Featured artist: Dana Dajani and “Love Letters to Palestine”

"I keep thinking about ways to be heard- how do we break through Israel's iron heart to remind them that we are all equal- human- vulnerable- just trying to get by, raise a family, learn, live, love." - Dana Dajani

“I keep thinking about ways to be heard- how do we break through Israel’s iron heart to remind them that we are all equal- human- vulnerable- just trying to get by, raise a family, learn, live, love.” – Dana Dajani

As news of destruction and attacks in Palestine fills our newsfeeds and screens, we think “What can be done?!”. Didn’t the world say “Never Again” after Srebrenica, after Rwanda? But here we are watching asymmetric wars being played out as if human life and those of Palestinians no longer matters, as if it never mattered. As if we can excuse actions of the powerful as “self-defense” and in its name bomb, and attack and strike over and over again. Where children slumbering in their rooms, clutching dreams, become another number in the “rising death toll“.

In the wake of yet another somber reminder that the world we live in needs more so much more love, SISTERHOOD presents a feature of award winning Palestinian artist and actor Dana Dajani. Dana’s poem “Love Letters to Palestine” truly warmed our hearts and is a poignant reminder of the power of art, storytelling and poetry in advocating for love, for justice, for peace.

Could you tell us about you and your work?

I am an actor and a writer dedicated to creative story telling which highlights the resilience of the human spirit! Whether through theatre, film, poetry, or literature, I strive to tell stories that illuminate the common bonds shared across humanity, to make clear how these bonds outweigh our perceived differences.

What inspires your poetry?

Many things inspire my poetry—sometimes just a beautiful day, an amazing conversation, the love of being alive. Other times I write ‘on assignment’ and decide that there is a certain issue I want to tackle. Those poems sometimes take weeks to craft!

Where does art meet activism for you? And how important is art in activism on critical issues?

I once heard a quote, “Art without politics is just decoration.”  I think as artists, we are blessed with the opportunity to hold a mirror to society and reflect on issues that need immediate attention and action. I think art is at its most powerful when making a statement about the world -either the inner world, or the material world.

Although the West boasts about “Democracy”, I find that not many people bother to get involved in politics- it’s so messy, it’s so boring and stagnant. But by attaching narratives to certain causes, art makes issues more accessible. In doing so, the message spreads and more people become aware of the issue, and also build an emotional attachment and investment to that issue. Then activism naturally follows.

Please tell us the story behind your latest poem “Love Letters from Palestine”?

“Love Letters from Palestine” was one of those poems written “on assignment” as I mentioned earlier. In 2012, I was asked to perform at a fundraiser for Palestine, but didn’t have anything recent or relevant so I sat down to write a new piece about Falastin. However, I had not visited since 1996, and felt I couldn’t write from my own perspective. As an actress, I created a character, a hajje (or old woman) called ‘Nakbe’, and the words just started to flow from her perspective.

It took me two weeks to complete the poem just in time to perform at the fundraiser. During sound-check of the event, the organizers politely told me that I could not perform the poem, as they felt it was too “aggressive”. I ended up performing an old piece about my grandfather, and totally buried the poem. I thought of it as a failed experiment. Until I returned to Palestine in 2013.

I was eager to film something during my trip to Falastin last year with a friend of mine who makes documentary films. I showed her the poem and we decided to film it guerilla-style around the Apartheid wall in Bethlehem. She was extremely supportive and encouraged me to perform the poem at every opportunity, she really made believe in it again after so long! Due to work and travel, a year passed before I was able to edit the footage we shot, but the film of the poem is finally out! Of course, a recording of me performing the poem came out before the film was released, and my simple spoken word performance went viral. I hope as many people have the opportunity to see the film of the poem as well!

Dana DajaniWhat have you been working on lately and what can we look forward to?

I have three major goals for 2014/2015:

One is to publish a book of my poetry.

The second is to release an album with my band, Floetics. Floetics is an experimental riff on rhythm and rhyme- a combination of poetry, song, and melody. We have been collaborating for over two years and have a lot of original songs together.. so I think its time for an album!

Lastly, I am working on writing a piece of poetic theatre about the relationship and correspondences between May Ziyade and Khalil Gibran.

What would be a dream project for you?

I would love to work on a feature film with someone like Nadine Labaki, or, on the total opposite end of the spectrum, Quentin Tarantino! I would also love to tour a production in the Hakawati style of story telling. Perhaps a contemporary poetic twist on some the classic Arabic hikayas, or stories!

