First of its kind collection of essays by British Muslims on the hijab is on its way

Cut from the Same Cloth is an anthology intending to redirect the conversation on what it means to wear the hijab in Britain

Photographer: Wasi Daniju

by Maan Jalal

Culture 18 March 2018

Cut from the Same Cloth is an anthology of essays by hijab wearing British Muslim women, spear-headed by Sabeena Akhtar.  The project came about after Akhtar – who is a blogger, researcher, writer and avid reader of inclusive literature – tweeted her frustrations one day at the lack of representation of British Muslim women in the arts. Her tweets were spotted by Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher that provides opportunities for people to get exposure and funding for their books. Unbound got in touch with Akhtar and asked her to curate an anthology.

Cut from the Same Cloth will feature essays from 15 middle and working-class women of different, ages, races and experiences with nuanced insights into the issues that Muslim women who wear the hijab face. Hijab wearing Muslim women are taking the lead on this narrative, and it’s about time that an opportunity exists for them to do so.

In the west and beyond, the hijab has been synonymous with the Middle Eastern and Muslim woman. The hijab, veil, head scarf – whatever you chose to call it – has had a problematic history and faces an even more challenging present. We could point the finger at many things but it comes down to the lens that the world has viewed the hijab through in the past and the frame in which it currently exists. From eroticizing the orient to the reason for its oppression, why the Middle East must be liberated why Muslim women are submissive – how strange that a simple piece of cloth can be so sensational.

One of the main reasons the world’s perception of the hijab has been skewed, is that the women who wear it haven’t been given the platform to speak. Men in the Middle East the West, and non-Muslims have been the ones driving the conversations around the hijab for years in the media. This has made representations of the hijab and the women who wear it, whether in films, television, literature and the media, narrow, flat and unrealistic.

Our identities are often whittled down to harmful depictions of a homogenous, oppressed brown woman or as harbourers of terrorists, Sabeena Akhtar

The fact that a book like Cut from The Same Cloth doesn’t already exist, is a great indicator of the lack of diverse representation in the publishing industry as well as in other sectors of society. In fact, it’s mindboggling.

“As a Muslim woman and a person of colour, I rarely saw images of myself in the books that I read growing up,” says Akhtar. “For me, having a collection of hijab wearing Muslim women on bookshelves would be a huge achievement in and of itself. Our identities are often whittled down to harmful depictions of a homogenous, oppressed brown woman or as harbourers of terrorists. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Muslim women are amongst one of the most diverse demographics, there is no singular narrative.”

Cut from the Same Cloth is a step in the right direction and will shed light on how women who wear the hijab are being treated in the United Kingdom post Brexit.

“I don’t always feel safe on London’s streets anymore. I have been spat at, called a fucking terrorist bitch whilst out with my kids,’ says Akhtar. “I was called a Paki terrorist and threatened with physical violence outside a heaving Kings Cross station and have been repeatedly told to ‘go home’. I was once made to open my bag on the tube to prove I didn’t have a bomb in it. The list goes on. There is much that is brilliant and unrivalled in London, but Islamophobia, particularly post Brexit, has changed my relationship with this city.”

It’s difficult to give an accurate figure of how many Muslim women in the United Kingdom wear a hijab for varying reasons. But there is no denying that Muslim women who wear the hijab form a substantial portion of the current British population. It’s common to see women who wear the hijab living their lives, integrated in cities across the United Kingdom And for this reason, it’s imperative that they are reflected in more books and other forms of representation.

Writing can foster greater understanding between people,” says Sumaya Kassim a writer who will be contributing an essay to Cut from The Same Cloth, “The collection is unique because it provides a platform for voices that are so often marginalized in the UK, who face prejudice from both inside and outside our communities. I believe (the collection) will provide an alternative to mainstream narratives moving beyond simplistic ones. Most importantly, it will make clear that we are not voiceless. We have a voice, we have been here all along – the responsibility is on you to listen.”

The responsibility is also there for us to support and enable projects and books like Cut from the Same Cloth to come into existence. Anyone reading this has the opportunity to pledge at Unbound to get their copy of Cut from the Same Cloth. So far, the project on Unbound is 59 percent funded and has 471 backers. This is your chance to back a project that will help to break stereotypes on British Muslim women who wear the Hijab. For more information on Cut from the Same Cloth and to pledge click here.

Maán Jalal is a writer, writing stuff while reading other stuff other writers wrote. Novelist. Journalist. Bibliophile. Gryffindor. His patronus is a hawk. Leete Latobarita Uruth Ariaroth Bal Netoreel.

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