Women in Design

Blog piece featured on Change the Script. A campaign led by The Hon Baroness Uddin.

Scanning an office floor of a popular furniture company in London it was clear that first, it’s dominated by men and second, most of the females there were not of an ethnic let alone Muslim background. I am both those things, a Muslim woman of British Asian nationality, attempting to break into the design industry. It leaves me wondering about why there is such a lack of familiarity.

The office floor in question was for a job interview I had, which I didn't get. I think its safe to say that the person who did get it was likely to be a white male or female. I’m stuck in this position of how to get my foot in the door of the industry that so much of my enthusiasm lies. Looking into why this is the case has led me to identify that it isn't always about the experience I have, but the whole package I have to offer as a person. 

In every environment I have worked in within this industry, I have always been the only one of “my kind.” In my previous job, a well known British paint company, I was lucky to have had colleagues who were actively interested in understanding multiple cultures. This was likely down to them having a large international customer base, but it gave me the opportunity to educate my colleagues about my background. Having that platform, where even though their inquisitiveness had the potential to make me feel uncomfortable, taught me that it is ok providing I am not being singled out. 

The main challenge I have found working in the design industry is having to question myself as a person because of my identity: will I be taken seriously? Will clients know I actually work here? What do I do to fit in and progress? Questioning who I am and where I stand has in fact cemented my beliefs and taught me that getting where I want does not mean conforming, instead I decided to use it to my advantage by empowering my individuality. Ultimately, it is about accepting who I am, allowing that very difference between us to ground me and using it as the tool to further myself in my career. It sets me apart from my colleagues in a positive way by driving me to prove my capabilities and strengths. 

Just as the late Zaha Hadid paved the way, a shining torch as it were for women and Muslim women alike, I will strive to work towards one being able to walk into an office, scan and find familiarity by advocating that there needs to be equality for not only gender but also religion. When questioned in an interview with Interview magazine on the role of women in Islam Hadid states “many women don’t have the encouragement and support they need to [advance in their careers].” That support manifests itself on multiple levels: from family, friends or the workplaces themselves. In my opinion, without the support from this industry itself, there will be a continuance of little to no women let alone Muslim women making it through the gaps. 

Calculating Risk

 Short piece submitted to Man Repeller's Writers Club

Planning seems to be at the forefront of everyone's minds at the beginning of a new year, which makes sense, no? “new year, new beginning” and all that. We spend the better part of our lives figuring out all the steps we need to take in order to achieve the ideals we have in our heads. This year I find myself wondering “what will happen if I let go of my persistent need to plan?” At least to some degree anyway. The answer to that is unknown and, as we all know, the unknown has risk written all over it. 

2017 was a year of personal development for me and one of the things I learnt was how to utilise my faith as a means of guidance when I feel most lost. Perhaps the probability of achieving my goals has a greater variation with that new outlook, but the irony is that despite lowered levels of certainty, I have never felt such clarity before. Don't get me wrong, I can be a complete control freak and always need to be five steps ahead. For example, my To Do list consists of everything and anything including shower, put clothes away, SAVE MONEY!!!, pack lip balm in bag, try sleep in rollers, pluck that one eyebrow hair and even make a to-do list. These lists I make day in and day out somehow give me a faint sense of purpose. It’s obvious that where small-scale organising is concerned, planning has to remain as it would intrinsically. But the thing is, not plucking that pesky eyebrow hair poses no risk to me (I hope) and continuing to plan these things for the day to day is normal (again, I hope). 

The plans I'm talking about belong to an entirely different scale altogether.

A friend who unwittingly asks me questions that challenge my more obstinate views (thank you, btw) got me thinking about the year ahead. What struck me most when he asked about me having any plans was that I was unusually calm when answering “no,” followed with me realising that I essentially have none set in stone. Predicting outcomes for things I want in life often leave me with sky-high levels of internalised anxiety. As someone who requires a plan for everything, I hate to admit that it hasn’t always helped to try and mould those outcomes and it’s safe to say that they certainly haven't looked the way I had idealised. 

