Type “Muslim women” into Google Images and the most common photographs show a woman wearing a niqab staring out into the distance or straight into the camera. Some may see such images as a reaffirmation of their view that Muslim women are an orientalised “other”; that they are passive, homogeneous, and silent. However, I see a complete erasure of the identity of Muslim women, their work and their roles.
…. These women have achieved great things in the public eye in the teeth of stereotyping and disadvantage; stereotyping that led the former prime minister David Cameron to claim that Muslim women needed to learn English, despite the fact that so many are such active members of the societies in which they live, whether their English is a first or third language, broken or fluent. Many Muslim women are the backbones of their communities. [493 comments]
[TOP RATED COMMENT 508 votes] It should go without saying that many Muslim women are inspirational, hardworking, compassionate etc. It’s such a broad, generalised statement that it’s impossible to really disagree with it.
The debate around ‘visibly’ Muslim women is more specific and nuanced than your piece allows for. By wearing the headscarf, Muslim women legitimise and embody the fetishisation of female ‘modesty’ that’s responsible for untold repression and suffering in Muslim societies across the globe.
It’s the same impulse that results in ‘honour’ killings, most recently of Samia Shahid and Qandeel Baloch, plus thousands of other less high-profile cases. These women were deemed ‘immodest’. Women in the west who wear headscarves are perpetuating this ‘modest / immodest’ dichotomy, by being ostentatiously ‘modest’.
In a time when Western societies are moving rapidly in the direction of social liberalism (note Obama’s recent stand on bathrooms for trans people, or Cameron’s legalisation of gay marriage), how do we integrate the baked-in social conservatism of Islam? To what extent should we tolerate – or embrace – intolerance?
Headscarves are just a visible emblem, a shorthand, for this much deeper incompatibility.
[2ND 323] Inspirational muslim women – any mention of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Mona Eltahawy, or indeed any female critic of Islam – thought not.
The problem with this article and so many like it is the steadfast refusal to portray negative perceptions of an inward looking ideology in a balanced way – the strategy of trying to invoke shame in the reader is an epic fail, I’m afraid.
[3RD 226] “However, I see a complete erasure of the identity of Muslim women, their work and their roles.”
And whose fault is that? It’s not British society that erases you from you – we’d be delighted to see you without the burqa or the hijab. Is it not the fault of the patriarchal religion that forces you to cover up?
“This climate of heightened prejudice and Islamophobia has at times made me fear for my safety, consider my ability to succeed, and even question if I am welcome in the country of my birth.”
And again, no mention of WHY there are heightened tensions between muslims and westerners right now?
I live in Bradford. I see muslim women all day, every day. And I like it. I love that we live in such a diverse multicultural society. I think it enriches us all, to be exposed to different ideas, different fashions, different cuisines ( the curries in Bradford are the best I’ve ever found )
But there’s a real elephant in the room – and that’s Islam itself, particularly radical Islam. If you want to understand why there are barriers to integration, to you being made to feel more welcome, then that’s where you should look.
[4TH 224] I’m not really sure what evidence there is that a multicultural society enriches us, food aside. I’m really struggling with what ideas within the Islamic culture really strengthen outlet society – there may be some but I’m struggling to find them.
[5TH 224] Why are you self-defined as a “Muslim” woman and not a “British” woman or an “English” woman or just “a woman”? Possible that you’re defining yourself into a narrow space in thought and also in deed? As long as “Muslim” is your primary identifier, please consider that you’re going to be seen primarily in that way — and not as an integrated member of society.
[6TH 212] Phobias are based on irrational thought. If you rationally deduce that an ideology is harmful, its neither narrow minded or racist.
[7TH 207] Some interesting examples given here and yes they are powerful Muslim women. Although Malia Bouattia is not the best example given her fame/notoriety seems to come mainly from blocking a move to condemn a terrorist organisation.
But let’s be honest they are not massively representative of Muslim women in general in Britain. Many are still second class citizens in there own families – look at the northern heartlands and you will see that this is the case.
[8TH 93] The most inspirational Muslin woman I know is no other than my own wife . Who against provocation and abuse from some members of her own faith , decided to marry the man that she loved, a white Christian man and not what her own society and upbringing dictated who she should marry – someone of her own faith and culture!
Even now she is called names that are totally unrepeatable by some followers of her own doctrine – nearly always male, just for having the good sense to follow her heart.
She has endured that with her head held high, still follows her faith in a secular way and still smiles and has never let that abuse bother her for one minute.
She will always be my inspiration.
[9TH 184] Warsi and Bouattia? You are kidding right?
[10TH 178] “David Cameron to claim that Muslim women needed to learn English,”
Except that’s not what he said, and you know it. He pointed out that there was a small minority of Muslim women- he estimated 38,000 or less than 3% of the total population of Muslim women- who speak no English at all.
Does the author object to these women learning English- or would she prefer that they continue to live in Britain but are unable to communicate in any way with the vast majority of the population?
[11TH 168] “This climate of heightened prejudice and Islamophobia has at times made me fear for my safety.”
I’m sorry, but this “Heightened Islamophobia” business is really starting to anger me.
As I mentioned yesterday, for 20 years Anjem Chaudary went about slagging off the UK, calling for shariah law here, implicitly supporting terrorist groups which want to destroy British society and inspiring people to murder British citizens – and at no time in that 20 years did anyone go and kick the shit out of him.
On the other hand, if I went to an Islamic state and made one – just one – public criticism of Mohammed, my life would be forfeit – even in this country my life may be forfeit. I think you need to exercise a little perspective when running down the UK, accusing those who live here of intolerance.
How many Muslims have been brutally murdered in the UK in recent times, on the grounds of their faith? I can think of one – an Ahmadi man named Asad Shah, murdered, of course, by another Muslim, who used Islam as justification for his actions. [Guardian Cif] Read more