Find Dana on the interwebs: 

Website: www.danadajani.com 

Twitter: @dajani88 

Youtube- dajani88d

Facebook- TheHumanSpiritProject

Featured Artist: Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and #MuslimVDay cards

Tired of the same old Hallmarked sugar coated Valentine day cards or silly memes on the interwebs? Us too. So we were thrilled to come across an artist, writer and activist (among many other awesome things) Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and her edition of #MuslimVDay cards. These cards are witty, humorous but also have tinges of socio-political contention that will either make you relate and want to share, sit down and discuss or be discomforted. So we asked Taz whats love got to do with it? 

imageCould you tell us about you, your work and activism?

I am a political activist, writer, story collector, a poet and artist based in Southern California. I’m a Muslim, a woman, a South Asian, a Person of Color, a Radical, an Asian American and the intersection of all those combined. I’ve always been a social justice activist, but really jumped into doing it as a career doing voter mobilization work to save the environment when I was in college.

It wasn’t until after 9/11 happened that I realized the importance and need of creating a political voice for the South Asian community. I’ve been working in this area of identity politics ever since then – whether it’s starting the non-profit South Asian American Voting Youth in 2004, to writing Desi pop/politics for the blog Sepia Mutiny and later curating images of the legacy of South Asian American diaspora at www.mutinousmindstate.tumblr.com. It has been an interesting journey living a life centered on social justice – the core of my career is centered around creating a political voice for marginalized people, mainly through the power of electoral politics. My artistic side projects over the years have evolved to really explore how words and narratives can destruct mainstream imagined narratives and pull out the counternarratives needed to empower our communities back from the margins. Between my career and my side projects, and my deliberate life motto of “picking the path that leads to the better story” – it’s been an interesting life.

IMG_20140211_182414

What inspires your art?

If by art, you mean my paintings – they are often inspired by my inability to write. When I’m unable to write, my mind will start to feel in colors and design, and I’ll have to paint. In particular, my paintings of late revolve around the patterns that you see in henna designs – I’ll spend hours googling images. My current series of paintings is based on “alponas” and the idea that these circles designs represent “welcome” and “walkway”.  I’ve been working on this series on skateboards. Mainly because I used to skateboard, but also because I like the symbolism behind it.

If by art, you mean my writing – I am inspired to write by the things I see around me – I usually keep a notebook at all times and jot things down.  I currently have a monthly column at LoveInshallah.com called Radical Love where I explore the intersection of radical and love. I haven’t been as prolific on the writing front as I would like, but I try not to pressure myself on quality, and focus more on the aspect of creating – as long as I write, it’s a good day. I stopped writing after my mother passed away two years ago, so I’m trying to return to writing without panic attacks again.

Please tell us the story behind Muslim V-Day cards? What sparked the idea?

It all started with a hashtag on twitter. And I had been spending a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be a part of the book Love, Inshallah, which is an anthology of love stories by Muslim American women. The book came out around Valentine’s Day 2012. My story “Punk Drunk Love” about falling in love with the lead singer of a punk band is published in there. I kept thinking about how externally what being a Muslim woman is placed on me and internally within the Muslim community I also have ideas placed on me what it means to be a Muslim woman. I kept thinking of Valentine puns that made people think and force themselves to deconstruct imagined Muslim narratives. So I tweeted them with #MuslimVDay cards. And they got liked. And I painted some and mailed them to friends. And people kept telling me how they wish they could buy them, so this year I made them available for purchase.

What I like about the project the most is that it’s about love while being radical at the same time – it’s cute and adorable and the best slogans are the ones that make people think and confront their internalized stereotypes without attacking. Either people get that this is about destructing narratives or they think that I’m being super heretical. I’m also pretty particular to make sure most of the cards refer to a contemporary political islamophobic hot topic of the moment. It’s subtle. But if #MuslimVDay cards made you stop and think – then I did my job. And if you laughed, then I did my job too.

What has been the response to the cards thus far?

So far, I’ve gotten only positive responses on the cards, from both Muslims and Non-Muslims. And I’ve sold about 100 sets of the cards so far. There have been a couple of comments on some people’s facebook pages which are kind of prudish and offended by the cards. But I’ve never been one to draw a prudish crowd and I kind of thrive on offending. Call it the punk in me.

What would you like to be the main takeaway from the cards?

The first take away is that I hope people laugh and find humor in a time where Muslims are so clouded in a narrative of islamophobic fear. Muslims are funny, and they love, and they are witty. The second is that I hope it makes people uncomfortable with the current political climate and think about aspects of our Muslim American narratives that keep getting pushed to the margins. Finally, I never got the cool valentine cards when I was a kid – only the popular kids got those. I always got the “You’re swell” and never the “Will you be my Valentine?” These things really matter when your eight years old and the one Brown kid in a class of Whites.  I really hope this year, Muslim grade school kids everywhere use these #MuslimVDay cards instead of all those generic One Direction Valentines cards at CVS. They may get expelled. And their parents will have to “have a talk.” And the kids will have an FBI file at a really young age…. Okay fine, I don’t want that to happen. But it’d be a great story.

