2015 saw, amongst many other debacles, Cathy Newman claiming she was ushered out of a Mosque in South London. In response, I wrote a short piece for friends over at Slaney Street. Slaney Street was a great little independent newspaper set up in Birmingham which has sadly now been disbanded. Happily (one hopes), you can still have a read below.
Mainstream media is never shy of a story riddled with anti-Muslim sentiment. The latest story to have seemingly taken us by storm is the Cathy Newman Mosque Fiasco. Capitalised letters are used in a sense of irony here, for the Fiasco soon revealed it to be little but a screen of smoke. Media outlets blew up following Channel 4 reporter’s inflammatory tweet claiming she had been ushered out of South London Islamic Centre Mosque, despite being ‘respectfully dressed’ with her hair covered. The national media reaction which followed wasn’t at all surprising by current standards. However, the red lines underscoring her experience is the tip of an iceberg, but this is not the only problem.
Social media has since exploded with reactionary outrage; after it emerged that Cathy Newman did not tell the whole story. The reality of her experience resulted in having to deal with a rather shame-faced public apology, as CCTV footage has revealed that in fact, she was not ushered out as she claimed. Whilst many Muslims now feel they can breathe a sigh of relief, and Cathy Newman is left shame-faced for her brazen lies about how she was treated, this is reflective of wider issues concerning Muslim women that need to be addressed.
It was Newman’s initial tweet which paved the way for wider conversations addressing the treatment of Muslim women in Mosque communities. Yet this in itself is problematic. Muslim women, much like every other marginalised community, face struggles, both from the outside and from within. What supposedly happened with Cathy Newman has served to open the dialogue of Muslim women, once again. What kind of barbaric religion pushes women out of their own places of worship? (Not mine.) And whilst Newman’s apology has gone a little way to change the mainstream perception of Muslim women in Mosques, the conversation has been opened up about the reality of treatment Muslim women face in many Masaajid.
It’s an unfortunate and no doubt uncomfortable reality: many mosques simply do not allow Muslim women their due rights when it comes to upholding their entitlement.
Across the pond, the opening of the female only masjid in LA earlier this year paints a painfully stark picture of the reality Muslim women within their community. Constant deprivation from participating in the Muslim civic community leaves us questioning why we are subjected to sub-standard treatment when Islam came to eradicate the subjugation of women. Rather than focus on the intricacies of rights and wrongs surrounding a female-only mosque, this undeniable reality of the treatment of women needs to be challenged and changed. But my point is this must come from Muslim women. It is coming from Muslim women, and this needs acknowledgement. Cathy Newman does not speak for us, no matter how unfortunately the undertones of her experience may ring true.
It needs to be said, and remains to be recognised that Muslim women are the champions of their own cause. As a Muslim woman, it is frustrating to witness yet another issue hijacked by the White Feminist movement. It is reflective of a heinously unfair set up when the achievements of Muslim women in overcoming their relative struggles seemingly only gain validation once ‘experienced’ by a White woman who affords privileges Muslim women never will. Muslim women have been given their rights (which believe it or not, includes being able to freely pray in a Mosque) and they are entitled to uphold them. Cathy Newman doesn’t need to be the one to point this out. That she has, and the wide reception it received, accurately reflects the depressing reality of White privilege. White Liberal Feminism does not deserve its privilege of being able to frame the narrative of Muslim women and their struggles.
Another example is World Hijab Day. Whilst celebrating the beautiful display of faith adorned by countless Muslim women globally is nothing to be scorned at, the celebration should come from within. It borders discriminatory when experiences of non-Muslim (mainly White) women “trying a Hijab for a day” is what grabs the limelight. We cannot lay claim to celebrating Muslim women when their every experience is only deemed worthy through the experimental dabbling of White women, seeking to explore, and by extension, validate. This constant confirmation of the Muslim Woman Experience is patronising, and subtracts from the agency of Muslim women in their own right.
The hierarchy which perpetuates the standard which paints Muslim women as inept is precarious. Despite attempting to liberate them from a religion which apparently envelopes Muslim women in a shroud of ineptitude, by claiming that you best represent their struggles is self-indulgent at best, and denigrating at worst. Cathy Newman, thank you for attempting to experience the Muslim woman struggle, but we are doing just fine by ourselves.