What does it mean to be a Muslim woman?

Today I was interviewed for a Radio 4 documentary that will most probably come out in a way that doesn’t reflect my full feelings. It is being made by Sayeeda Warsi whose politics and complicity in structural violence as a Conservative party member, former Cabinet minister and House of Lords peer, I ardently oppose. She asked me questions about myself and my views and I responded in the hopes of disrupting the larger documentary which is inevitably made for a Radio 4 voyeur to satiate a national appetite for consuming the Other.

One of the questions I was asked to mull over is what it means to be a Muslim woman. Since the identity is so desacrilised and as a label has almost nothing to do with being a person who submits to Allah so much as it has to do with being talked about by others – and since the recent news cycle remains exhausting and I have turned down commissions to write about why it’s dehumanising to be discussed in deeply racist, Islamophobic and objectifying misogynistic language… I just had a few sentences of thoughts to share:

What does it mean to be a Muslim woman?

To be a Muslim woman is to remain always an object.
An object of fascination,
object of desire,
object of ridicule,
but always an object.

To be a Muslim woman is to be constantly subjected to a gaze.
To be asked questions like what it means to be you.
To always be represented, or representative, but never real.
–  even to ‘correct’ ‘misrepresentation’, we are reduced to other representations.
To be a Muslim woman is to be picture but never painter, to be surreal, uncanny, not-quite.

To be a Muslim woman is to never speak for oneself,
to never exist for oneself but for everyone else:
to be a political pawn, a justification for invasion, a weapon to strike against Islam.
To be a Muslim woman is to be rhetorically sympathised with as long as your grievances don’t expose the violence of state and society.

To be a Muslim woman is to always be already framed
– to know that even when you speak you are not heard unless it fits the narrative.
To be a Muslim woman is to be asked for comment only on being a Muslim woman.
To be a Muslim woman is to exist only to justify your existence,
to be already known and be of no interest to be known at all.

To be a Muslim woman is to be an outsider to yourself.
To be a conversation, a joke, a jibe.
To be made excruciatingly small and impossibly big at once,
to be swallowed and vomited out at the same time,
consumed and rejected.

To be a Muslim woman is to be always fought over but never fought for.

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