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.