THE MANY VOICES OF MUSLIM WOMEN
BY DEEYAH KAHN
If the mainstream media has shaped your understanding of women of Muslim heritage, you may believe our lives are spent dealing with endless honor killings, acid attacks, suicide bombings, forced marriages, FGM, hijab issues and the ever-growing risk of radicalization. Indeed and sadly, these are all part of our experiences and need to be discussed openly without fear.
These topics affect us all, yet the public debates about these issues are frequently taking place without our input: conservative men claim to speak on behalf of our communities and bigots are eager to use the hardships we face to further their own divisive agenda. Even when Muslim women are represented, there is a tokenism expressed through presenting either victimized or devout women as the most ‘authentic voices’ of women of Muslim heritage. Portrayals of our lives seem to revel in depictions of women as victims of oppression and violence – or as potential jihadi brides. These sensationalist and dehumanizing accounts often betray the deeper reality of women at the heart of these tragedies.
We are failing to provide a multidimensional representation of women, when so many are also dealing with conflicted identities.
They confront intergenerational clashes and are subjected to the general corrosive atmosphere against Muslims. Yet, we remain endlessly spoken for, and spoken about. It’s time we speak for ourselves.
This frustration led me to create the digital magazine sister-hood and upcoming series of live events to challenge these stereotypes and reflect the infinite diversity of our voices. I wanted to create a platform that confronts the reality of misogyny and violence, but which also celebrates the spirit of resistance, creativity and courage amongst women of Muslim heritage.
Although my films and activism often uncover violence, oppression and the darker side of our lives, I have always been inspired by women’s efforts to bring change from within. If we only tell the story of oppression, then we are telling an incomplete one made of despair. Even in the darkest tragedies, there are women standing up to challenge injustice, providing hope for a better future. These contributions are often ignored even though women are directly affected by the most significant social problems.
On the ground, now as always, women are challenging hatred, violence and fear across the entire Muslim world despite facing severe, sometimes deadly consequences. We need to hear what they have to say.
They may know how to address some of the greatest challenges of our age.
So far, the mainstream media has had little time for the women who have been on the front lines of progressive change. They are trouble-makers and peace-makers, activists and artists, rebels and revolutionaries, who have been defending peace, justice, freedom of expression, gender equality and human rights for decades.
Often we only hear about them once they become victims – imprisoned by repressive states or assassinated by religious zealots. But we need to include them and acknowledge their contributions while we can.
My heroes are not just these loud and fearless activists who work at the political level, but also those unnoticed women and girls who resist oppression and discrimination in their personal lives every day, within their homes, families and communities. These are all women who, in their own ways, whether publicly or privately, are refusing to be defined by anyone else.
With sister-hood, I am inviting all women and girls of Muslim heritage, regardless of age, ethnicity or sexuality to share their truths. Devout Muslims, cultural Muslims, former Muslims and agnostics are all welcome to contribute; all sects and denominations are welcome too. Whatever their differences, they can speak to their common experiences of growing up in Muslim families and communities, and the experiences of what it is to be considered Muslim in the world today.
These voices, united, can rise above the clamor of those who seek to drown us out – and create a new, peaceful direction for our world.
Deeyah Khan filming during the production of her documentary film Jihad. Photo credit © Fuuse
This article was written for sister-hood.com and is reproduced with their permission.