With a foot in both worlds, life has been utterly confusing. I am: yet what I am, none care or knows. I am British; I am British Asian, with Pakistani/Kashmiri ‘roots’. I was born a Muslim (though I’ll die none the wiser). I am aware the effect the colour of my skin has on the atmosphere and I resent the ways in which I must try harder. But it is with considerable thought and painstaking investigation, I have come to the conclusion; at first glance, I am a woman.
Eid Mubarak to those completing Ramadan. Very soon there’ll be food and gifts of money, people who have narrowly avoided each other all year will embrace and they will savour the moment, joy and unity overriding any bad feeling. Everyone is cleansed and revved up for another year of good deeds (Inshallah). I watch from inside my ‘local community’ but am very much an outsider. I grew up in this neighbourhood; I walked these streets in a hijab once upon a very long time ago. But I don’t now and make sure everyone knows it. Not by thrusting it in people’s faces, just by being myself. I’ve noticed people twitch around me a lot. Seemingly my bare calves are too much for the brain to compute. But I don’t care and I wear them with pride. Sometimes I don’t even bother shaving! But even I get a little respect when they’re all too hungry and humble to fight.
I love Ramadan. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE slows down. They say please and thank you. They call on each other to share food when they eventually soothe their grumbling bellies with sticky sweet dates, a little salt and some milk. Food is communal and people trip over themselves to host an evening. There is a togetherness, simply not enough strength to fight or waste energy thinking about pointless things. Because the community looks inward and is there for each other, it becomes difficult to deviate. Perhaps this is why, during the month of Ramadan, I feel safe. I don’t change any part of myself but the community around me lowers its gaze. For one month of the year, I am free to walk the streets of my local area without strange, hostile men breathing down my neck. Street harassment is virtually zero.
This is where the ‘East’ is beating the ‘West’. Our media consistently portray Muslims as savage to women, executing them and subjecting them to abusive tribal practices (FGM) and for the most part, they’re right. Women are subjugated in horrific ways, in many parts of the world they are considered subhuman and treated as such. But I’ve struggled my whole life trying to understand what makes the West so brazen as to hold the East up as an example when here, at home, the struggle for equality is reversing so rapidly. There are worrying levels of domestic abuse, many cases going unreported. With the burqa as the universal symbol of oppression, we bear more to show how free we are, but then we are violated for revealing too much. Millions of women march to highlight the absurdity of street harassment in our developed world, but it doesn’t affect the everyday sexism we are all subjected to. In the East, a strange man can beat you for showing your hair or wearing nail varnish. In the West, strange men will invade your personal space, threaten you with what they’d like to do to you and maybe even touch your breasts or backside, depending on how packed the train is. Once, in a club, a man grabbed my groin. When I responded by throwing him back and screaming blue murder, a crowd formed and it was me that was hushed. The girls, they pulled me away, “it’s not worth it, leave it be, what can you do?”
Among women there is a general feeling of resignation, that they cannot fight patriarchy because it is too strong and too violent. It cannot change because that is how men are designed, they can’t help themselves. Except, Ramadan is a clear example of how whole communities have the ability to change and in a very short space of time. They can be less ‘rapey’. To me, Ramadan is an exercise in how patriarchy can be affected. And it makes me even angrier when I come to the realisation that patriarchy actively chooses not to change.
Imagine a UK where, for one month of the year, we own the streets. We can keep our earphones in, safe in the knowledge that our community will not allow any harm to come to us. Perpetrators would be dealt with, abusive behaviour simply not tolerated. It’d really be something, wouldn’t it? Imagine if we managed it all by ourselves and not just because God said so.
Many happy returns Ramadan, can’t wait for next year.