By Radhika Sanghani
24 Sep 2014
Young British Muslim women are sick of not being heard. With the regular news updates of the horrors committed by the Islamic State, and stories about British women flying over to join them, the opinions of normal, non-radical Muslim women are being increasingly lost.
It’s why they’re now taking a public stand.
Today hundreds of Muslim women from across the UK are expected to gather in London to make a united stand against the Islamic State’s barbarism. The movement will even have its own hashtag -#MakingAStand.
It is organised by Inspire, a counter-extremism and human rights organisation which seeks to address issues facing British Muslim women. Co-founder Sara Khan, 34, tells me why it’s so important that Muslim women finally speak up against the Islamic State.
“We feel strongly about making our voices heard. If you don’t do that, the silence is filled up by extremists. In my view it’s crucial that as Muslims the silent majority do make their voices heard, including women. I think women haven’t been heard as much. They have been side-lined. But we’re saying, come and have your voice heard.”
Should Muslims Speak Out Against Isil?
It’s a controversial point – should young British Muslims feel obligated to come out and publically condemn Isil just because it stems from Islam? Why do they have to account for extremists who are clearly not Muslims, but are terrorists?
Khan thinks that argument is not a strong one, as the problem is one that affects all Muslims. With the recent news of British women such as Aqsa Mahmood going over to Syria to join the al-Khanssaa brigade, an all-women militia set up by the Islamic State, she thinks that Muslims need to face up to the fact that young people here in the UK are being radicalised:
“We know there are young men and women within our communities who have gone over and committed atrocities. It is an issue for us. You can’t ignore that it’s going on. So absolutely you should be standing up and condemning them.
“What we’re saying is we value and cherish the values of peace, democracy and human rights. That’s why we reject the Islamic state. We also believe they’re distorting the good name of our faith so we’re rejecting them for both those reason. It’s what we stand for as British women and as Muslim women.”
Women Have a Key Role to Play
British Muslims have spoken out against the Islamic State before, with social media campaigns such as #NotInMyName which went viral on Twitter. But the difference here is that #MakingAStand focuses solely on women. In particular, Khan wants to reach out to two groups of women: mothers and young women.
She tells me: “Our argument is that as women we have fundamental role to play. As Muslim women, we have a responsibility to take the lead within our community and root out extremists who are preying on our children. As women, they would be the first line of defence. Particularly as mothers they can recognise the first signs of radicalisation amongst their own children.
“Most women don’t know but as mothers you can play a very important role and prevent it before it gets to a stage where they have already got on a plane and flown off into Syria and Iraq. I know women who have challenged hate preachers and prevented them from coming to their areas. I feel very strongly that if we see [more of] that we will reduce the threat of [the Islamic State] recruiting our own people.”
But it isn’t just about helping mothers spot signs of ‘bedroom radicalisation’ – it’s about going directly to those young women who could become the Islamic State’s new prey. “I think it’s important to speak to young women,” says Khan. “When I hear about these young women [who have joined al-Khanssaa], I’ve felt really sad.
Muslim Communities Need To Stop Marginalising Women
“They have bought into a pack of lies. They think they’re following Islam but actually it’s a patriarchal ideology that seeks to treat women as second class citizens. My response to that is, you don’t know your own faith. The prophet’s wives weren’t submissive women, nor did they cause anarchy.”
It’s why Khan has practical measures she wants British Muslim communities to take. She wants mosques to start treating women more equally, for communities to take more responsibility for women, and for more young people to speak up on social media and challenge pro-Islamic State sympathisers.
“Unfortunately we will see more young women going over,” she warns. “We need to educate women better to improve this marginalisation problem in Muslim communities. For far too long mosques have marginalised Muslim women and their participation.
“We know Muslim women who wear the headscarf are more likely to experience attacks. Will that make them feel they don’t belong? Are they [joining Isil] because all they’ve come across in this country in Muslim communities is a narrow view of women?
“This is where Muslim communities have to start asking themselves serious questions. Why do they feel their role is with the home as they say on Twitter. Have we helped to change that narrative in this country or have we propagated it?”
Women Must Speak Up On Social Media
But ultimately, the one thing she’s calling on young women to do is to speak up against Isil, to condemn them publically, and to challenge extremist views. Khan tells me that majority of the young women she meets are “utterly flabbergasted” when they hear about British Muslims jumping on a plane to Syria and Iraq, and “can’t get their head around the idea that young women who have all the freedoms and rights in this country have sacrificed all of that to go and marry a stranger”.
She wants them to share those views with the wider world, and to use social media – especially to interact with the bedroom radicals tweeting about their desire to marry Isil members. “They need to speak out,” she stresses. “They’re far more in tune with social media so they can speak out, challenge extremists on the internet and pro-Islamic State sympathisers.
“They don’t get heard because the loud mouths take over. You have got an additional barrier to try and make your voice heard. But they have got a positive role to play. It’s telling women you have to be vocal online.”
It’s why these British women won’t just be making a stand in London today, but will be #MakingAStand on social media, in the hope that some of those vulnerable young British Muslim women will be put off from joining the Islamic State. Or, at the very least, that British non-Muslims will recognise not every follower of Islam wants to join the Islamic State.