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IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BURQUA: A Chorus of Muslim Women

Muslim women are often depicted as a monolithic entity, passive and victimized by a religion steeped in patriarchy. Editor Mariam Khan has assembled seventeen essays to refute that perspective. With unique voices, the contributors, mostly from the United Kingdom, present a range of stories dealing with sexuality, marriage, mental illness, discrimination, and, yes, fashion and head scarves.

Common themes run through the chapters. Islam women are often discussed, but rarely invited to be part of the conversation, something the book hopes to change. In Islam, men and women enjoy equality—any subjugation and separation of women comes from cultural mores. Traditional or “white” feminism fails Muslim women because it requires them to reject their religion, which it assumes to be oppressive, and doesn’t account for intersectionality.

Many of my preconceptions were shattered, and I learned quite a bit. For example, not all marriages in England need to be registered legally which leaves the spouses without recourse if the union dissolves. I was so moved by Jamilla Hekmoun’s essay “There’s No Such Thing as a Depressed Muslim” which discussed the need for an approach to mental health that integrates psychology and religion.

It’s Not about the Burqua is a valuable and important contribution, and I would be surprised if a reader finished the book without gaining new insight and being reminded how necessary it is to hear directly from women themselves about their lived experiences.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Picador for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.