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Book review: Vast experiences beyond the cloth

18th Jun 2021
Book review: Vast experiences beyond the cloth

Cut from the Same Cloth? Edited by Sabeena Akhtar, Unbound Publishers, 2021, 314 Pp. PB.£9.99

At the end of the day, when I take my scarf pins off, my children are asleep; I then proceed to tentatively lower my veils. That quiet, away from everyone, where I can stop smiling and saying my “pleases” and “thank you’s” like a garish mannequin doll – after a long day – is when my mind starts wandering, thinking and contemplating.

Sabeena Akhtar in collating these essays from a whole range of writers – all of whom who choose to cover – allowed the book to delve into subjects like philosophical explorations, to the bias found in medical assistance at our most vulnerable moments, and a few inward-facing pieces looking to question racism, disability discrimination and abuse we find within our own. It allows the reader to glimpse at the burden of representation that never leaves a Muslim woman, attempting to engage and at times detangle it.

Every essay is a personal take on being a covered Muslim woman – and most importantly – walks beyond the headscarf.

As Ruqaiya Haris says in her essay ‘The Quest for Modesty in the Digital Age’, “You may be seen as nothing more than a hijab spokesperson or Islam advocate rather than a multifaceted person. The reality is that the hijab becomes our selling point, our defining feature, and the only aspect of us deemed interesting.” (p 91)

While in reality, what we have to say on the back of our lived fringe realities can have a positively powerful impact for everyone, but only if we are seen and heard beyond our coverings.

Sofia Rehman sums it up perfectly in her essay ‘The Gift of Second-Sight’ by saying, “Does she speak about the injustice she has witnessed and risk having her voice co-opted by the racist Islamophobes who would love nothing more than to make their brown Muslim woman poster-girl? Or does she remain silent and not condemn her community to more unfair bigoted scrutiny and so restrain her tongue, muffle her voice and submit to unjust patriarchal practices?” (p 119).

In criticizing our own, Muslim women jeopardise the – only – spaces that give us belonging and where we do not have to explain ourselves, but is it right to turn the other way when we see injustice amongst our own?

Sophie Williams in the essay titled ‘On Therapy’ succinctly says, “What I miss is the freedom to navigate my life without constantly worrying that the assumptions of strangers or the state might destroy it.” (p 57)

That bone weariness of having to constantly watch what we say is exhausting and there needs to be spaces within and outside our own religious (or otherwise) communities where we can focus on these questions as opposed to constantly parroting what we are supposed to be saying.

The essays in this book make it a tightly sprung (and covered) powerhouse. Each short piece packs a punch, bringing our attention to another intersectionality, experience, and learning curve. After a long time, I felt seen and heard in the written world; not for what everyone wanted to see, but for what I was.

The question mark in ‘Cut from the Same Cloth?’ is placed – I feel – to remind us of the vastness of our experiences beyond our cloths, and the limitlessness that lies beyond that.

Aasiya I Versi

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