Which one is your favorite and why?

“I’d wiretap that.” Because I’m pretty sure I’ve both been wiretapped and that I’ve used the term “I’d tap that.”

Is there someone you’d REALLY love to give a card to whom you haven’t yet?

I wonder what President Obama would say if I mailed him a #MuslimVDay postcard.

….I’m so getting in trouble because of this, aren’t I?

—————-

We think he might actually love them! :)  

20140213_211627_1

 Read Tanzila’s full bio here 

Buy her cards here: TazzyStarShop 

Taz blogs at Say What? My public place to say what I want. So listen up.

Follow her on twitter: @tazzystar 

 

 

 

“The Dance of Dandelions” – Photography Project

SISTERHOOD Blogger Hayah, is just getting into creating a series of her pictures around things she says she is “obsessed” about. Her ongoing projects include ‘The Dance of Dandelions’ featured below, as well as on sunsets & afterglows and city-spaces.

486703_10151353474422820_847929497_n

 

Where most people see weeds, we see wishes. There is something deeply beautiful about dandelions. The perfect roundness, the synchronicity with with the seeds thrive in a communal shell and then float out on its own to form another one. It’s grace and beauty is startling really. Reminds us to quieten down.” – Hayah

 

Featured Poetry by Huma Munshi

1238909_10151939036028185_720220350_n

Love

That love you were looking for,
Did you find it, they ask.
Has the emptiness disappeared?
Is your soul at ease?
Can you breathe?
Can you live?

I reply: my journey is incomplete.
My heart is still searching;
My spirit is still fighting.
But I fight to live
And sometimes I win.

Sometimes I write,
Sometimes I remember
That I am someone, that I matter.
Sometimes I take in all the love
I deserve.

But when I crumble,
I forget myself.
I am nothing,
The world is better off
Without my presence.

The darkness beckons
The silence calls me closer
And I fight
I try to believe
That I am something
And I matter.

So I Choose Life

These voices crush me,
This passage of pain.
The deafening repetition
Fuelled with hate and loathing.
But you are not real,
I am real:
My soul and spirit,
So I choose life.

Abandoned and rejected,
A history of pain and loss.
My voice has been silenced,
Time and time again.
Ruined by despair and pain;
But I will find solace,
I will fight.
So I choose life.

You never fucking cared,
Tell me why?
Was it worth it?
Your need to control and crush,
To make right,
My inherent ‘wrongness’.
But I will choose my life.

And there are other voices,
Other loves, other embraces.
I will not give up this fight,
I will not be silenced again.
Others will hear,
There is another way,
So I choose life.

——

2491

Huma Munshi is a writer and poet. She is passionate about addressing inequality through her writing at HumaMunshi on feminism, forced marriage, mental illness, films and her trade union activism. She is a regular contributor at the F-Word and Black Dog Tribe amongst others, find her @Huma101 She sees writing as a mechanism to overcome trauma and connect with others.

Perspective Series: Guest Post “Personal racist incident in the UK”

As a 34 year old British Asian woman from a Muslim household in Bradford, I am sad to report on the first ever race hate incident that I have personally experienced.

Two weeks ago four pig heads were placed in my garden. I am not scared by this pathetic attempt to offend me because of the religion I was born into. As Muslims, we are not supposed to eat pork. Those dead pigs in my garden only offended my nose and good sense of hygiene. For the record my family loves Peppa Pig, we just wouldn’t eat her.

On Friday 14 June, my family woke up to go to work and initially discovered two decomposing, maggot infested, gut wrenchingly awful smelling pig heads placed in our garden. One by our front door, and one by our back door. On reporting the incident to the police, we were asked to preserve the heads as they may be able to send them to forensics. Read more

Ramadhan series: Fiction Guest Post by Huma

This story is told from the point of view of two characters;  Zarina, the  daughter and Naznin, her mother.

Zarina

The clock on the faded floral wallpaper ticks, slowly but surely as we wait, once again, we wait. The food is ready as we’ve broken fast and prayed; the table is laden with the rice, fragrant with the cumin seeds, the tender lamb, full of cardamom and the steam is rising and rising. The daal is simmered just so and is perfumed by the coriander. The metal spoon in the pot gleams; it is turned at an angle, pointing towards my plate.   My stomach rumbles.

image

I’ve only had a soft, juicy, almond date so far, as is the custom and mother is keen to wait for my brother. He has flown in from the States, finally, after six years, to see the family. Read more

Perspective Series: Guest Post “Of Mixed Breeds and Other things”

It is true, Muslim women cannot be conformed to looking, living and being of just one kind. Her stories are as diverse as the way she chooses to live them. SISTERHOOD Guest post by Seni (Sri Lanka). 

DSC00756

 

On a cold day. Rather, a cold day caused by too much air-conditioning at a corporate firm that freezes the nude of your legs uncovered by the skirt.