With all that in mind, what risk do I hope to take this year? Well, I hope to replace planning the things I cant control with patience, leaving outcomes to be determined as the dice gets rolled. Although a big part of me is itching at the thought of not being in control, an even bigger part of me knows that diving straight into the unknown means 2018 might just surprise me.

Love?

 Short piece submitted to Man Repeller's Writers Club and published on The Mighty Site as well as Hestia “UK Says No More” Blog.

Defining love comes with so many varying narratives and it’s certainly about more than just romance, which is why I’m not writing about any lover of mine. Frankly, they aren't worth penning (or typing) anything about. Instead, I’m putting down in words why loving myself has been of indispensable value to my being. Sounds cliché, I know, but up until now, I haven’t been able to write about my experience behind it. Hell, I still find it hard to talk about. Nonetheless, here it is, laid bare. 

Innocence, fragility, naïvety; just some of the characteristics typically associated with a teenager. Suffice it to say that I was all of those things aged 15. How then does a girl that age navigate her life after becoming a victim of sexual assault? Well, I traipsed around loathing every part of my being for a long time. Also, I genuinely believed that I wasn't worth someone else’s love let alone my own and surfacing below the trauma was my confidence, trapped there by my fear of being judged. I was completely convinced that I had been and always would be labelled as “damaged goods,” and that no one would ever want me. The only thing I can liken it to is when you get a cut that doesn't stop bleeding, it bleeds and bleeds until you get it stitched up. What you're left with is a permanent scar; a sign of imperfection. In this day and age, with images of perfection plastered everywhere you look, it was hard not to feel the way I did. 

The thing is, the memory of what happened is worse than what happened itself. It is that same memory, however, that made me realise I wouldn't be able to feel love without having a good relationship with myself-scars and all. I had already let the perpetrator get away with what he did because, well, threatening to “financially destroy” my family definitely put a spanner in the works. Letting a pathetic excuse for a human being get away with a crime was one thing, I couldn't let him get away with negatively affecting how my future panned out too. 

I, like most people, desire to be desired. In order to be desirable, I knew that ultimately I needed to accept who I am and also think about the kind of person I would be happy to be. Granted, this sort of thing doesn't work itself out overnight. It’s been nine years since what happened, and from time to time I still ask myself  “am I damaged goods?” Only to answer “no.” It has taken a very long time to say that with conviction. Feeling a sense of self-worth has been hard to grasp, but what I’ve been through has taught me how to do exactly that. It is certainly ironic that for the very same memory that falsified my self-image I have also learnt how to love who I am. 

Noor Inayat Khan

 Blog post featuring on the website for the campaign Change the Script ran by the Hon Baroness Uddin.

When we think about World War II the images that are generally conjured up are that of Nazi Germany, bombs, air raids, spies and trenches and not anything remotely related to a  woman at war let alone a Muslim one. That’s where Noor Inayat Khan, an unsung hero as it were, comes in. There are a number of reasons why you probably haven't heard of her before, and a lot of them remain the same reasons why established Muslim women aren't spoken about in British society today. Nonetheless, looking at a historic figure like Noor tells us that having a Muslim female inspiration is entirely tangible. 

Noor was born on the 1st January 1914 in Russia to an Indian father and American mother, a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore.

She was brought up in both Britain and France making her the perfect mesh of bilingual and multicultural, ready to be plucked by the elite Special Operations Executive in 1942 set up by Winston Churchill. She was sent to Paris to work as a radio operator, which made her the first woman undertaking this job in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The thing to remember about Noor is that she did not take on this position with the notion of fighting because of her love for Britain, instead, it was her aversion to fascism and dictatorship. Sadly, it was both those things ultimately led her to her tragic death.

