Saira Khan announced she was no longer a practicing Muslim.
The problem for women like me, who have a Muslim name and are of Asian heritage, is that others make assumptions about us before we even open our mouths
It’s common to see this complaint about assumptions being aimed at critics of Islam, as if we are making generalisations about what all Muslims think – which isn’t true, though it can be for those that have never taken the trouble to pay attention to Islam outside terrorist attacks.
However, it’s also true of many Muslims who want to impose their expectations of what a (‘good’) Muslim should be.
This week I received a disgusting message from a troll, which made me think it’s high time I came out of the closet to proclaim that I am not a practising Muslim.
It has taken me till the age of 50 to find the courage to say it.
I’m doing it now for my own wellbeing.
I want to be honest and feel free to live my life by my own rules.
I feel that by saying this as a public figure, I will no longer inadvertently confuse or unintentionally hurt others of the Muslim faith.
I must be clear that I do not represent any Muslim communities – especially Muslim women.
It’s worth emphasising some of the points made here.
If it has taken 50 years to have the courage to say it, and it was true during those 50 years, then it is not merely a matter hiding one’s own identity, but also raises the question of why Saira went to so much trouble to make sure she protected Islam from criticism. From outbursts on TV accusing others of racism towards Muslims, when they are criticising the religion, Saira went on to absolve the religion of criticism and instead put all the ills of, as she calls it, “my community” on being of Pakistani origin, and made much of Pakistan itself and its culture being the source of the problems. That this was as racist as labelling grooming gangs as Asian seems to have slipped Saira’s notice – it was not Pakistani Christians, Jews (are there any left) or even Ahmadi Muslims causing the many problems Saira has described numerous times on her Loose Women appearances.
So, in wanting to be honest it’s not just a matter of being honest about one’s own identity that needs to be established, but a little more honesty about Islam. But no, it seems not hurting ‘others of the Muslim faith’ seems the greater concern, and not the harm done by SOME (too large a number) of the Muslim faith, by action or omission.
And, it’s a pity Saira feels she does not want to represent any Muslim community, or Muslim women, because there are many Muslim women, in places like Iran, Saudi, and, yes, Pakistan, that might appreciate a little more vocal support from Western liberal women, especially those that have suffered the experiences Saira has from some Muslims. But, if Saira needs a break from Islam, as a spokesperson, or a critics, that’s her choice.
People assume that because we have Muslim parents we are practising Muslims, that we have read the Quran, that we fast every Ramadan, that we don’t drink, that we don’t have sex before marriage.
Surely Saira knows that the punishment for sex outside marriage in Islam, as stated clearly in the Quran and implemented in some Islamic countries, is 100 lashes? Perhaps not, if she hasn’t read the Quran. But this raises a genuine problem for many Muslims:
- They assert that the Quran is the literal perfect word of Allah, valid for all time, a complete guide to life.
- They ignore the parts of the Quran that are plain for everyone to see, that it prescribes horrendous punishments for acts that should not be considered criminal.
- They assert only the ‘few’ extremists or fundamentalists take the bad stuff literally (i.e. the ‘nice’ Muslims cherry pick and leave those behind, or wave their hands and magic them away with ‘nuance’.)
- They then scream ‘Islamophobia’ at those that choose the take the extremist’s and fundamentalist’s word for it.
Imagine the following:
- Many Nazis declare that to be true to some of the ideas addressed in Mein Kamp it is necessary to exterminate all Jews.
- Opponents of Nazism point out that this crazy ideology is endorsing genocide.
- Some ‘nice’ Nazis scream, “Naziphobe! Not all Nazis! Only the extremists. Nazism is an ideology of peace.”
Would you be convinced?
At last, Saira has found the courage to choose for herself how she wants to live, irrespective of what others want for her.
I’ve not dared to share these feelings before because the very few Muslim women who have already made the admission are called sinful and some have even been targeted with death threats.
Saira is a mature adult, not some teenage girl uncertain of what the changes she is undergoing mean and how they fit in to the strict demands of Islam. If it has taken this long for Saira to have dared, how tough is it for so many others, of all ages, to speak out, female or male, in Islamic or any other ‘community’?
Saira’s public persona is both a privilege and a curse. A young unknown girl that wants to break free of strict religious traditions would have little support within the family or community – the dangers would be very local. A celebrity has wider public support, but also attracts the attention of religious lunatics from further afield.
What I am is someone brought up in the Muslim faith, with parents who practised it. So I have an insight into Islam. Most of my values are based on the spiritual aspects of the Muslim faith. But I’m also influenced by other spiritual teachings. I have found a huge relief in being honest. I feel this was the last taboo to overcome before I could live my best, most happy and fulfilled life.
Perhaps this feature comment says it better than most could:
I have to say I admire you Saira. I’m a 42 year old man from an African background, I entirely understand the cultural and family demands. Girl, you have more balls than most men I know. Bravo!!!shumba78
Perhaps these two comments reflect the worrying aspect of this:
The fact that it’s a problem, is the worrying thing.Volcano
I am now waiting for a statement from her UK Muslim extended family supporting her personal life choices and can we please have input from a UK Muslim elder on mixed faith (on non-faith) marriages.jcnotts
Some comments have been deactivated.