Yes, I wear skirts. The short kind too. When I go partying it occasionally becomes shorter but neither the boys at the bar nor the blokes who sell smokes off the counter seem to complain. Some even ask me how old I am just to ensure that I am of age, which I am. Trust me.

Biologically, my genes are an exact mix of the Sinhalese kind (read Aryan, 4 BC) and the Malay kind (Muslims from Indonesia and Malaysia. My ancestors are of the former, I am told). In Christian school things were a bit of a mess for me to sit in an Islam class with a Buddhist surname with only my uniform and no trouser, shawl etc while my sister sat in the Buddhism classroom a few years before me.

A more recent anecdote to tickle your nude legs: asking my boss if it is okay to come in and leave work a little earlier than my usual hours  in the month of July. “Why,” she asks me. “Fasting,” I reply. She nods an okay and a moment later asks curiously, “But why are you fasting?” Bam. Usual line of “uhhs”, flushed face and a “because I’m Muslim” line. In response I receive the usual look of surprise and rush to explain myself: “My father’s a Buddhist and mum’s a Muslim, I know it’s a little hard to comprehend when I’m donned in a short skirt.” She laughed it off and nodded an ‘okay’. She didn’t seem to believe me though, I thought and muffled a silent giggle.

Trust me, she isn’t the only one. When I was in my teenage years, at the time we-used-to-hang-on-the-phone-till-dawn-like-we-had-no-school-the-next-day,  there was once a boy (Muslim bloke) who asked me to recite the Kalimah (an Islamic prayer)  just to prove that I was Muslim! The audacity. I am not the staunchest of believers, I know but I do not have to prove to anyone my relationship with God.

Identity is not entirely about religion. To me, religion is a very personal matter. It’s like asking someone for their age or if they had a miscarriage. Yes, it is that personal. So don’t go asking me how many days I fast and if I gave the exact 2.5 percent of Zakath (charity) or when I would start wearing a Hijab. Be happy that my piercings are only on the ears and nose and that I got no tattoo. I do my prayers, maybe not regularly and I ask forgiveness from God for the mistakes I do unconsciously and the drinks I order while very much sober. I like to think of it as a required phase in the 20s. Some may disagree but I couldn’t care less. If my existence needn’t be justified, I don’t see why my identity should. I know God loves me, and that’s good enough to get me through life.

 

—–

Seni also blogs at Jill in the box 90. She believes in the power of the word and the ability to craft it as being universal.

Video Poetry – ‘In Her Honor’

It is estimated that over 5000 women lose their lives in so called ‘honor’ killings in any given year (UN).The depth of inhumanity that drives parents and relatives to collectively plot and murder a family member, most often a female member, based on the notion of family ‘honor’ is unparalleled. For these families, any attempt made by their daughters, wives or sisters to exert her independence, agency and choice must be stifled and the family name and honor must be restored through her death. Based on the deep rooted patriarchal notion of women being under the control of men, and that men’s worth is measured by who can “control” their female members. Based on the notion that women are less human, their lives expendable, replaceable. At the very root of honor based violence and killings is the concept that her life, her memory can be erased, and she ceases to have ever existed.

But she existed. And continues to exist in the memories that the Earth will hold dearly. As women she exists through our lives. She exists in the choices we choose to make, and decisions we choose to take, to live our lives. Truly live them.

This is a video poem in her honor and to remember.

Night frost on the window sill,
Reflects her story within it.
They thought the frost would melt
Come blistering rays of sun,
And the morning would forget
That she had lived.
But the frost turned to air,
Air to wind,
Wind to song,
Sung to the world
That she had lived.
Her nights of battle
And her days of war,
Soldiering alone
In the battlegrounds
That is the life of a woman.
Oh dear one,
They wished to forget you,
They who are meant to protect you…
What can we do now?
Do tell us your favorite color?
What did you think of roses?
What songs made you dance?
Do you know the sky was blue today,
The stars they shine bright for you…
The roses release their scent in your honor
The birds they sing in memory of you…
Their cold heart cannot hold your warm presence, my dear..
But you live on forever in all beings innocent…
In your like is the life of every woman.
To forget your story is to forgot ours,
To honour your life,
Is to ensure that we too live a life of honour.
And love as beings capable of love.
For those who believe in love but who hath love snatched away,
Do still believe.
Love is that brighter day that seem so far away,
Yet is on its way…. it’s on its way.

(By Hyshyama Hamin)

More information:

Online memoriam site – Memini - www.memini.co

Honor Based Violence Awareness Resources – www.honor-killings.com 

Banaz – A Love Story - http://fuuse-films.com/

SISTERHOOD Guest Post: ‘Proud to be Afghan, Proud to be Muslim, & Proud to be Pedaling’

Guest post by Kyleanne Hunter.

