Reviewed by Rachael Sulaiman.
It’s Not About The Burqa Discussion at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with Nadine Aisha Jassat, Mariam Khan and Amna Saleem at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
It’s Not About the Burqa is a beautiful and insightful collection of essays by editor Mariam Khan as a direct response to David Cameron’s statement that Muslim women are traditionally submissive. She aims to question and destroy the stereotypes of Muslim women portrayed in the media and political sector by simply letting Muslim women from a varied background of race, income, and age speak for themselves.
Even having read the book, hearing the authors do a reading was something special. It’s one thing to read someone else’s story in your head, but having the author read to you in their own voice is worth going to see a book event for. Much like how music in a film can the determining push between being overwhelmed with emotion or not. Each woman brought her own glowing and glittering personality, be it Saleem’s clever and bubbly Glasgow accent showing moments of vulnerability, Jassat’s fairy-godmother-like storytelling abilities, or Khan’s intelligent approach on the necessity of a new wave of intersectional – not just white, cis, atheist, and able-bodied – feminism.
Additionally, it was super interesting to know that none of the authors had met each other until the publishing. Khan used this as a technique to keep the authors true to themselves and to be completely raw with what they wanted to discuss. As the editor herself, Khan felt she was able to avoid a toning down of the stories, keeping their authenticity.
Unfortunately, during the Q&A section, a member of the audience exemplified just why this book is so necessary today. A woman shared a story of Muslims she knew being forced into marriage and how it upset her; this felt like more of a “defend your religion” moment than a genuine question. A dangerous stereotype of forced marriage in the Muslim community was projected onto our panel which they were then asked to defend. Although Khan handled the incident incredibly well, with the composure of a woman who has heard this so many times that she knows exactly what to say, this made the moment no less jarring for me. Even at an event where it would be assumed that the audience was open-minded and attempting to actively unlearn stereotypes, these insidious comments still sneak in. This question at least allowed the whole audience to be privy to a moment usually reserved for Muslim women to deal with again and again, and Saleem made it clear that this was not the first time she was asked to discuss such heavy topics such as forced marriages.
The event finished with a man identifying as physically disabled addressing how much he adored the women’s courage in writing the book and emphasizing how people who deviate from society’s “norm” can’t just be as good, but better. So, if you haven’t already, go devour It’s Not About The Burqa: teach yourself about Muslim feminist role models, the stories of normal Muslim women, Muslim engineers, those who identify as bisexual, and simply open your heart.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs until 26th August.