FEATURE-Jihadi brides, dating and identity: British Muslim women speak out

by Adela Suliman | @adela_suliman | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 10 October 2017 16:11 GMT

Muslim women listen to live music during the Eid Festival in Trafalgar Square, London, Britain July 2, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

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"At a time of such extreme Islamophobia, the more literature can do to challenge this destructive narrative, the better."

By Adela Suliman

LONDON, Oct 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From a jaded TV chat show host to a Middle Eastern actress who longs to be cast as a ghostbuster, not endless jihadi brides, the stories in Sabrina Mahfouz's anthology of British Muslim women all do one thing: challenge stereotypes.

Mahfouz, a poet and playwright, brought together 22 women, with roots ranging from Pakistan to Palestine, to lift the lid on their minds and lives, which are often invisible in Britain.

"There is such a narrow perception in the UK of who a person of Muslim heritage can be, act, think or look like and I wanted to challenge that in any way that I could," London-born Mahfouz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"At a time of such extreme Islamophobia, the more literature can do to challenge this destructive narrative, the better."

More than three percent of Britain's 65 million population are Muslim, with the highest proportion living in London, government data shows.

Police said hate crimes against Muslims rose after a series of Islamist militant attacks, including an attack on London Bridge and during a music concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England.

"The Things I Would Tell You" includes poetry, essays and short stories from award-winning novelists, such as Leila Aboulela and Kamila Shamsie, alongside emerging talents and new writers.

Journalist Triska Hamid describes the frustrations young Muslim women have finding love via Islamic dating apps that allow them to swipe through photos, chat online and meet up.

The poems of Sudanese-born Asma Elbadawi, 27, who successfully lobbied the International Basketball Federation to allow players to compete in hijab, reflect on the dual identities of many immigrants in Britain.

"Our parents picked a better life for us over being with our families," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, describing how her parents moved from Khartoum to Bradford when she was just one-year-old.

While most British Muslims were born overseas, the majority identify as British, according to the Muslim Council of Britain, the country's largest umbrella Islamic organisation.

Women are the main targets of anti-Muslim prejudice, accounting for six out of ten complainants, according to Iman Atta, director of Tell MAMA, a British organisation that monitors such incidents.

In addition to enduring abuse for wearing Islamic clothing like headscarves and face veils, Muslim women often face a triple economic disadvantage, according to a 2016 parliamentary report, being female, Muslim and from an ethnic minority group.

The anthology confronts taboos, such as Shaista Aziz's hard-hitting essay on "honour" killings in Pakistan, including that of Qandeel Baloch, who was strangled by her brother in 2016 for her risqué social media posts.

More than 500 people - almost all women - die in Pakistan each year in such killings, usually carried out by members of the victim's family for bringing "shame" on the community.

"It is profoundly shocking that young women's lives can be taken with such breathtaking ease and with no justice, no redress for them," the British-Pakistani journalist and stand-up comedian told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Aziz said the book's inclusion in the ongoing Cheltenham Literature Festival in the west of England highlighted its broad popularity and that the British public are keen to hear more Muslim women's voices.

"It just shows you, this is Britain," she said.

(Reporting by Adela Suliman; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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