It’s Not About the Burqa is a collection of essays on feminism and modern life as a Muslim women in the West, edited by Mariam Khan. I say “feminism” because most of the writers are activists in some way, and so most of their essays go into that work. But there is also a lot of processing happening, as these women describe their lives and their thought processes. Why a collection of essays by Muslim women? The book’s blurb puts it best:

“What does it mean, exactly, to be a Muslim woman in the West today? According to the media, it’s all about the burqa. Here’s what it’s really about.”

I was ten when September 11th happened, and 20 years later, a hatred and suspicion of Islam remains embedded in American culture. While most of the essay writers here are British, it is clear they have faced the same prejudice in their own county as Muslim-Americans do here. And just like in the US, Muslim-British women are very often spoken for, rather than given the platform to speak for themselves.

It’s Not About the Burqa is not as fiction book, but I’m still scoring it 15/15 on the Scale as it is entertaining, above and beyond, and basically the definition of the Bechdel-Wallace test.

Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt / Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts / Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts / Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts / Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts

One thing I liked about It’s Not About the Burqa was that the essays are interesting to both Muslim or non-Muslim readers (I am not Muslim). While the introduction might state something obvious (for example: hijabi models are becoming more common in advertising and runways, but they still conform to Western ideals of beauty: thin, light-skinned, etc.), the essays always manage to go deeper. “On the Representation of Muslims: Terms and Conditions Apply” by Nafisa Bakkar ends with the writer unsure if she is happy with this type of increased Muslim representation, or if she should critique it. This is a question all feminists have had to ask themselves, and a question Muslims could potentially disagree on.

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Disagreement is a key part of the essays. While they do not contradict each other, the collection aims to break down a Muslim monolith by presenting a variety of Muslim experiences. As one essayist writes, she’s not even sure what to talk about in a collection with so many other Muslim women. She’s used to being the token, forced to beat the same drum that she is not oppressed by Islam.

Other essays I liked were “Too Loud, Swears Too Much and Goes Too Far” by Mona Eltahawy, for its rousing call to action, and “Immodesty is the Best Policy” by Coco Khan, for its meditation on feeling connected to one’s body. The essays were diverse, from “Between Submission and Threat: The British State’s Contradictory Relationship with Muslim Women” by Malia Bouattia, to the more personal “Daughter of Stories” by Nadina Aisha Jassat.

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The only essay I didn’t resonate with was “Clothes of My Faith” by Afia Ahmed. As an atheist, the line between “religion” (meaning what’s written in scripture) and “culture” (meaning the patriarchal structures in place around the religion in our modern society) has little distinction for me.

Nevertheless, feminism is based on the idea that intersectional viewpoints broaden our wold and bring valuable perspectives. Though I am not interested in a more religious world, I am interested in the valuable viewpoints religious-Muslim and cultural-Muslim people bring. There has certainly been a dearth of Muslim women’s voices in our media and I hope this collection is part of a trend where we let them tell their own stories.

Click here to buy It’s Not About the Burqa, then tell us what you thought in the comments!

Score: 15/15

Her Story Arc Scale of Inclusivity image, a yellow number 15 inside of a pink Venus symbol

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