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Jan/Feb: The Things I Would.. > Thoughts on The Things I Would Tell You.

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message 1: by Lujain, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Lujain Mahmoud (lujain_mahmoud) | 6 comments Mod
Hi! I’m Lujain, a Sudanese/Muslim woman currently residing in Ireland. I moved to Ireland last year to study Gender Studies. I recently joined Our Shared Shelf as a Moderator and I’m looking forward to all the enriching and mind-opening discussions we will have. Having experienced being a Muslim woman living in a western society, I was able to relate to many of the pieces in “The Things I Would Tell You”.

Chimene Suleyman piece “US” was able to capture unjustifiable islamophobia in a short story of only four pages! It left me in tears, because it’s something that I have experienced, maybe not in the same intensity but it still left its mark on me. She brilliantly captured the ‘us and them’ dichotomy, and how this dichotomy only works to widen and exaggerate the differences instead of finding a common ground, or what Ahdaf Soueif calls ‘Mezzaterra’. The ‘us and them’ dichotomy creates those who belong in space and others who are invading it, and ofcourse ‘our’ space needs to be protected from ‘them’ invaders. That’s where Islamophobia, racism and other types of prejudice are created.

The ideology of Muslims being “guilty until proven innocent” puts so much pressure and limitations on women living in western societies. And I say Muslim women because I believe women might encounter Islamophobic acts more than men, specially women who choose to wear Hijab because they become ‘visibly Muslim’. These encounters create limitations for women and adds another layer of discrimination and oppression against them.

For me, being visibly Muslim makes me feel responsible of proving that not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Muslim women are oppressed, and that my Hijab isn’t a sign of oppression but rather empowerment for me.

This is highly due to the misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims that Ahdaf Soueif talks about in her strong piece “Mezzaterra”. She talks about the identification of Islam as the enemy in the western media, and the identification of Muslims as passive people who need to be saved from themselves. These identifications play a huge role in creating a public prejudice against Muslim people in western societies. While reading Mezzaterra I remembered a great talk by Chimamanda Ngozi titled “The danger of the single story” which talks about how it’s dangerous to have a single story created by the media, and how people should claim back their narratives.

On the other hand Triska Hamid highlighted a very important issue in “Islamic Tinder”, which is how men feel intimidated by women who are more educated or occupy higher jobs than them. But i found her categorization of Muslim men as “losers who want their mums to find them a wife, or idiots who spend their time sleeping with white women before marrying someone from the village in the mother country” to be an unfair generalization and a description that would work on recreating negative stereotypes about Muslim men, these stereotypes automatically translate into stereotypes about Muslim women and their oppression. For me the issue of men being intimidated by strong women is a global problem and not only related to Muslim men.

Overall I really appreciated the diversity of the book and the different topics it tackled beautifully.

Which piece resonated with you the most? And what thoughts do you have about it?

message 2: by Jo, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Jo (jo_9) | 373 comments Mod
Hi Lujain,
Thanks for the intro, it's great to have you on the team :)
I wanted to wait until I had completed 'The Things I Would Tell You' before responding. I found the whole book really eye opening, not all of the written pieces were to my taste in terms of style, but a lot of what was written has really stayed with me.

The story you mention "Us" made me feel ashamed. As a white woman, I know that this sort of behaviour goes on (though have never actually witnessed it myself) and it makes me feel totally ashamed and embarrassed about how uneducated people can be about the Muslim community.

I think the media have a big part to play in the spreading of racism over the world, even some of our major newspapers spread hate and lies everyday (of course they try and do it in a subtle way), but it plants the seed in people's minds.

As far as the written pieces in The Things I Would Tell You, I enjoyed reading 'Mezzaterra'. Of course I can't claim that any 'resonated' with me because I have not faced these experiences. But I still enjoyed several pieces for how well they were written.

message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 04, 2019 01:27AM) (new)

Hi OSS Mods ;)

I'm happy that "The Things I Would Tell You" raised voices around a subject that I feel concern about as a french citizen interested in living in wealth harmony for a long time.

This subject is a recurrent question asked on TV, here in France, many cases of "wearing a hijab, etc" have been shown and then discussed by our deputies. I believed, actually for a long time, that the UK was some kind of a successful model of Muslim integration, but I recently discovered that I may be wrong...

I shared a question, I would have love Team OSS Leader to ask Sabrina Mahfouz in order to open a different view of Muslim integration around western countries, because I believe that inter-sectionalism in Muslim integration and in other society subjects like Feminism, is, in my opinion a controversial way to give power to people and make things move on.

