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.


On Brexit

Yesterday evening I met with a dear friend of mine over mint tea and fatayer at our favourite Syrian cafe. She is a special soul, an Italian with a big heart and a loving spirit, and our conversation inspired me to post (re-post, rather) this.

As we discussed the implications of the recent British decision to leave the European Union (*lovingly* known as Brexit) and how this affects us both as minorities, I was reminded of how disheartened and disappointed I felt on the evening of 24th June 2016, as the reality of the majority Leave vote began to sink in. And so, I had taken to Facebook to express how I felt – which is an unusual thing for me to do, believe it or not! I wanted to share it here too, in the hope of keeping my blog true to myself and true to expressing my thoughts. It is more of an emotional response, rather than a succinct political analysis, to the implications of Brexit, but politics is a highly strung game.

Whilst the EU is far from a perfect institution, the importance of Remain has never wavered in my mind. Like many of my close friends, I woke up with a sense of sick dread in my stomach today at the outcome of the EU Referendum. This has slowly developed into a solid sense of disappointment. .
I am disappointed in David Cameron, the absolute tosser of a PM who was irresponsible enough to pledge this Ref in the first place to appease the Right of his Party, and then cried crocodile tears and went off to enjoy his off-shore account. Seriously, did this nation not realise the first couple of (hundred) times him and his party screwed us over?
I am upset and angry because the outcome of this really won’t affect the likes of him or his family, but they will affect mine, and the lives of my young friends starting out, who will struggle beyond measure to obtain mortgages, and travel, and study; who have lost rights to live and work in 27 countries.
I am disappointed because honest, generous, and kind-hearted friends from Europe have today been left feeling unwanted by a Britain that so selfishly takes from their own ‘home’ countries.
I am disappointed in those who didn’t bother to vote this time, when it was so clearly important. I am disappointed on the impact that this result now has on the work that I do in the realm of human rights, and I am disheartened as to how far we have come from where we need to be. I am anxious as to what this now holds for the future of our human rights.
I am appalled that Farage has the audacity to state “without a bullet being fired” when Jo Cox would beg to differ.
I think most of all, I am beyond disappointed in my fellow Muslim community – which suddenly became blind to the racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic rhetoric of Leave and failed to see how they were shooting themselves in the foot by aligning with the likes of UKIP. Appalled isn’t a strong enough word to describe how I feel at hearing the anti-immigrant spiel many of them uttered as reason for voting Leave. I hope you realise that when you walk down the street, you are far more likely to be attacked for being an immigrant because of your visible brown skin than your Polish neighbour. And here’s a newsflash: you ARE the product of a migrant community.
I wish I could end this with the somewhat humorous line I’ve been throwing around all day of moving to Canada, but the bitter reality is that I don’t have the privilege to do that, and neither do those I care about.