Naturally it didn’t end there. From the BBC:
I am puzzled by how seemingly liberal people will make excuses for what, at best, is a conservative religion, and at worst is an ultra-conservative, misogynistic, homophobic political religious ideology – i.e. as far right as you can get.
This is especially puzzling, up to a point, when most victims of Islam are Muslims and ex-Muslims. The ‘point’ at which it ceases to be puzzling is when you hear the stories, some as bad as Saira’s, many far worse – Muslims and ex-Muslims are terrorised into conforming, or at least looking the other way while those that don’t conform are terrorised. Too often this happens within a family, and more so to women whose brothers, male cousins, uncles, even fathers, would kill a girl for dishonouring Islam.
There seems to be as much identity and protectionism in Islam as in any ‘replacement’ conspiracy theorising white racist group. Islam isn’t a race, but it has clearly been hyped as one, simply because the majority of Muslims in western countries are of a non-white heritage. Good luck pulling of ‘Islamophobia = racism’ when ex-Muslims of the same ethnicities as Muslims criticise Islam. And, did nobody notice the white Muslims (‘converts’ or ‘reverts’) joining ISIS? Saira has spoken out against this identity expectation, “I shopped my own cousin”, “it’s not racist to point out these problems”, but has also been the victim of it … for 50 years?
The ‘Muslim community’ is actually anything but, unless Islam is challenged by non-Muslims, and then the ‘unity’ card is played and even liberal Muslims are either coerced or feel obliged to play along, as Saira herself has done in the past. And when Muslims try to break the pattern, as a number of ‘reform’ Muslim groups do around the world, they are treated as apostates.
Sunni Muslims kill Ahmadis in Pakistan, … and the UK. The Muslim Council or Britain denounces Ahmadis on its web site, with the obligatory text to provide plausible deniability of stirring hate. Sunnis and Shias have flash points in the Middle East. The Oscars, of all places, saw this hatred for Ahmadis when it so many Muslims came out to celebrate a film by Muslim producers … until the Muslim Mafia realised they were Ahmadis. Smaller sects are denounced as not being proper Muslims.
Many Muslims denounce ISIS as non-Muslim, despite so many Muslims, and only Muslims, joining ISIS. But, ISIS denounce Muslims that won’t join or affiliate with them.
Islam is a mess. Not unlike Christianity used to be, and still is to a much lesser extent, with even Northern Ireland sectarian violence having cooled.
Christians are to blame too, for the mess of Islam in the west. It’s a bit risky criticising Islam without bringing down their own house of cards.
Woke anti-racism also plays a significant part. There are racists of all skin colours. #Woke #AntiRacism is #EquityRacism: It doesn’t reduce the amount of white racism in a majority white nation, it gives power to racists of all colours, increasing net racism, validating segregation, even dividing ethnicities internally. And Muslims are a very convenient tool for anti-racists.
Western Feminism can take some blame too. Despite the cries for support from ex-Muslims around the world, or from Muslim women in Iran, too many western feminists look the other way. In my previous post on Saira, where I posted the videos from ITV’s Loose Women, Saira’s co-panelists went out of their way to agree with Saira that this was all about culture and “Nothing to do with Islam”.
Oddly, and to the benefit of nobody, many on the non-Muslim far right, when not blaming all Muslims (and Sikhs) for every Islamic terror attack, will not shy from stating more honest facts about some case involving Islam. The problem is we know it’s not just the facts they want but some wider identity agenda of their own.
I’m anti-religion. It does way more harm than good, when the good could be achieved through any number or religions or none. The good that people claim to get from religion isn’t down to what the religion claims, and could be had without all the dreadful baggage that religion brings with it.
Islam currently brings with it the worst baggage because it is the second largest, and probably soon the largest religion in the world, given Christianity’s slow death. And then you only have to read the Quran, the supposed ‘perfect literal word of God, valid for all time’, a book that is easy for all to read, on the one hand, and yet requires great scholarship to understand – though that scholarship only ever seems to apply to excuse the nasty bits.
Decent Muslims have to ignore much of the Quran. We are told the fundamentalists are a minority of Muslims. OK, then how many decent Muslims will come straight out and say people should not be lashed 100 times for having sex outside marriage? Where is this renounced? Dare it be renounced as a bad part of the Quran, even 1400 years ago. Nobody thinks the Atlantic slave trade can be passed off as “Well, for the times …” – though the Islamic slave trade seems to get a pass, when it wasn’t given up in Saudi until 1962, and Mauritania, a key part of the slave trade, until 1981. The Quran, perfect for all time, still endorses slavery today.
While I still think Ahmadis are wrong in their beliefs, they must be given credit for at least attempting to disarm Islam by conveniently having another prophet (one of explanation not revelation, since Mohammed is supposed to the the final revelatory prophet). But they have no chance of catching on.
The same for reformers. What chance do they have when so many ‘decent’ and ‘liberal’ Muslims denounce them?
What a mess.