It will definitely provoke unexpected events, that the society will reject due to the fact they are coming from "Anger" and may lead to violence. For exemple, wearing a Hijab, is not really something considered mandatory for a Muslim woman in the Koran, whereas it's actually a sign of radicalism because it's related to the conviction of influent politically involved people in eastern countries willing to reintroducing the application of Sharia, which is a strict application of Koran's laws. As it's really something western countries doesn't want due to the fact they are, for all of them, actually, in Europe, laicized countries that held a Roman Catholic history and a certain pride around the fact they succeed to provide their population an environment in which people and especially women feel free to wear mini dresses for exemple. Some young women generation may easily believe, today, that women's right is something normal, and is something that is due to them, which I agree on. But, for a long time and until recently, women were beaten by their husband, and the law was in favor of the husband, until recently women couldn't vote. So that's why, again, in my opinion, wearing a hijab is considered a regression by the majority of the western countries's population, not because of the hijab itself, but because of the history of women's right.

I believe, one more time, that the facts related in the different stories you evoked : "Us", I actually loved to read and for to only quote one, is a good exemple, of the consequences of an intersectionalistic approach of Muslim integration.

In an other hand, you can expect behaviors from people that doesn't want to be considered terrorist and "Bad Muslim" people such as yours, which is highly honorable and appreciated but also favorise communitarinism, because you easily develop affinities with people that looks like you, instead you feel rejected by the others, and it's all about the second point of being integrated in an environnement or a country, which is to adopt first the language, to know enough of the history, and to learn about the culture. Regarding to human rights, you can't force someone to be like every other, unless to be a dictatorship.

For to answer Lujain's second question my favorite piece, the one that teared off my guts was "The Insider", from Leila Abuleila, who raises the point of living the Western Way of life for a woman, according to the "laws", being a Muslim women. That story of an Algerian women, having violence problems and the Arab brother coming at the "husband" or at the one who dishonored her sister for to kill him is a recurrent fact in Algeria, but also in France, for what I'm sure about and also, I believe, in other western countries.

Of course, we can't say, it's always the case, their is always violence such as we lived through the characters, but that's a matter of facts that, statistically, in Algeria, it happens way more than any other "Eastern" countries.

Anyhow, I believe of course that it's due to the principles of Islam, which is a young Religion regarding for example, the Assyro Chaldeans, which is one of the oldest on the planet.

Muslim women are supposed to be virgin, like in every other religion, but for some reason's their are considered impure and rejected as a "Prostitute". The laws of islam, somehow allows the husband and the community to kill the girl if she behave such as a "prostitute", and we can see that regularly in Pakistan, or in India, but the international laws doesn't allow that. So for some reasons their is a problem between the way the Koran is diffused to the population, the way it's taught to the disciples, and the way the faithful lives their religion in western countries or in Eastern westernized countries. I call that the dissociative personality disorder of well behave in the westernized society and being Muslim.

Some may believe, I'm actually departing from the subject , but Algeria have been under an occidental influence during several years that may have provoke or initiate such a disorder.

Being ashamed inside of the community for such a behavior is definitely still a subject of actuality and is at the origin of a lot of deviant behaviors and of course we also have to consider, the parameters of education which are also a determinant factor for to avoid them.

Well I actually depart a little from the story which was poignant and leaved me toneless and on the verge of crying...

I hope, you will be able to rebound on what I said, and share your thoughts too, or your solutions, or everything that comes to your mind !!


message 4: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lujain! I feel especially drawn to the problem of visibility—it's a double-edged sword, isn't it? The point you make about women who choose to wear the hijab is so significant, and I can't imagine the pressure experienced by women who feel as though they must "represent" an entire group of people as a result of that choice. I think this is a place where we can build coalitions between oppressed groups, as I suspect this pro/con visibility issue is something experienced by others as well. I suggest this not to divert attention from issues faced by Muslim women, but to spark empathy and find connections.

I'm a big fan of the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk you mentioned, it's something that has stuck with me for years and I think of it often.

message 5: by Charlene (new)

Charlene Morris | 89 comments What resources would you recommend for learning more about Islam so that we can help prevent Islamophobia?

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Their are many ressources in the french literacy, I confess easily for example, that I don't know about american or English or any other... I definitely won't recommend you Tarik Ramadan, you may have heard of!

