Sunday, 9 May 2010

...Talks About Being A Muslim Woman In 21st Century Britain.

I'm extremely proud to call myself a Muslim and I'm proud to say my faith means a lot to me. I don't wear hijjab but I don't dress immodestly either, and I've never drunk alcohol or taken any recreational drugs of any sort. I only eat halal food and I only buy meat from halal butchers.

All of these standards are personal to and tailor-made for me and stem from my Islamic faith. 

I'd like to be able to say that because I live in England in 2010 it's easier for me to embrace my Islamic faith freely & devote more time to the beauty that is to be found in the fundamentals of Islamic teachings. England provides an environment that is far more tolerant towards women than most Islamic countries, but even so, I'm saddened at the realisation that I cannot wholeheartedly say that I'm totally relaxed about my Islamic heritage & living an Islamic life. 

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to live in the patriarchal setting of, say, Saudi Arabia where women cannot drive, have fewer rights than men in family matters, and are generally treated as second class citizens. In Afghanistan it is well documented that under Taliban rule, young girls were not allowed to be educated and even now the old regime still has a terrifying grip on social attitudes towards females in the community. For the women in those countries, living a strictly Islamic life is compulsory. It is simply not negotiable.

I am a proud mum of a teenage daughter and I'm well aware that her life has been relatively carefree and as a result she has carved a gleaming educational path for herself. This simply would not have been the case in Saudi, Afghanistan or Pakistan. At the same time I've taught her the tenets of her cultural heritage and she has the same respect for Islam that I do. 

The difficulty sometimes arises when we try to fit in to British culture. It's extremely difficult for us to hear the words muttered and uttered by racist minorities pertaining to "returning home". When the England football team is playing Italy or France, we are English and proud of it. When the British General Election results in a hung parliament, we debate the pros and cons for the benefit of the country as a whole from our standpoint as British citizens. We want to fit in here. This is our home, always has been and always will be.

Upon closer inspection however I guess the truth is I don't really fit in anywhere. My parents came to this country at a very young age (my mum at 8 and my dad at 17) hoping to make a better life for themselves. They did a marvellous job of it & I'm proud to say that they've never claimed social security benefits, have always worked and contributed to the economy. My father started his first business at the tender age of 22 when there was no Business Link, no business support groups or forums and certainly no networking organisations. He had been in England for a mere 4 years. 

I and all my siblings were born here in England and were all privately educated. I speak English better than my mother tongue, although I can get by in my mother tongue. I can cook practically anything (good Muslim girl) and I run a tight ship at home (good Muslim girl - home-maker being the Muslim woman's key role), but I'm a divorced single mum (bad Muslim girl). It has to be said that a lot of the judgements in brackets (although slightly tongue in cheek) come from the Muslim communities here in England. In the eyes of the wider British community however I'm an accomplished woman. 

Therefore (and I say this with a heavy heart) for me there is an underlying sense of nomadic lack of belonging. The irony is I don't fit in when I go back to my parent's mother country either. And even more ironic is that neither do they. There is an entire community of first generation immigrants from the Indian Sub-Continent who live not just in England, but around the world, and who carry with them an innate sense of disconnection, akin almost to living in another dimension. The customs and traditions they brought with them to their host countries no longer apply "back home" because things have moved on and developed in their homelands, and the same customs do not sit comfortably with established British cultural routines. So a unique enclave is created for the immigrants and their descendants, which is gradually diluted as amalgamation into the host country deepens generationally.

That amalgamation is a good thing in my opinion, and embracing and adopting other cultures and traditions will always bring benefits, particularly when accompanied by mutual respect, understanding, tolerance and acceptance. 

I am tremendously proud to call myself a Muslim especially in 2010 when there is so much negative propaganda surrounding Islam and it's teachings. 

Islam is a beautiful faith, which teaches love, tolerance and patience. It has been corrupted in part by misguided people who seek to use the power contained in prescribed religion to create terrible hardships and to control the masses. However, ultimately a false impression of the Islamic way of life is their one true lasting creation. 

I am also very happy that my parents settled here in England because the opportunities that have been afforded to me would simply not have been available had they opted to settle in Turkey or Saudi Arabia or even America. The task at hand for me and for many other Muslim women is to accept our differences with pride and to embrace the similarities. 

It is crucial that we be grateful for this amazing opportunity where we can freely choose to live as Muslim women in a secular, tolerant and democratic country rather than having an Islamic way of life being forced upon us.

Whilst writing this, I became so absorbed I forgot to put dinner on for the kids and forgot to do the laundry (bad muslim girl).

disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are personal to the writer and do not in any way represent the views of any group, community or nation. Please do not place any reliance on the contents of this article without doing your own independent research. 


  1. Well written piece and reminds me so much of what I've seen many women of Muslim heritage experience, especially my mother.


  2. Thank you for your comment Saleem. I wrote this on the basis of my own experience as a Muslim woman, but there are many other women in our communities who share these experiences. It's a matter of educating the community so that women aren't sidelined or judged harshly if they take steps & make decisions that are unpopular.