Photo credit Claudia Lopez (www.claudialopezphotography.com)

Photo credit Claudia Lopez (www.claudialopezphotography.com)

For most of you reading this, the bike is important.  For many of you, it may be the thing.  You plan work, dates, time with your friends and family around your training schedule.  If work goes late or plans change to interfere with your ride, the world may as well have imploded in on you, because it’s that catastrophic.  You count calories and watts to find that magic strength to weight ratio.  You fuss over race weight, LT power and training hours.  You need Di2.  You shop for teams based on the discount you get at bike shops and how many races they’ll comp for you.  We’ve all done this.  (yes, I’m guilty of it too) We’ve also all cloaked ourselves in altruism to do a charity ride in a nod to social consciousness that fits in our training plans.

And while we’re fussing over race wheels, race weight, and watts, we’re taking for granted that we get to ride our bikes.  So close your eyes for a moment and remove yourself from the decision of choosing between your Zipps’ or Enves’ and imagine that when you go out to ride you are choosing to risk your life.  Imagine that just to pedal to the store you are defying centuries of law and cultural and religious norms.  Imagine that you have to train in secret, not because your significant other is upset that you bought yet another set of race wheels, but because a large portion of your society considers it a morality crime.

I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to join the crew of Mountain2Mountain and Afghan Cycles to deliver some new road bikes and equipment to an amazing group of women in Afghanistan, and chronicle their boundary-breaking journey.  Like any revolutionary, the women of the team are only peripherally aware of the larger-scale impact they are having.  They are riding their bikes because they love it.  They are risking societal shame and outcast because they love their country, and hope to paint it in a positive light to the world.  When they speak of the bike, and their ability to race, they sound much like my friends and teammates.  The laugh and sing with their friends on team road trips.  They joke with each other and their coach.  They balance school, work and family with training time.  Because of the dangers – both culturally and physically from living in a war zone – they get to train 2-3 times a week.  But they make the most of these limited training sessions.

When they speak of sending a message to the world, they speak of their love for Afghanistan, but there is so much more than that.  While there were attempts to create a women’s cycling team 20 years ago, Taliban control and fundamentalist rule made it impossible.  The Taliban forced women into the shadows, and strict interpretations of Islamic law and morality codes forbade women from straddling the saddle of a bike.  To put it in context, riding a bike carried the same stigma and punishment as prostitution.

Yet as the Taliban has been loosing its grip on the country, young women and men have begun to emerge and question Taliban-imposed law, asserting what they know to be right. Read more

SISTERHOOD interview with Anna Holmes, Founder of Jezebel

Jezebel: Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing. Those of us who regularly read sites relating to gender, feminism and related issues have at some point shared links and must-reads from Jezebel. Anna Holmes founder of the site was recently at the National Conference on Media Reform organized by Free Press and presented in a panel “Pop Culture Critiques: Somewhere Between Love and Hate” along with awesome media feminists Jaclyn Friedman, Elisa Kreisinger, Susana M. Morris and Cameron Russell. SISTERHOOD’s resident blogger Hyshyama Hamin caught up with her for a brief interview afterwards.

Pic by GQ

Pic by GQ

 

H: What is the story behind Jezebel?

AH: In 2007, I was asked to create a site for the company (Gawker Media) that owns it. As an African – American woman I felt the mainstream media and other women’s magazines did not recognize diversity. It was very “white”. I was frustrated that the focus was on appearance and in getting and keeping male acquaintances or partners. Women were told to have a man, be thin and look white. And I wanted a site that acknowledged that women had interests in fashion and popular culture but that didn’t treat them as ‘stupid’ or persuade them to buy things. A site that catered to women of color had more of a world focus than a US focus and embraced the concept of feminist; and one that I would read and be proud of.  Young women might come into the site looking for fashion or media related reads, but who would stay because of interesting and funny discussions happening between readers.

H: What is different about Jezebel from the other similar sites out there?

AH: Back in 2007, there were a number of big websites selling fashion and beauty relating information to women. It was a niche market. When Jezebel was launched, we were one of the few sites on fashion, celebrity news and beauty that was not selling anything to women. When we started getting a reader base a lot of other copy cat sites emerged. Readers who had not encountered writings about popular culture came into the site for things like fashion and beauty, were able to get informed and some even politicized because of the way the content was written but also through comments from other readers. The success of the site has been on a large part due to the readers and their engagement. Jezebel was maybe revolutionary, but definitely new and provocative!

H: Any advice for young women writers?

AH: Feel empowered to speak your mind even when you are doubtful and let go of the impulse of holding back. You have to understand that opinions change over time and that criticism is not the end of the world. When/if criticized, take some deep breaths and think, is this something I can learn from or not? People on the internet get offensive and most often the reaction is to be defensive and not listen. There maybe a grain of truth in criticism so you need to be open and learn from it.