I saw you have read a lot of books, that's amazing ;)

Well i also have to say that may be the Swedish model of integration can be studied, I've heard they have good results...


Every contribution is highly appreciated, that's a subject i'm thinking about for a long time, so if you have any idea about tell, should i say, us.


message 7: by K. (new)

K. L. (khaola) | 7 comments Honestly, I am a French muslim hijab women. I understand your beliefs but they are for the major part of it based on wrong certitudes. Wearing a hijab is one of the best things I've ever done, but here in France there is too much people who are convinced that hijab is submission and blablabla, which is wrong. It is submission when women are forced to wear it like in Iran, but what if it's my choice? Now I feel that French people wants a unique form of freedom, but I'm sorry to tell you that freedom is not a unique model. Freedom = diversity, because each person will make a different choice .
Being a hijabi in France is very hard in terms of respect and rights. I cannot have a true social life if I want to wear my hijab, because well I have to take it off when I go to school or to work.

It's very true indeed that some muslim societies are perverse and they do not respect women as they should, but it has nothing to do with choosing to wear hijab.

Moreover muslim women are not supposed to be virgin, I don't know where you saw that but that is wrong too. Freedom is nit to wear mini dresses, but to wear what we want and what we feel comfortable with.

The thing is that here in France you have the idea that hijab = submission. Because you heard about Iran and Saudi Arabia but let me tell you that there is not only 2 muslim countries in the world. And do you know that Tunisians respect parity more than here in France ? In their government, you'll find 50% of the congress who are women. And some of them are wearing a hijab.

Secondly, in islam nobody have the right to kill anybody. Killing one person is considered as killing the whole humanity.

ps : Maybe they said a lot of things about Tarik Ramadan, BUT none proved that he did anything until today, and even if he did, his books still are very interesting and very realistic in terms of what most of the muslim community think. It is for a good reason that he is a teacher at Oxford University

message 8: by K. (new)

K. L. (khaola) | 7 comments And you know, I feel it essential to tell you that because of islamophobia and harassment by one of my teachers, I even though about suicide... But my reason to fight for my rights stopped me

message 9: by K. (new)

K. L. (khaola) | 7 comments ( I am speaking to Charles-Henri)

message 10: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 11, 2019 03:47AM) (new)

Hey Khaola,

I understand your anger, but I'm not responsible for that, you're considered submissive etc. As I already said, women in France had to fight for their independence, and believe me there is a lot of history and people involved in that history.

That independence had to fit with the exiting democracy.

The fact you're choosing to wear it as a young girl, "angry" in some way because you feel the fact that Islamism is not accepted as it should be is also understandable. It's a society subject held in every western countries, does women have the right to wear a hijab, according to the fact they are not forced to wear it. And that's also why I spoke about the Swedish model of integration who as better results than in other counties.

I also thought by mistake that England were more tolerant than in other countries, but somehow I had to revise my point of view.

You also have to understand that you may be a perfect exemple of inter-sectionalism in the Muslim women fight for their independence. The second point held in that subject is, how in western countries, which are commonly Catholics countries, we fit with the Historic separation of the religion and the state. In France it's the 1905's Law which allow every one to wear a garment without being considered for its religion. That law has also to fit with laity in public institutions. School for example is a public place, were you can't were a distinctive sign of a religious appartenance. Hijab is definitely not a Christian garment, and is definitely something you wear as a Muslim for to respect the Koranic laws, otherwise you can tell it's a mode artefact whereas you will insult Karl Lagarfeld for example... that doesn't mean it doesn't make you desirable.

You took that exemple of Saudi Arabia, were it's admitted that the state is an Islamic state, but not a terrorist affiliated state, so the laws like in a lot of Islamic countries are related to that religion. I can also take, for exemple, Morocco, and recommend you a good book about both the subject of wearing a hijab and being virgin before mariage in an eastern country : "Sexe et Mensonges" - Leila Slimani ("Sex and Lies" - Leila Slimani, for our fellow English readers). Well, in Saudi Arabia, girls wear Hijab, in the street and at work, but when they arrive home, they take it off, for to be the prettiest for their husband. In France you have to take it off in public space, so for many reasons I believe this is just a provocation, of our precedent deciders who may felt useless and didn't know what to say to be useful, for not to quote "Najat Belkacem" whereas the subject is real... because what if you choose to wear it... So you understand that this subject is held at l'assemblée nationale, etc etc.... deputies have to treat that subject regarding the existing laws and also the fact that the majority of the people in the country will accept it. Indeed, Muslim, in France are 6 % of the population, whereas Christians are 65%. So they wont "convert themselves to Islamism" to please 6% of the population, and draw a line over all the feminism history in the country...

