There are as many ways of being an American Muslim woman as there are American Muslim women, and the contributors to the recently-published I Speak For Myself: American Women on Being Muslim will prove anyone who tells you differently (hello, popular media?) wrong. Edited by Maria M. Ebrahimji and Zahra T. Suratwala, I Speak For Myself, which we're happy to be selling at BitchMart, is an anthology that showcases the voices of 40 American Muslim women who are all under the age of 40, all of whom were born and raised in the US. Through personal stories that portray a vast array of identities, practices, beliefs, and values, this anthology illustrates and celebrates the fact that American Muslim women are, as put in the introduction, "neither the same as non-Muslim American women nor one another."
The narratives in this anthology vary greatly in subject matter. Sarah Pashtoon Azad recalls a particularly difficult day in her life as an obstetrician in "What a Day", Fatemeh Fakhraie writes about her fear of losing her parents in "Roots", Nyla Hashmi shares the ways that she was led towards fashion design in "Ready to Wear", and Arshiya Saiyed recalls how her decision to protest a graduation prayer during her senior year of high school led to a media frenzy and KKK protest. While no two stories in this anthology are alike, the common threads that weave themselves throughout the collection are striking.
Several of I Speak For Myself's contributors touch on struggling with a belief that is held by many individuals and communities, both Muslim and non-Muslim: that feminism and Islam are somehow not compatible. Several writers use their pieces to prove, among other things, that feminism and Islam can and do go hand-in-hand. In "The Muslim Feminist", Hebah Ahmed writes about discovering feminism within Islam despite growing up with a her Muslim father who had contrary thoughts on women's roles. She recalls the situation in which she learned about a woman named Khadijah, who was married to the prophet Muhammad:
As I read this story, I felt something changing inside of me. Tears gushed from my eyes and a deep sense of awe, relief, and empowerment overtook me. Could this be true? The wife of our revered prophet, the example of all men, was an older, wealthy businesswoman who had proposed marriage to him? Isn't this marriage really the example Muslim couples should be following? "This is true feminism!" my mind screamed.
In "Conquering Veils: Gender and Islam", Asma T. Uddin explores a difficult time in her relationship with Islam, during which she encountered Muslim extremists who didn't hold women in high esteem. She then shares her journey towards reconciling her beliefs in women's equality with her faith:
My cause has always been twofold: women's equality and Islam. For the world to make sense to me, women and men had to be of equal worth and dignity, just as Islam had to be the true religion. Before I encountered the extremist interpretation of Islam, my world seemed wonderfully whole. Afterwards, my world became fragmented. To glue it back together, I had to reconcile sex equality and Islamic piety.
In addition to exploring feminism within Islam, many of the pieces in this collection find common ground in the way they discuss Islamophobia in very personal and powerful ways. While this book very clearly states in the introduction that it is not a pontification about a post-9/11 world, many of the contributors do address the ways in which they have been affected by Islamophobia pre- and post-9/11. In "A Headscarf Away from Television", Marian Sobh shares how being a woman who wears hijab prevented her from getting a job as a news anchor in the US. In "The University of Life", Jameelah Xochitl Medina writes about how her experiences with racism as a black person prepared her for the experiences she encountered as a Muslim woman in the US after 9/11.
I Speak For Myself is a collection of stories written by women that refuse to put up with popular media's portrayals of Muslim American women. Their words will resonate with Muslim and non-Muslim readers, and they will ultimately refute misconceptions about what it means to be a Muslim American woman. So what are you waiting for? Purchase your copy of I Speak For Myself at BitchMart today.
Fatemeh Fakhraie, founder of Muslimah Media Watch, wrote a piece for this collection called "Roots". If you're in Portland, Bitch will be hosting a reading with Fakhraie on July 23rd at 11am. Find out more about the event on Facebook!