As we come to a close for January, Haleema Akhtar provides a short summary of the key events surrounding Muslims over the last month. From the L’Oreal controversy regarding Amena Khan, to the banning of the hijab in our primary schools, we discuss how 2018 has begun for Muslims.
2018 has marked a pretty crazy start to the year for Muslims. We’ve dealt with landmark ‘firsts’ for Muslim women in Amena Khan fronting a L’Oreal campaign and then being dropped into the deep end, schools banning hijab, then reversing their decision and Sara Khan heading up the Commission for Countering Extremism – which has raised serious questions and interesting debates within both the Muslim and wider community.
Amena Khan, L’Oreal, progress, normalising the experiences of Muslim women – this has all been hailed as ‘revolutionary’. A hijab wearing woman being involved in a mainstream ad, feeding capitalism and all round smashing it. Whilst it can be questioned as to whether this is really presenting Muslim women as being ‘liberated’, it definitely had the satisfying impact of annoying a racist or two. However, the ability for members within society to scroll through her tweets and to present her in a bad light caused Amena to retract her position and step down from her highly coveted role, which shows how certain narratives in society are more favourable than others.
Perhaps it’s a hard pill to swallow because it becomes clear that when it comes to women of colour expressing their opinions, we see how they are often brutally demonised and as a result, this stunts their ability to progress further in a society that is driven by divides. Maybe it’s the realisation that we live in a world were women are viewed as playthings who are silent and can voice no real opinion? Maybe it’s hard because this appointment was clearly tokenistic, publicised and then removed. L’Oreal got what they needed – publicity and a few brownie points for progress.
For Muslim women and women of colour however, it serves as a clear warning – ‘stay in your lane.’
This month has also seen a return of the debate over allowing young girls to wear hijab at school. Linking back to a debate in November over Ofsted’s decision to question young girl’s over their decision to wear a hijab, this month saw to the controversy arise at a school in East London which felt that it was appropriate to ban the hijab. Many Islamophobes have praised this move by making reference to the argument that the hijab sexualises women. Perhaps we must take a look at our own internal discourse when discussing Muslim women – the diamond/ lollipop analogies are incredibly problematic. We must remember that information we put out on the internet is not just viewed by Muslims, but also non-Muslims.
‘Perhaps we must take a look at our own internal discourse when discussing Muslim women.’
If these are the narratives we use to talk about women, or to talk about hijab, then how can we expect other people to understand our faith and our reasonings when we ourselves fail to understand our faith and reasoning? Nowhere in any Islamic scripture does it say that women are lollipops who must be covered to avoid getting ‘dirty’ or ‘corrupted’. Maybe this should be a point of reflection for us – perhaps we need to better versed and aware of our discussions regarding sensitive issues, especially those that are constantly scrutinised.
The month has been rounded up with the election of Sara Khan as the new Anti-Extremism Chief. Whilst some have praised this, it can be argued that this has not been seen to be a clever move, as Sara Khan has previously faced criticism from the Muslim community, and is seen to be a largely problematic figure by many Muslims. Various reports have suggested that the anti-extremism policy must be reformed and many Muslims believe that this should occur with consultations taking place with grassroots organisations to accommodate and ensure that Muslims are worked with to make sure extremism can be eradicated.
‘When you have a woman who has actively undermined and attempted to limit the free choices of other women being elected to a position of authority, don’t tell me it’s a win for feminism.’
Above all though, my annoyance has been with a small section of people who are claiming that this appointment is a win for feminism and anyone criticising it is misogynistic.
When you have a woman, who has actively undermined and attempted to limit the free choices of other women, being elected to a position of authority, don’t tell me it’s a win for feminism. We don’t need a feminism which belittles the choices of women, we need a feminism which is entirely inclusive and able to navigate differences of opinion. It isn’t misogynistic to suggest that Sara Khan is the wrong choice for this role, it’s completely unrelated to her gender and completely related to her credentials and reputation.
2018 has started off as a crazy month for Muslims – let’s hope we experience better times ahead for Muslim communities across the globe!
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Haleema Akhtar is an undergraduate student at SOAS who is interested in social issues facing minorities and wants to work to create a fairer world in which minorities are not scapegoated or vilified.