Book Review | It’s Not About The Burqa Edited By Mariam Khan

it's not about the burqa

Title: It’s Not About The Burqa

Editor: Mariam Khan

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: February 21st 2019

Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

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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 radicalization of Muslim men to the ‘traditional submissiveness’ of Muslim women. Mariam felt pretty sure she didn’t know a single Muslim woman who would describe herself that way. Why was she hearing about Muslim women from people who were neither Muslim, nor female?

Years later the state of the national discourse has deteriorated even further, and Muslim women’s voices are still pushed to the fringes – the figures leading the discussion are white and male.

Taking one of the most politicized and misused words associated with Muslim women and Islamophobia, It’s Not About the Burqa is poised to change all that. Here are voices you won’t see represented in the national news headlines: seventeen Muslim women speaking frankly about the hijab and wavering faith, about love and divorce, about feminism, queer identity, sex, and the twin threats of a disapproving community and a racist country. Funny, warm, sometimes sad, and often angry, each of these essays is a passionate declaration, and each essay is calling time on the oppression, the lazy stereotyping, the misogyny and the Islamophobia.

What does it mean, exactly, to be a Muslim woman in the West today? According to the media, it’s all about the burqa.

Here’s what it’s really about.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review!


It’s Not About The Burqa is one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read and a much-needed collection of essays from Muslim women on a diverse range of topics including faith, feminism, sexuality and race. Every voice and topic is incredibly distinctive and yet united by a single thread that binds the whole thing together; that is, the experience of being a Muslim woman.

As can be expected from an anthology that has been curated for the sole purpose of dismantling a narrative around Muslim women and the clothing that has become synonymous with our identities, there were a select few essays that dealt with these ideologies, from Coco Khan’s Immodesty Is The Best Policy to Afia Ahmed’s The Clothes Of My Faith and Afshan D’souza-Lodhi’s Hijabi (R)evolution.

Even though the book does not represent the experiences or issues faced by all Muslim women, it’s interesting to note how each essay engages with a triad of oppressions we encounter on a frequent basis, none of which are the clothing we choose to wear. Racism, Islamophobia and misogyny stand out as key themes within each essay; some recall the struggles of navigating the male-dominated workplace as a woman (never mind as a woman of colour and a Muslim woman of colour), whilst others offer an insight into the layers of oppression Muslim women face, not from the number of items of clothing they wear but due to the misogyny within their own communities from radical Islamists and the bigotry outside of these spaces from white supremacists.

In particular, Malia Bouattia’s Between Submission and Threat: The British State’s Contradictory Relationship With Muslim Women is a must-read in light of the current discourse surrounding Shamima Begum. It examines the fine line between victimisation and criminalisation of Muslim women with and without agency and hones in on the overall message the anthology conveys – that Muslim women are always talked about but never invited to the discussion.

Like all anthologies, I had particular favourites and these are the essays I will read over and over again, the ones I will reference whenever any conversation surrounding these issues crops up and the topics I will, undoubtedly, research in more depth. Sufiya Ahmed’s The First Feminist and editor Mariam Khan’s Feminism Needs To Die, for example, engage with something I’ve always loved about Islam, a religion that promotes gender equality and protects women’s rights. Furthermore, Jamilla Hekmoun’s ‘There’s No Such Thing As A Depressed Muslim’: Discussing Mental Health In The Muslim Community addresses the stigma surrounding mental illness and how it can be caused by the anxieties we have about our faith and conforming to the image of the ideal Muslim.

Finally, Raifa Rafiq’s Not Just A Black Muslim Woman and Saima Mir’s A Woman Of Substance discuss how the factors of oppression faced by Muslim women are not mutually exclusive, and Nafisa Bakkar’s On The Representation Of Muslims: Terms And Conditions Apply was probably the most thought-provoking piece, discussing the token representation of Muslims in various industries and how these images only exist when they conform to Western beauty standards.

It’s needless to say that It’s Not About The Burqa achieves what it sets out to do, dismantling the narrative of the traditionally submissive Muslim woman by amplifying the diverse voices of seventeen Muslim women who are cut from the same cloth but made of more than just the clothing they wear. Out-spoken, honest, and sometimes angry, Mariam Khan has curated a compelling collection of essays from the voices we so desperately need to hear from rather than those we only ever hear about.


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