Codenamed Madeleine, also known under the false identity as Jeanne Marie Renier, she assumed the identity of a governess from Blois who had moved to Paris.

Within the first week of the operation, many of the top operatives had been captured by the Gestapo (the official Nazi secret Police). After some time laying low with another agent, word was heard from London instructing Noor to return. She, however, refused instruction. She requested to stay on after realising she was the only British operative remaining and continued to single-handedly work six radio operators on her own.

After three months of tirelessly having to change her appearance and alias in order to continue sending intercepted radio messages back to England, her name had been compromised. An act of betrayal from a colleagues sister, Noor was caught and taken to the German prison Pforzheim in 1943. Her refusal to divulge any information led to 10 months of beatings, torture and starvation being taken to Dachau concentration camp where she was tortured further. On the 13th September 1944, Noor Inayat Khan was led to her execution. Her last word; “liberté.”

Her piece of history doesn't stand alone. It highlights the importance of Muslim women being bold in their beliefs, but more importantly, it exemplifies the 1000’s of stories about both Muslim women and men who had participated, fought and lost their lives in WWII who are all unsung heroes.

Identity, Religion & Home

 Blog post published on the website AMALIAH.COM.

There are 24 days, 1 hour, 44 minutes and 40 seconds from the point of which I'm writing this until the day I turn 24. At this very moment all I can keep thinking about is whether or not to question myself, what I want in life and who I am. 

Up until around four months ago, I thought I very much knew where I stood when it came to a number of different elements in my life. To note, the areas that have changed the most are where religion is concerned. The thing that has changed the least is my desire to have a family of my own. The two have become interchangeable and intertwining. It’s a strange clarity I didn't expect to grace me with its presence this year. When I explore the deep running roots in my mind as to why for so long I rejected the notion of Islam, I realise there is only one that stares me in the face yet I had an army of various and intangible excuses to justify myself. But I don't want to justify it anymore, it has little to do with the choices I have made as an individual, the inability to understand how I could possibly fit into my surroundings, the blue eyed blonde haired popular girls at school who thought it was cool to have an “exotic” girl a part of their clique, the teenage years of rebellion, the men who found me attractive or even the dumbfounded curiosities I wanted to explore just to say I had experienced them. The truth is, being able to blame a higher being for the suffering I have endured in my personal life is the only real reason I chose to reject my religion. It wasn't until someone recently asked me whether I had planned to bring the children I want to have as Muslims or not, that I realised I was not being honest with myself.

Time passes, and in that time it is unnerving how vast amounts can change. Throughout the month of Ramadan, I kept thinking about how, when I have children, I would bring them up. I also thought about how so very little of the ideas of my future I had built up in my head were plausible. By removing myself from the religion I grew up with, I would also be removing myself from my family. It wasn't as I had always thought, that they pushed me out for not being the same as them but rather it was the very opposite. They would never reject me for the choices I make, it would be me rejecting them. 

Religion to me means home. It’s the love that my family runs on like clock work. It’s the heritage of my Father’s family, defining the very acts and statements they made in its name. It’s the mutterings of prayers I can hear my Grandmother making quietly in her armchair. It’s the thing that binds my Mother and her sisters together as a strong female unit. It’s my brothers and cousins praying all together on Saturdays no matter the space they are in and how many of them there are. It’s the only way I can connect to the memories left of my Grandfather. It is and always has been in every part of my life, when I wanted it and when I didn’t. I could never walk away from what will always be home. So, aside from providing the family I have of my own one day with a physical home, I want to bring them up knowing that there isn't just one definition for it. 

I now have 24 days, 32 minutes and 49 seconds until another year has passed. For a change, I am settled. Im not afraid of not having achieved everything I wanted to. All that matters to me now is how the thoughts that form my blurry goals make me feel; a sensation I would love to be able to lament in words, sadly though scouring the dictionary hasn't come up with anything satisfactory for me yet. Let’s revisit this subject in another 389 days and I might just be able to say.