‘It’s Not About the Burqa’ Book Review

“I was pissed off with Dave Cameron”

‘It’s Not About the Burqa’ is a collection of essays written by Muslim women I want everyone to read. Especially those who see the hijab and veil and instantly think “OPPRESSION!”

Mariam Khan, who collected and edited the essays, was inspired to create the book because she was “pissed off with David Cameron” – pretty relatable already, right?!

Specifically, she was (rightly) angered by Cameron’s assertion that the “traditional submissiveness of Muslim women” was one of the main reasons young men are vulnerable to radicalisation.

Yep, let’s just pause on that. Our then Prime Minister castigated a rich diversity of individual women as submissive and blamed them for the radicalisation of young men. What a disgusting illustration of the problem we have right now – at best, the othering and stereotyping of Muslim women, at worst, evidence of the deep-rooted prevalence of Islamaphobia and sexism within one of our most powerful institutions. (It’s both).

Islam = religion, Muslim = culture

What struck me while reading the essays was something that should be blatantly obvious – the difference between Islam as a religion and Muslim culture. On reflection, I too have been guilty of treating these interchangeably. I deeply thank the authors for making me realise my error.

And when considering oppression, misogyny and the good ol’ patriarchy, the distinction is absolutely key. These problems do exist within Muslim culture – just as they do within British, or Western culture – but within Islam as a religion? It seems not.

“I do not believe Islam and feminism clash, but…it’s hard for people to make the distinction between Islam as a religion and Muslim culture. We can continue to point out that they are two different things, but until men stop using religion as a tool of oppression we’re not going to get that far.”

Amna Saleem

‘The First Feminist’

I chose to read this book because I’m an intersectional feminist who wants to reduce my ignorance regarding Islam and Muslim culture. Well, what an education. Did you know…

  • Khadija bint Khuwaylid, the wife of Prophet Mohammed was the wealthiest merchant in Mecca.
  • The hijab and veil are an affirmation of faith and an act of submission to God – a symbol of a woman’s direct relationship with her Lord.
  • That “Islam gives a woman the right to choose her partner and leave him with only the reason that she doesn’t like him. Where a man needs to state his desire to divorce his wife on three separate occasions, a woman need only make the request once.”

Intersectional feminism

These essays brought home for me the absolute necessity of anyone who describes themselves as feminist to make the logical leap to intersectional feminism.

What is intersectional feminism? It’s the overlapping of multiple forms of oppression. It’s the awareness that class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability and gender do not exist separately from each other. They combine so that we experience oppression in differing ways and degrees.

As a heterosexual, able-bodied, white, cis-gendered female I think about this often. It’s part of why I picked up this book – because I need to educate myself about the multiple layers of oppression my sisters face that I do not.

My individual beef may be centered on the Default Man (white, middle-class, heterosexual men, usually middle-aged). But how the hell can I join the fight for equality if I don’t look outside my own worldview? Books like this help me do just that. Read it.

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