top of page

Am I that invisible as a Muslim woman?

Muslim girls and women are essentially invisible to most communities in the Western world. We are just characters in the background who are supposed to silently exist in the name of diversity. Muslim women have never been represented as their authentic selves. I grew up watching Bollywood films, American shows and reading the newspaper headlines that always had a Muslim man, the perpetrator of violence and a Muslim woman as a docile voiceless woman clad in throngs of cloth. I have never seen a Muslim woman who looks like me, who has a voice, who wears the hijab but doesn't wear a black robe, who works in the corporate sector and has a seat at the table fighting for educational accessibility; we exist. But according to the media and the global communities, we only exit when we can be moulded as ammunition against Islam.

"I am sure you are forced to hide your hair."

"You should liberate yourself."

"So boring that you don't drink."

The year is 2023 and I heard these ignorant arguments from a colleague who prides herself as a feminist. It isn't the first time and probably won't be the last when a white woman decides to walk all over me because my identity does not fit into the narrative of feminism for her. I want to tell her and the other strong-headed feminist that as a brown Muslim woman, my invisibility comes with my intersectionality. Tomorrow, even if I decided to quit my faith, take off my hijab and hide, the East and the West would find me and ask me questions; they have no right to ask.

The real question here is that Muslim women's identities are banned, hated, defiled, and seen as symbols of ideologies we may or may not represent. But that does not mean that I have no voice. It does not mean that I do not have a story. It does not mean that I am not empowered. It does not mean you treat me like I am invisible at this table because there is no imposter syndrome here. Instead, I am a woman who has earned a right at this table. I am not your next diversity quota. It also means that I only know enough about myself and my belief. My ideologies are directly proportional to the shoes I have walked into, not the million Muslim women on this planet. But this is a story that nobody wants to hear because their entire ideology is based on their hatred towards Islam. It is used as a weapon in constantly objectifying Muslim women as victims.

Everyone has an opinion of a Muslim woman, but nobody wants to hear a story. I had walked out on my colleague because trying to explain a white woman is equal to banging your head on the wall. I realized that because of my invisibility as a Muslim woman, I have developed a standard response in my brain that says, I respect your opinion. But in my heart, I do not want to fold. I do not want to be invisible. Instead, I want to be visibly seen the way I am. Every single day, all of us combined wear a cloak of invisibility, from the lipstick we adorn our lips with or our black robes or the boundaries we set when navigating in public spaces.

I want to tell those who claim to walk on the streets without any so-called cloaks of invisibility and focus on the black robes and chant, "liberate yourself" your ideology of feminism continues to make me feel more unheard and invisible. I do not need liberation and I do not need your slogan and ideology of freedom because all that does is make me the outsider, the so called other. I refuse to conform to this forced identity where the only acceptable form of feminism is your feminism. According to Merriam-Webster feminism is a ": belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests." But the problem is that my protests go unheard because I am not white.

"Western" is an ideology that could not be applied to me no matter how many countries I travel to or move to unless we could go back in time and rewrite the entire history. I have had the privilege to travel the world to the extent I have lost count. I have travelled when I did not wear a hijab and have travelled since I started wearing one. So, even if they come after my hijab, how do they plan to understand the colour of my existence? How can they understand when they have burnt the pages and rewritten the history of my heritage in a narrative that fits their geopolitical agenda? How can they understand that when 75 years ago, a white man decided to draw an imaginary line across South Asia to create a border? It was that border that my grandparents walked through. It was that border where my grandfather lost his parent yet rose to the challenge to excel. I avoid identifying as a Canadian because I take great pride in my heritage. Still, when I identify as one, I am usually asked, "But where are you actually from?" Why am I expected to be the one to apologize for so-called confusion of being brown, my accent, my Persian first name or my Pakistani-Muslim feminist views? I don't remember anybody ever asking a white person but where are you from? So, why is this so-called narrative that I do not belong in this space or this expectation that I should also be invisible as my Muslim sisters in gorgeous robes?

Amartya Sen wrote, "Our freedom to assert our identities can sometimes be extraordinarily limited in the eyes of others, no matter how we see ourselves." I carry stories within me; the Afghan refugee women whose caseworker I was for years, the non-profit schools in Karachi that I volunteer with, the cup of tea's that I have shared with strangers turned into friends that I met on Twitter, my baby brother's love for hiking, the library of the mosque in my neighbourhood in Toronto, and right now the café that I befriended when I moved to London. Perhaps, if someday the others decided that this is a good day to open the book of Muslim woman, they might discover a story of a daughter, a sister, an educator, the traveller, the writer. The woman.

But the truth is, you cannot conform my identity to a book. I am not a symbol or an empty cover to be displayed on a book. I cannot be banned or pushed to the sideline because every time the radical idea of feminism will do that, I will stand taller to be the voice telling the story of my community. You see, the time has come when Muslim women refuse to be dished on the back page of history or to be classified under the label of others that don't even represent her because I refuse to be invisible. I have a very loud voice that cannot be ignored; I will not beg for attention; instead, I will reclaim it because I am more powerful than you think. You can try to hide me, but I am here to stay, and this is my story.

Until next time,


bottom of page