By Lana Hart
Apr 22 2019
Islamic leaders, media commentators, and opinion leaders have spent the past month reflecting on the ideas and challenges arising from the Christchurch mosque shootings with some excellent pieces of compassionate journalism and speeches. But one voice that has traditionally struggled to find its mouthpiece is still mostly unheard: Muslim women.
Some women directly affected by the tragedy have the best reasons in the world to remain silent. For some, their Islamic 100 days of grieving and remaining separate from the world is far from over, and others are struggling to keep abreast of supporting the affected families and the other indirect victims of the attack.
But many more are able to speak up about their experiences as Muslim women living in New Zealand, about their families, their faith, and to provide us all with the insights and narratives that will help us not only mend, but to create a better place than before March 15.
Are We Listening?
Years ago, I underwent a workplace-based personality-type assessment across our team of 12. Two of us had scored high on extroversion, while the remainder of the team tended towards introversion. I learned that extroverts like me were inclined to work things out in our minds as we spoke, while the rest of our team needed more mental time to consider things before putting thoughts to voice. It wasn't my colleagues' lack of ideas or confidence that kept them quiet; more often than not, it was a matter of creating a space and time for them to contribute. Instead of filling the office airspace with my own words, I needed to - well, I needed to shut up.
When I did, what happened surprised me. The Samoan events organiser – who had legitimate cultural reasons for holding back on speaking up – proved to be one of the funniest co-workers I've ever worked with. The IT guy who seldom looked up from his screen had things to say that were insightful, playful, and caring. I had just been too busy being an extrovert to make space for these brilliant, quiet people with their marvellous observations and ideas.
Shutting up may be good advice for those of us who want, as Kiwi freelance journalist Saziah Bashir has urged white people, "to share the immense platform you are often privileged to occupy".
Bashir's is one of several Kiwi Muslim women's voices that are starting to bubble up to the surface of mainstream media. She has warned us, for example, that the post 9/11 world that failed to include Muslim voices "has left unchallenged the stereotypes painted of us, as if we are a two-dimensional monolith, a single monstrous Other".
Mariam Khan, editor of It's Not About the Burqa wrote in The Guardian that our Prime Minister's response to the tragedy has been commendable but that the reaction to it has left little space for the victims, or the wider Muslim community in New Zealand or around the world. She confronts us with the testy question: "is it the case that even Muslim grief doesn't sell and it needs to come repackaged with a graceful and mourning white face donning a Dupatta?"
Ouch. As difficult and provocative as this and other questions are, maybe we need them to be asked. And maybe we need our own people – people who have suffered this loss, who have lived and loved in Aotearoa, and who understand the local context in which this tragedy has occurred – to access the channels to help us develop our responses to questions like these.
Let's make room on our everyday platforms for people like Mahvash Ali who, as a guest on the Spinoff's On The Rag podcast, revealed some practical benefits of wearing hijab on her bad hair days and insisted that Islam and feminism do not make strange bedfellows.
At last week's Aroha Nui – They Are Us concerts, New Zealand's only (I think) female Muslim rapper, CHAII, rocked the stage with her hijab on. Her platform was pumping with power.
And we don't need just well-known, academic, or political Muslim women's voices to rise from the ashes of the atrocity. We need everyday Muslim women who live amongst us to tell us their stories, so that we can hear people like Jumayah Ahmed, the Women's Coordinator at Al Noor mosque, respond to a question by a white Kiwi woman about why it always seems to be men who represent Islam to the world. She replied, "they may be the face of Islam, but women are the neck. The face won't turn unless the neck makes it happen."
We all have platforms of some kind: a social media group, a book club, friends who like to walk and talk on Saturday mornings, a workplace newsletter you contribute to. Clear some space and invite a Muslim woman along to be a part of it too. You may need to learn to be quiet long enough so that you can listen.