Books Reviews

Book Review: It’s Not About The Burqa (Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race) Edited By Mariam Khan

"I call for so much noise-making that it is impossible to ignore us. I call for us not to seek to ‘break’ stereotypes, but to see the magic of our normal." - Raifa Rafiq

What’s The Book About?

When was the last time you heard a Muslim woman speak for herself without a filter? In 2016, Mariam Khan read that David Cameron had linked the radicalisation of Muslim men to the ‘traditional submissiveness’ of Muslim women. ‘It’s Not About the Burqa’ showcases the voice of seventeen Muslim women as they speak frankly about different issues ranging from faith, feminism, sexuality, representation, mental health to identity.

The Review

It’s been a long time coming for a collection of essays like this. For far too long, Muslim women have been spoken about without our input and I’m glad the book was published by a mainstream publication which allows it to reach a diverse range of people.

There are 17 essays in the book so it would be impossible to discuss and do justice to all of them in this review. Instead I’m going to focus on seven essays in the collection that I really loved!

The book begins with an essay by Mona Eltahawy “Too Loud, Swears Too Much and Goes Too Far” which explores the policing of Muslim women’s behaviour and speech. It poses an interesting discussion about the function that labels serve to silence vocal women. I loved the quotes Mona references in this essay and I thought it was a perfection selection to open the book.

“Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.” – Gloria Anzaldua

Two of the essays that also spoke to me explore the issue of representation and its cost. In Nafisa Bakkar’s “On the Representations of Muslims *Terms and conditions apply”, she offers a fascinating insight into the complexities of representation for Muslim women. I loved that the essay approached the topic from an internal and external perspective. In Afia Ahmed’s ‘The Clothes of My Faith’, I found a deeply reflective and thought-provoking essay about the commodification of Islam and sexualisation of the Hijab.

‘Eight Notifications’ by Salma Haidrani follows her journalism career and I loved this essay. I think it’s one that will resonate with Muslim women who write about issues relating to Islam because of her frank presentation about the mental health costs particularly in the age of social media and online outrage . ‘A Woman of Substance’ by Salma Mir is a heartwarming read about divorce, inner strength and conviction. Lastly, Malia Bouattia’s ‘Between Submission and Threat: The British State’s Contradictory Relationship with Muslim Women’ was the perfect essay to discuss the structural and state sanctioned Islamophobia that Muslim women face in British society. It’s further enhanced by Malia’s personal story as former NUS president and the challenges she navigated.

My hope is that this book furthers conversations both within the Muslim community and externally. There are so many more issues to be explored and ultimately the book won’t speak to every Muslim woman. There will be perspectives you will disagree with but the but the important thing is that we are writing and publishing from the hues of our different experiences.

So what did I love? 

The unexpected thing about reading this book were a couple of personal commitments that I made in the process. For example, after reading Afia Ahmed’s ‘The Clothes of My Faith’ I have decided never to answer questions relating to my hijab again. If you don’t deem it fit to ask me why I wear white trainers, I see no reason to ask me why I wear a hijab.

Other thoughts?

There were times reading the book when I felt the essays were geared more towards a non-Muslim audience because of the way the issues were approached. In addition, it would have been nice to have a woman who wears niqab penning an essay for the collection. I thought Naima B Robert would have been a great addition considering her contribution to Muslim literature over the years and how how prolific she is. With that said, the collection is insightful and it’s refreshing to read about the different experiences of Muslim women on a range of issues.

Top Three Quotes

“We must cultivate compassion for our past selves, trusting that we did the best we could at the time, while simultaneously striving to do better.”- Yassmin Abdel-Magied

“Representation of Muslim women flip-flops between fitting a stereotype or breaking one, not the middle ground where most of us are.” – Nafisa Bakkar

“We are both victims of state violence and the very objects used to justify the violence we suffer.” – Malia Bouattia


✯✯✯✯- Hooked

Guide to Book Review Rating
✯ – Meh
✯✯ – Read at your own risk
✯✯✯ – Hit and Miss
✯✯✯✯- Hooked
✯✯✯✯✯- Life Companion. Thank me later!

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