You choose the exemple of Tunisia, where there is also an emancipation history. You know that before now, their was a dictator called Colonel Ben-Ali, which is not the case now. So there are a lot of questions held by the Tunisian parlement, for to promote democracy and laity and gender equality in the country. You know also that some people are for a strict application of the Koranic laws, who actually, not for to be provocative but because it's true, wear Hijab in order to be in agreement with there convictions. But OK, I accord you the doubt benefice 😉

For the last point, I agree with you, because of the "Déclaration des droits de l'Homme (et de la femme)", but that's a matter of fact it sometimes happen, that some countries regulated their laws according to the UN directives, and are acting for to prevent theses kills to happen, but as you took that example of Saudi Arabia, some countries have laws that allow husband to kill their wives and theses countries are not always ready to discuss the secular and legitimate right they have as a tradition in their countries.

Ps: I'm surprised that you defend Tarik Ramadan, whom is not considered a Cambridge teacher anymore for the moment... However, it's a matter of fact that he had good "Ghostwriters" for to wrote books, that where actually good.

message 11: by Mai (new)

Mai | 3 comments Hi, I'm a Hijabi living in Germany. I still haven't read the whole book but a lot of it resonated strongly with me. Mezzaterra is my favorite piece so far.

I find the point of the "us and them" dichotomy that Lujain mentioned is one of the roots of the Muslim integration problem. In my five years of living in Germany, I've felt again and again that I'm othered and the fact that I wear hijab is a sign of me refusing to integrate, despite that I have expanded my boundaries considerably in an attempt to bridge the gap with very little success. I think that for some Europeans the gap needs to be smaller from their side. The burden of integration falls on muslims and, in my opinion, integration is a two way street. Integration, for me, isn't just me having to assimilate to German culture because I wouldn't be able to really pin point what "German culture" really is. Europe attracts people from all over the world which should redefine or broaden their culture, and it is becoming a Mezzaterra of sorts. I find it baffling to be accused of refusing to adhere to a culture which I cannot identify even if I tried, not for the lack of culture but for the various cultures that are already interlinked, which is one first things I appreciated when I first came to Germany.

For Charles-Henri, whether hijab is mandatory or not is actually an ongoing debate within the Muslim community and the more prevalent conclusion is that it is mandatory. So, it shouldn't be taken as a sign of an overly strict Islamic view. In Egypt, where I'm from, I wouldn't be able to judge how strict a woman's Islamic views are simply by whether or not she's wearing hijab and I find the same mentality applies to Muslims in Germany. Also, honor killings have no Islamic basis and I doubt that they are legal in Pakistan or India, I imagine that the problem is a cultural one, just like in Egypt some people still perform FGM even though it is illegal and also has no basis in Islam. I definitely think that all three countries should have stricter application of law when it comes to these crimes, as people still seem to be getting away with them. There are, of course, problems that relate to certain cultures but that doesn't mean they are islamic or that all other islamic countries or communities agree with what one country or another did. I understand that you're just trying to explain how some Europeans may view Muslims, I have had these discussions in person so I believe you, but the problem still stands that these are basically caricatures that the media propagates and not actually the reality for many Muslims.

Muslim representation in media have gotten better in books and TV shows if someone is willing to look. I personally love the show "The Bold Type" and it has a Muslim character that really shows how different Muslim women can be from the expectations that are placed on them, whether western or islamic. I would really recommend it, as the show also discusses various issues that women face.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Thx Mai, I will check 😉

One more time in my opinion, there is a difference between the subject and living it from the inside! So thx you, feel welcome to talk to me in private also, I would love to know more !!

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I like up what you said, beyond the political use, some stories are really good !! I loved Battle Face for example, you could make a good movie with it !

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes it's full of meaning, the context is awesome, Irak plus CIA smthg (the so called minister) could also be turn ministery of magic...

I mean you can imagine a lot of things just with these 5 - 10 intense minutes of reading... An analyst having a conversation with a doctor, which is a woman... There are not so many women that are doctor and doctor of medicine in Irak...

You can imagine, she become a spy , and then a nobel price of the peace or smthg, happy ending etc

Actually, you can make a movie with almost every play, The Insider is also a good story, you may cry with, and feel a lot of emotions...

The vision of the 'Algerian pride' is very well transcripted in that story

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