This month’s Book Tip is brought to you by Tara Tobler, Senior Editor at And Other Stories.
I met Sabeena on a panel at the Birmingham Literature Festival in 2018. It was a centenary-of-women’s-suffrage thing, loosely themed around Kamila Shamsie’s provocation to make that year the Year of Publishing Women (which, ICYMI, we did). This anthology was then in the development and crowdfunding stages. Now it’s here, and its contributors and patrons – including, I should mention, our friends over at Tilted Axis – can be proud of what they collectively made possible.
Cut from the Same Cloth? brings together twenty-one essays and reflections by hijabis who, while united by love for Allah and the choice to cover their hair, couldn’t be more different. The essays cover a vast range of subjects too, from parenting to global politics to the (gendered) Islamophobias of street and state, and each has its strengths. Standouts for me include Khadija Elshayyal on how Covid-19 changed her family’s experience of Ramadhan; Fatima Ahdash, on her experience as a lawyer-made-translator in the human rights sector; Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s beautiful refusal to engage with reductive questioning, instead choosing a deliberately enigmatic way of being both as protest and as an act of self-salvation; and Sumaya Kassim, on the journey towards writing from a place of truth uncontaminated by white expectation (‘When we write, it needs to be a kind of falling,’ she says. ‘A kind of dislocating, something akin to the fear when falling in love, rather than the fear of an abuser’s displeasure.’) I’d also be remiss to not mention Sophie Williams, whose piece on navigating PTSD and postnatal depression under Prevent I somehow managed to read in the middle of the night while I was up feeding and freaking out about my own newborn. It was white-night inducing (um, Sophie, if you’re reading this, thanks for that, ahem), but also manages to be a gloriously eccentric piece of writing, and when I’m not shivering from the rest I still chuckle at the opening paragraph of her description of a school visit (‘I’m wearing pink, because I think it’s a nice, non-extremisty colour to wear.’)
It would be easy to go on. There are several thoughtful provocations from Black Muslimahs, who lovingly but firmly refute the assertion that there is no racism in Islam. There are harrowing depictions of enduring racist abuse on the streets of England in front of one’s children. There is pointed and on-point analysis of the ways in which the image of hijabis has been abused by UK media and politicians. There are passionate elucidations of new theoretical spaces. And, collectively, there is a breaking-open-of-room for the complexities and differences of Muslimah identities, which here join together in a shared quest to create a place in which agency and breadth of spiritual experience is celebrated. Highly recommend!