On September 9, Labor MP Zarah Sultana rose in Westminster Hall during a debate on Islamophobia. “When young Muslim girls ask me what it is, I would like to say that there is nothing to worry about, that they would face the same challenges as their non-Muslim friends and colleagues,” said the representative of Coventry South. “But, Madam President, the truth is, I cannot say that. ”
Sultana then read accounts of abuse she had received throughout her career as an MP, including telling her that she was a “danger to humanity” and “the scum of the earth”. In a courageous and moving speech, she made it clear that the lives of Muslim women – even those who work in the highest office in the country – continue to be marked by Islamophobia and racism.
Throughout history, Muslim women have been locked into stereotypes. If they are not gentle and oppressed, they are terrorists – threats to society. They are ridiculed and abused by online trolls, by employers and even by their own Prime Minister.
In the media, the story is pretty much the same. Even relatively progressive newspapers like the Guardian and the New York Times can create a sense of otherness in their coverage of Muslim women, as Faiswal Kasirye, a Ph.D. researcher at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, found in a study of the two journals this year. And speakers Catherine Bullock and Gul J. Jafri found that this “us” versus “them” narrative also played out in the Canadian media.
However, once the power is in the hands of Muslim women, everything changes. Social media has provided a platform for people to represent themselves on their own terms. Political leaders Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy, and newly appointed Vogue Scandinavian editor Rawdah Mohamed – to name a few – actively fights stereotypes and makes his voice heard. And their work has been made possible by other women throughout history who have led complex, courageous and adventurous lives. From great literaries such as Nazik al-Mala’ikah – one of the most influential contemporary Iraqi poets – to legendary revolutionary Jamilah Buhrayd to Huda Sha’arawi, founder of the women’s movement in Egypt. Mainstream commentary may have drowned out the great stories of these women, but take a closer look and you’ll uncover a rich history of resistance.
Fortunately, there are plenty of books you can turn to if you want to learn more about the lives of Muslim women. In the hope of moving the discourse away from stereotypes, these books provide a nuanced window into Muslim communities and experiences. Here are eight to get you started.