Muslim women in America speak out

'I Speak for Myself' is an essay anthology that gives Muslim women a voice and American audiences a much-needed glimpse of an oft-misunderstood group.

The writers featured in the essay anthology 'I Speak for Myself' share what it’s like to be Muslim in America.

“Pakistani woman gang-raped in an honor revenge.”

Taliban prohibits Afghan girls from attending school.”

“Indonesian Sharia police ban tight pants for women.”

The media have plenty to say about Muslim women. But what makes the headlines isn’t the experience of the vast majority of Muslim women. And what rarely emerge are the voices of Muslim women themselves.

Two women have sought to change that by urging American Muslim women across the US to speak for themselves.

I Speak for Myself” is a collection of essays that give Muslim women a voice and American audiences a much-needed glimpse of an oft-misunderstood group. Editors Maria Ebrahimji and Zahra Suratwala collected reflections from 40 American Muslim women to showcase the range of hopes, fears, doubts, sorrows, and joys Muslim women across the US experience. The result is almost startlingly honest, refreshing, inspiring, and anything but expected.

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“Seeing my image in a full scarf, body suit and surfboard on the front page of Yahoo! reinforced in my mind the modesty I have come to cherish,” writes Sama Wareh, a field naturalist and traveling scientist in southern California.

“It’s never easy being the odd one out – always sitting in the pew when the rest of my classmates went to take the Eucharist or not being allowed to perform in the Christmas plays. These were the rituals that made Christianity appealing. At the time, I felt that the fun that Christianity had to offer was absent in Islam,” writes Souheila Al-Jadda, a television producer and journalist.

“It is frustrating and disappointing to catch hell in mainstream society for being Muslim and also within the Muslim community for being African-American. When I am not perceived as an oppressed Muslim woman in need of liberation, I am seen as an ignorant and potentially unruly black woman,” writes Jameelah Xochitl Medina, a PhD candidate and author.

The writers – journalists, doctors, artists, lawyers, academics, scientists, and students – represent the spectrum of professions Muslim women pursue. Writing with the candor of a personal journal entry, the contributors share what it’s like to be Muslim in America. They explore issues like wearing (or not wearing) the hijab, balancing Western and Islamic values, expressing personal identity, and navigating cross-generational conflict.

Amid the reductionist media portrayals of oppressed Muslim women, and in a world increasingly suspicious of Muslims, “I Speak for Myself” shatters misconceptions and presents the kaleidoscope of diverse stories that make up Muslim women’s experience in the US. It’s a valuable glimpse that’s rarely in the headlines.

-- Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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