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Book Review: Navigating expectations and biases of Muslims and non-Muslims

16th Jul 2021
Book Review: Navigating expectations and biases of  Muslims and non-Muslims

My Hair is Pink Under This Veil.By Rabina Khan. 288 Pages. Biteback Publishing. 2021. Hardback. £16.99

My Hair is Pink Under This Veil by Rabia Khan is an unfinished autobiography. It’s the story – so far – of Rabia Khan born in Bangladesh, raised in Rochester who campaigned to become the mayor of Tower Hamlets this incomplete story drives home (by which I mean the UK) a good few truths of the world we live in.

This book talks about the murky world of politics where white men dominate and how she – as a Muslim woman who chooses to cover – overcomes the obstacles and perceptions that people have of her. My Hair is Pink under This Veil is honest, painful and very funny.

Throughout the whole book, there is an underlying theme of recurring injustices based on racism and Islamophobia.

The indignities that she recounts as a child continues into her adult life, and runs through every aspect of British life. Khan, from the outset, looks like a poster child for integration, but her painful encounters as a child and an adult make you question the price that she must pay to belong, and it doesn’t seem fair. But Khan finds solace in her work for her constituents.

‘Big things like integration and cohesion will be accomplished by the small things we can do along the way.’(p35) And it is the small acts of resistance, of acknowledgement, of comfort that seem to pave the way to a better, more just reality.

Rabia Khan’s hijab features a lot in this book. How she – and others like her – navigate the expectations and biases, both conscious and unconscious, of Muslims and non–Muslims alike; and the impact it has in their lives. ‘We have to ask ourselves what the concept of the veil means, both for Muslim women and for those who question it.

Is it simply beautiful attire and a personal choice to express one’s identity, or is it a symbol of integration in a changing modern Britain?’ (p150) Interestingly, she is able to write about this without drawing Huntingtonesque lines within and between communities.

She is incredibly proud of her headscarf. ‘It is all credit to Muslim women who wear the hijab with pride, knowing that it may attract unwanted attention, pre-judgement and even hostility. It is this courage and pride that sets them apart.’ (p91)

It is this same courage and pride of her faith and history that pushes her to challenge her teachers to discuss the autobiography of Malcolm X, and she was met with objections because her classmates simply could not relate to the story.

Khan strongly believes that her lived experiences and histories can enrich the lives of the people around her and states, ‘Pushing Muslim women’s voices and preferences aside not only has a negative impact on those who are silenced; it also denies others the opportunity to learn from new perspectives and benefit from our strengths.’ (p196)

It is this inability of white Britain to learn from the experiences of Muslims that holds the country back time and time again.

Rabia Khan is very honest about how she failed or how close she was to winning the mayorship of Tower Hamlet. Without a shred of pity, she writes, ‘We often learn greater lessons in adversity than we do in victory. Adversity is a test of character, endurance and courage. It can equip us with the motivation we need to inspire change and pursue our dreams. It also helps to show more compassion and tolerance and to become less judgemental.’ (p218)

This book was filled with a quiet strength – laced with funny and forceful anecdotes – that Khan has found in her own story and in the stories of the people around her, showing us a way beyond the burden of perceptions that is ladled onto almost every person of colour but particularly amplified on visibly Muslim women.

Her conviction that our stories have something to give to the richness of Britain is personified by her work in her constituencies.

This book – wonderfully written – made me walk a bit straighter and stronger, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to gain insight into the lived experiences of Muslim women in and outside of politics.

Aasiya I Versi | Follow Aasiya on Twitter @MyShadows_and_I  or Instagram @my_shadows_i

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