Writing is a process and we must always to strive and adopt an open mind when possible. The web gives us a way to connect to likeminded people, we are less alone in our views and are exposed to more people we can learn from. Also when you write (articles or op-eds) unless the comments are moderated do not read them. Lastly be easy on yourself!

While Anna Holmes no longer manages Jezebel, she continues to be engaged in writing and editing. She has also just completed her book “The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things” which will be out in October. We look forward to reading it and wish her all the very best! 

SISTERHOOD Guest Post: Sri Lanka – “When sleeping women wake, mountains move”

Sisterhood Guest Post by social justice advocate and artist Hafsa. 

Pic by Rushda Mohideen

Pic by Rushda Mohinudeen

Last June, while visiting a north-western province in Sri Lanka, I had the chance of observing a community development initiative that focused on women’s empowerment and enhancing their role in participatory democracy. One of interesting prescripts that I observed was that most of the requests came from local women, who brought their concerns to informal gatherings; from where community organizers took on the role of coming up with ways to effectively address their concerns. These concerns ranged from raising awareness on issues related to domestic violence, marching against a rise in sexual abuse of minors and the culture of impunity surrounding it, and addressing what they saw as a lack of Tamil-language services in the local general hospital and transportation services. The latter of which was rectified by implementing a system of identification, whereby patients now need only present a color-coded card in emergency situations to receive services in the appropriate language, reducing the dangers of misdiagnosis and further distress.

Such ingenious solutions by locals stem from their ties to “place”, which is simultaneously an ecological design practice as a well as a proven sustainable development paradigm. It’s the idea that solutions derived from the lived experiences of locals have a transformative potential for communities, which far exceed the effectiveness of top-down policies implemented by central authorities. These women had no thought for waiting around until the authorities addressed their issues, they simply seized the day. All of this is to say that, in a country mired by nepotism and bureaucratic red -tape, the remarkable achievements of such women, demonstrate that there is still space, however small, in the Sri Lankan socio-political landscape for women to push for change. Needless to say that these women, who mainly spoke Tamil and many of whom were Muslim, get over looked time and time again by much of the media, and even parts of civil society, who only continue to obscure their presence from the public psyche.

In light of the rise in Islamophobic elements within Sri Lanka, many of the country’s Muslim women now find themselves in the frontlines of the chauvinism spearheaded by racist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force). Muslim women, who increasingly don the veil or the long black robes, have been cited as a threat to such group’s xenophobic ideals, who find them guilty by association due to increasing visibility.

This is, of course, nothing new in my part of the world, where the meanings and connotations of Muslim women’s sartorial attires have been perpetually intellectualized, politicized and mystified since the Orientalist narratives began trickling in from the colonial era. More recently, the attacks on the world trade center and the subsequent “War on Terror”, has garnered new waves of (mis)representation of visibly Muslim women as either oppressed and in need of saving – incidentally a cause championed by mainstream U.S feminists during the Afghan war, or as abettors to violent extremism. It’s particularly unsettling for me to see these sentiments, or rather what I more comfortably understood to be the “western” obsession with veiled Muslim bodies, beginning to mirror in the psyche of subalterns on the other side of the globe. Looking at this situation through the post-colonial lens, particularly in the post-911 context, might be a worthwhile intellectual exercise for the Island’s scholars, but for now, it suffices to say that the rise in Islamophobia threatens to seriously “other”ize and dehumanize the country’s millennia-old Muslim community. Read more

SISTERHOOD Guest Post: “100 years of Indian cinema” – The women who have intrigued on screen

Guest post by Sisterhood guest blogger Selina Ditta (UK) Freelance writer (@selina_writes)

May 3 is being marked as the official 100th birthday of Indian cinema. DG Phalke became known as the “Father of Indian Cinema” after the success of his film Raja Harischandra, screened in Mumbai, in May 1913. It wasn’t considered appropriate for women to work in film at this time so the female characters were played by male actors.

Padmini

Padmini

Seeta Devi

Seeta Devi

Mala Sinha

Mala Sinha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As 2013 marks its centenary year, I want to take a look at some of the actresses who have broken boundaries in Hindi cinema and hypnotised audiences over the decades.

Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar Achyut Kanya 1936

Devika Rani had an aura and style which audiences loved; her method of acting is studied and emulated to this day. Known as the “First Lady of the Indian screen”, she happened to work on set-design originally and became skilled in many aspects of film including production. She founded the Bombay Talkies film studio in the 1930s with her husband and became a mentor for upcoming actresses. Rani’s films were socially conscious and explored themes of ostracism, caste issues and the prospects of dancing girls. Achoot Kanya (1936) is an interesting film of hers to watch for its technical structure. The storyline is broken up and put together in a pulp fiction way. Much loved – Rani’s “shocker” moment is a scene in Karma (1933), which stunned audiences at the time for the 4-minute long kiss she plants on her co-star.

