poppy hijab for fallen Muslim soldiers as a redundant and patriarchal concept; an excuse to allow the rise of creeping Islamophobia and existent sexism to further seep into popular Muslim culture. See for example, the use of the Prevent campaign in targeting figures of popular Muslim culture like comedian Humza Arshad to endorse and advice against strong expressions of Muslim identity. Why are we allowing a government agenda to order how we express our feminine Muslim identity? It seems to be reflective of a wider post 9/11 strategy to mould Islam into something which is comforting to the British government and public. It is patriarchal in allowing a fundamentally feminine expression of identity to be manipulated into what is deemed acceptable by societal norms.

For many Muslim women, their hijab is a practical expression of equality. It is their right to freely practice their religion, with the expectation that this expression will welcome nothing but respect and tolerance. Liberation through Hijab is inextricably linked with the liberty of choice. Commanding that choice erodes the principles of an egalitarian society which we are supposedly champions of in Britain. To implicitly declare to Muslim women that it is through wearing a Remembrance Poppy printed Hijab that their expression of faith will be accepted in British society, is both inconsistent to the values of tolerance and equality between genders.

The Hijab has, for too long, been a topic of discussion in the Western media. From the rise in Hijab fashion culture to feminist groups such as FEMEN protesting against women who choose to cover, the debate continues to this day. It may not come as a total surprise; women are immediately recognisable as followers of the Islamic faith through Hijab. However, to interpret this as an issue which needs resolving somehow, is problematic. It feeds into a wider conversation about the White Saviour complex, and the need to whitewash every practice the Western world deems alien.

Increasingly, we are hearing of said Muslim women being openly attacked and subject to violent abuse. Is encouraging these women to modify their choice of expression not feeding into a culture of blaming the victim instead of punishing the perpetrator? Why do we not address the issues of misrepresentation and lack of education, instead of allowing a culture of bigotry and intolerance to continue to breed by changing Islamic practice to fit into a narrow-minded mould? To say that we are moulding it towards a British Islam is contradictory; a truly British Islam would accept both the Muslim female choice to wear Hijab and not to wear a Remembrance Poppy on those infamous grounds of respect, equality and tolerance.

To blatantly target Muslim women who wear Hijab is not only Islamophobic, it is outright offensive in its motivation to mould women – how is that okay?