By Sultanah Parvin
26 June 2018
I begin this column with a disclaimer: I
applaud all the men who make a significant and positive contribution in
carrying out their roles and responsibilities with truth, energy and
But some conversations are difficult, and I
will no doubt be mocked in some quarters for believing that it is now time for
Muslim men to move out of the way and let Muslim women take the reins.
I say this neither lightly nor with an
intentional gender bias in mind. There are far too many strong men who could
prove me wrong. However after having attended many events, panels and advisory
groups dealing with racism and discrimination against ethnic minorities, I have
noticed that our men are few on the ground, only present when a favourite
speaker, leader or imam is present.
The Windrush scandal was an opportunity for
us to stand with our black brothers and sisters, fighting for humanity against
injustice. I saw few figures from the Muslim community speak in tune with this.
We are living in a time of deeply polarised
politics, in the midst of which are the victims of a scandalous pay gap, sexual
violence, prejudice, bigotry, homophobia and the like. Women are
disproportionately affected by most forms of discrimination especially poor
women and those from black and minority communities, along with our children.
Islamophobia forms another aspect of this.
A steady but dangerous climb in Islamophobic attacks, amid the rise of the
far-right, has been seen in the UK, parts of Europe and North America. The
victims of this rise are mostly women - people like Zainab Hussein, Souad
Kirama and Marwa el-Sherbini, their visible faith a clear target for sweltering
I make the point of our visibility because
the politicking over the hijab is not new. It has long drawn a violent gaze, a
way of enabling women’s dehumanisation and keeping us invisible.
Bigotry And Racial Hatred
It is also neither new nor revolutionary to
see that Muslim men have offered little to ensure that the voices of Muslim
women can be heard. There are multi-faceted reasons; a predominantly white male
culture doesn’t really favour men of colour or Muslims.
The language of Islamophobia is deeply
subversive and cannot be separated from the experience of many people of colour
within the western context. Although we are a part of the conversation
regarding bigotry and racial hatred, this conversation has been owned by
And while Muslim women are the most
affected by anti-Muslim hatred, opportunities to say this are rarely afforded
to her. Can anything be as powerful as words coming directly from those
affected by Islamophobia or discrimination?
Muslim women, with the intersectionality of
their faith, colour and social status, have the weight to make this point
powerfully - and if ever there was a time to do so, it would be now.
As someone who does not identify as a
feminist, I’m acutely aware of the fundamental point that the conscious
awakening of Muslim feminism, reconciled with a woman’s faith, is the very
thing that may prevent the community from being drowned out. By asserting her
rights as a woman, she gains the agency to speak for herself and to unashamedly
place God at the centre. Such women are sometimes at the forefront of
confronting anti-Muslim hate.
Whether a woman is experiencing
intergenerational trauma from a war-torn homeland, suffering racial
discrimination, embracing a new faith, or becoming an immigrant, the barriers
she faces are many - yet she still achieves innumerable successes in academia,
business, art and motherhood while retaining her faith.
Muslim women also have a hand in
eradicating the embedded misogyny that has reduced their voice. Many talk about
the importance of women’s rights, while denying our rights to identify and
speak for ourselves. We must be careful not to be part of that erasure from
It is therefore crucial that Muslim women
be given platforms to speak about Islamophobia, racism, discrimination in the
workplace, sexual violence, and all manner of aggressions against her. If we
deny her this, we deny ourselves an opportunity to amplify the fight against
One may ask about the place of Muslim men
in this struggle. That is a discussion they must navigate. However, privilege
should allow those with it to stand truthfully and publicly with those who do
- Sultanah Parvin is a public speaker, anti-racist activist and educator.
She has worked extensively within the Muslim community in London over the past
20 years, speaking on issues of race, misogyny and political engagement. She is
currently involved in an online platform for Muslim women across the globe that
seeks to find safe and viable spaces where Muslim women can discuss and lead
conversations and critiques on social and political issues.