Read more

SISTERHOOD Guest Post: Boston Marathon Tragedy through the Eyes of a Hijabi Footballer and Wannabe-Runner

By Sisterhood Guest blogger Shireen Ahmed 

Like the rest of the world, I was shocked and horrified when I heard (via Twitter) about the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

I was so stressed and immediately thought about my dear family and friends in the area. Despite warnings that cellular service was shut down I immediately started texting and calling them.

Because they are so wonderful and caring they all replied within minutes to assure me that they were safe.

My younger cousin, absolutely dashing and charming fellow whom I adore, works in downtown Boston. I called my Aunt frantically to ask about all of them. By the Grace of God Almighty, my cousin was sick today. And he stayed home. I have never been more thankful for a flu and fever of a family member.

I was waiting to hear back from another friend living in the area but then I was reminded she was in Mexico.

A very close friend messaged me back to also let me know she was OK.I didn’t expect a long conversation and was so, so relieved she and her family were alright.

She had been downtown with her sister and sisters children.

Over 500, 000 spectators and volunteers assemble to watch the magnificent annual race.

I thought about the kids. I thought about when my children come to cheer me on when I run a local marathon (10k) every year. They stand with signs and banners and scream my name as I push towards the end.

To my horror, my blackberry started going crazy when a few members of my football team started emailing to inquire about Chris.

Out teammate was running in Boston.

I texted her and her husband not expecting any reply.

It was the longest 6 minutes I have experiences in eons.

Rich texted back to say Chris was running, just finished when the bomb exploded and they they are “trying to get out of Boston”.

I thanked him and just said “Be safe”.

I started shaking uncontrollably.

Their daughter plays basketball with mine.We have spent countless hours together. Chris and I play together. She is my teammate and my friend.

She texted me as well about 30 minutes later to say “Hi. We are both good. I felt the first bomb in my chest. it was so powerful. thanks for thinking of us”.

I sent out a short message to the rest of my team. I exhaled. Then I went numb.

It hit me how close she was to being hurt. WHY would someone do this?

Then I got angry. I was furious. WHO DOES THIS?

These people are athletes FOR GOD’S SAKE! They come with no political agenda. No motive. They are dedicated; work and sweat for this event.

They are surrounded by family, friends, supporters, trainers, tireless volunteers and event staff.

The incredible athletes and runners committing to 46k of arduous athletic activity.

They have trained for months; physically, mentally and emotionally.

They are drained and just exhausted at the end.

And they are met with explosions. Fire. Fear. Chaos. Injury. Read more

SISTERHOOD Guest Post: ‘Call to arms after watching ‘Banaz: A Love Story’

By Huma Munshi (@Huma101)

images

I recently attended a screening of Banaz: a Love Story directed by the Human Rights activist, Deeyah, and was overwhelmed by a sense of frustration and anger. We hear statistics about the numbers of young people, mainly women, experiencing ‘honour’ based violence and oppression but watching Banaz, who was murdered by her family members, gave a stark insight into the horror of what these young people are enduring on a daily basis.

The figures for domestic violence in the UK are grim, make no mistake. The Home Office reported that in the UK, 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetimes and in 2010/11, 93 women were killed by a partner, ex-partner or lover in the UK. s overwhelmed by a sense of frustration and anger. We hear statistics about the numbers of young people, mainly women, experiencing ‘honour’ based violence and oppression but watching Banaz, who was murdered by her family members, gave a stark insight into the horror of what these young people are enduring on a daily basis.

Recent figures published by the Forced Marriage Unit indicate that they gave advice or support to 1485 cases involving 60 different countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America last year. Of the 744 cases where the age was known, over 600 of those involved were young people under the age of 26 and the youngest was aged 2. This is a tiny drop in the ocean of the cases that never get known to the authorities.

Banaz fought time and time again as her father sought to break her will and her spirit. This is exactly what this hate crime – because it is a hate crime – seeks to achieve. There is an intense hatred and fear of women and therefore a need to control them: their autonomy, their sexuality, their intellect, their very essence. Read more

Happy International Women’s Day 2013

A day to perhaps understand how far we’ve come as a women-kind in our quest for justice and equality.

A day perhaps to shed light on the living realities of our sisters, our daughters, and our mothers fighting to live a life of dignity.

A day perhaps to look around us and feel blessed of the many incredible women, young and old who have touched our lives and in our world.

A day perhaps to honor our mentors and our teachers and the many activists and advocates in every nook and cranny of the world striving to do what they do to make sure tomorrow is a better day.

