I knew that this book was going to challenge me. And I wasn’t disappointed. When I picked up ‘It’s Not About the Burqa’, a book of essays from Muslim women about being Muslim women, I knew that I was probably going to get pulled in different directions. But that’s okay. Conflict – i.e. non-violent conflict – gets us thinking, even if we’d rather not. It’s how we expand our world view, although that doesn’t have to mean that we agree with everything we see.
Mariam Khan, a writer living in the UK, decided that too much was being said about Muslim women, and not enough of it was from actual Muslim women. So she got a collection of Muslim women’s stories, and put them together. It’s not a comprehensive collection, of course, because no book would ever get completed, if that were the criteria. The women are a mixture of educated, qualified, and professional women – or all three of those things. No, that doesn’t give an absolute cross-section of Muslim women, but they still represent a cross-section of beliefs, opinions, and behaviours.
No discourse about Muslim women would be complete without banging on about hijabs and burqas, of course. After reading this book, I still don’t like them. On the surface, it’s none of my business what Muslim women choose to wear. We all feel too free to comment on what women wear, and how they behave, because women have always been in the firing line on that. However, it does pain me to see women glorify a garment, or garments, long steeped in oppression, as a personal choice to show their faith and submission to God, if voluntarily wearing it for religious reasons. From what I understand, there are no directives in the Quran about women who follow Islam having to wear hijabs or burqas, so who really decided on what women should wear to show faith and submission – God, or men? And would the same clothing be worn if God’s pronouns were Her and She?
Some of the women who wrote the essays in this book wear hijabs and/or burqas, and some don’t. They all have strong opinions about life as a Muslim woman, which is what the essays were collated for. Some of the essays were centred around being a coloured Muslim woman, and the extra prejudices they encountered from that. Apparently, I am now in the dog box as a ‘white feminist’, which is the new bad thing to add to the list of bad things I am. I was a bit puzzled by that one, I must confess, although I do acknowledge that coloured women in Western countries face more disadvantages than white women.
There are women in this book who are on fire with their activism against misogyny and cultural oppression. I learned that Islam is a religion which, at its core, is good for women, but patriarchal interpretation of the Quran, and enforcement of misogynistic Muslim culture, isn’t. There is a suggestion in one essay that there is need of a woman’s interpretation of the Quran. I think that would be profoundly enlightening.
I didn’t like the direction some of the essays took, and I very much liked others. Either way, it was a good read – but not always an easy read. It helped me to change my mind on some things, but not on other things, and left me mulling over the rest. If you get the chance to read it, do so. It’s well edited and insightful – whether you’ll find that insight enjoyable, or not.
Header pic by: mentatdgt (https://www.pexels.com/@mentatdgt-330508)