It's Not About The Burqa: Mariam Khan talks faith, feminism and sexuality

It's Not About The Burqa: Mariam Khan talks faith, feminism and sexuality

It's Not About The Burqa: Mariam Khan talks faith, feminism and sexuality
Culture & Entertainment
It's Not All About The Burqa. (screenshot)


The new book It’s Not All About the Burqa is a collection of pieces by Muslim women discussing faith, feminism and sexuality to show the world that they are not “traditionally submissive”. Editor Mariam Khan tells My Salaam why this is important and long overdue.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, I am from Birmingham, and both my parents are ethnically Pakistani. I graduated in English and started off working mainly within the arts before entering publishing. As well as writing, my full-time work is in education.

How would you sum up the book?

I would say this is a book that allows a group of Muslim women to speak for themselves. The book covers topics like sexuality, race and divorce. The book allows the wider public to better understand what Muslim women are really like rather than just how they have been represented in the media.

What inspired you to put this book together?

I was frustrated that Muslim women were not in charge of their own narrative and that someone else, usually not a Muslim woman, was always speaking for us and thereby dictating how we were represented.

I understand a certain British PM may have also had a role in this?

Yes, one of the moments that really triggered things and made me want do something was when former British Prime Minister David Cameron linked the radicalisation of Muslims to the “traditional submissiveness” of Muslim women.

Mariam Khan_Author

Mariam Khan editor of It's Not All About The Burqa


There is a chapter in the book that you have written as well; could you tell us a little about it?

Yes, my chapter is called “Feminism Needs to Die”. That might sound like a contradiction, given this is a book written by women, but it is actually a criticism of popular and mainstream feminism as defined by the West in the main. After initially discovering feminism, I soon realised mainstream feminism is co-opted by white feminism, centering the narrative of white, straight, middle-class, abled-bodied women. Mainstream feminism, which I see as white feminism, doesn’t recognise my needs as a Muslim woman nor of those from other diverse backgrounds. For example, the idea that as a feminist I should be free to choose what I want to wear becomes problematic if I want to wear a hijab or a nikab, because that means I am oppressed and restricted in the eyes of the mainstream feminist position.

Why did you decide to do this as an anthology?

I didn’t want to make this book about one Muslim woman’s experience but [those of] as many Muslim women as I could fit into this anthology. However, even this anthology cannot represent a body as diverse and broad as that.

Why do you think it has been so successful?

There is clearly a need for Muslim women to represent themselves. Other than the singular narrative of oppression without context or terrorism, Muslim women are rarely able to discuss their identity further. I think people are realising how much more there is to Muslim women, how interesting we are, and that’s why they are reading. I feel the book is actually overdue, and I wish it had been written years ago, when I was growing up.

What's it like being a visibly Muslim author in the publishing world?

It is certainly interesting, as there are not many of us, and rarely do we get represented in this way. But being one of the few voices from our community also means there is the expectation that you will see things from everyone’s perspective, which is impossible, of course, and so often we get criticized [for] what isn’t in the book rather than what is. One book can’t do everything, and I wish people understood that.

Will there be a sequel? What advice do you have for aspiring Muslim authors?

I don’t know yet. I do feel there are so many more topics that need covering and so many great voices out there that should be heard. I am working on other projects, but I just want to talk about this book and these voices for now. I am glad this has got people talking; now we just need to keep that conversation going.

As for aspiring Muslim authors, I would say the biggest challenge we face is not allowing our insecurities and fears get the better of us. Try to write the best you can and try to get an agent. I know that is hard, but they are always looking out for different authors.

(Writing by Tharik Hussain; editing by Seban Scaria

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