But mostly a day to self-reflect on the Joy of being Woman. Of being uniquely you! Dance, sing, eat some delicious chocolate cake. Laugh, a loud hearty laugh. Love, this amazing woman you are!

We love you!

48078_10152163074345931_1815796826_n

Pic by Paula Lerner, who wanted to capture the joy of women in Afghanistan and show the world the happiness of these women. Paula died cancer last year. May she rest in peace. 

 

Love and Solidarity

Sisterhood team.

Response to article “The Islamic Solution to Stop Domestic Violence”

Originally published on the Huffpost Religion blog 

by Sisterhood bloggers and guest bloggers: Samar Esapzai (@SesapZai), Shireen Ahmed (@_shireenahmed_), Vanessa D. Rivera (Nasreen Amina @Nasreen_Vr), Ayesha Asghar(@ashsultana) and Hyshyama Hamin (@SisterhoodArt)

This article is in response to a post by Qasim Rashid of the Muslim Writers Guild of America titled, “The Islamic Solution to Stop Domestic Violence” published in the Huffington Post’s Religion Blog on March 5th, 2012.

Although this post came to our attention a year after it was written, as young Muslim women having worked with and/or written about gender-based violence issues that have  personally affected some of us, we deemed it fit to respond. Also, the points discussed in this article are not only limited to the particular post written by Rashid, but rather it addresses similar arguments that have been made by other writers as well on this issue.

It is a concern to us that Rashid uses the Quran verse 4:34 to explain that it therein contains the “Islamic solution” to domestic violence. He states that according to one perspective of an American social scientist Dr. James Q. Wilson, known for his controversial works on the criminal justice system, that men are more prone to stimulations of anger and aggression and less capable of self-restraint. This, we assume, the author took from one of Wilson’s essays, The Future of Blame in which he cites research from neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Louann Brizendine, where Wilson merely states it as a “claim.” Interestingly, Wilson was also a rational choice theorist on the causation of crime and violence; he has made arguments on the terms that individuals make clear, rational decisions after evaluating all possibilities and does that which benefits them the most.

The theories, both biological and psychological, that claim women and men experience as well as react to anger and violence differently is not new. Christa Reiser, author of Reflections on Anger: Women and Men in a Changing Society writes about how there are other variables such as socio-cultural norms; class and age differences; and process of socialization that explain how men and women react to anger. She writes with regards to a previous research that, “Analysis of independent variables shows that men with low-self esteem, traditional gender roles and attitudes, adversarial sexual attitudes towards women, a history of sexual abuse, and who believe in rape myths generally score higher in hostility towards women.”

So, for Rashid to state only one viewpoint about male violence and saying they have a natural inclination to violence against women is not only biased, but it is also playing into the patriarchal stereotype that men are solely dominated by brute forces, and are therefore unable to control their instincts. This is unfair to men, for not all men are like this; we know of many men who are not violent nor are they inclined towards violent behaviour. And though this behaviour may be universal, for we are living in a global culture of violence and subjugation against women, we cannot automatically conclude that it is part of our biological nature. Violence is a choice; it is not genetically mandatory nor is it innate.

Read more

SISTERHOOD Fiction Series: Guest post “India by Morning”

Guest post by Huma. 

37215705_deed70ac54Everything looks blurry as it always does when Rukshana is without her glasses. The room welcomes her into its warm bosom and she enjoys watching the colours bleed into each other while she considers retrieving her glasses from the top of the oak cabinet. She can smell the incense sticks burning in the corridor – the distinct smell of holy Fridays.

The room is bright and the reach of the sun warms her back and bare arms. Without her glasses all other senses feel heightened. Does one need one’s senses to be heightened on their first day in India when one has come from the cold and grey of London? Probably not, but for today she will allow herself to be cocooned in the offerings of this country.

The green walls are still there as are the white curtains with their darks green flowers and curvy branches. They flutter in the breeze as she catches glimpses of the net-covered windows, like a game of hide-and seek. The nets do not serve a huge purpose in February; this is a month of relative tranquillity from the dramatic Indian weather and in particular, the summer monsoon.

This is when the gushing outpouring of rain from the heavens gives way to the mosquitoes and lizards. She recalls once a lizard falling onto her younger sister’s head as it attempted to climb a wall which her sister was leaning against, she had screamed and shaken her hair rigorously. It had made her 13 year old nephew laugh uproariously; he was very much used to these seasonal Indian idiosyncrasies.

Along with the incense sticks she can smell the fresh breakfast tea brewing. It is not exactly an English cup. She can smell the cardamom pods and the cloves bubbling in the water and she awaits the milky sweetness of her first taste of India.

She hears steps on the marble floor before they reach her. It is her aunt; her shalwar kameez is pink and has a deep maroon border, her hair is wet from her morning bath and she smells like the lilac powder Rukshana can see glimpses of on her neck. Now Rukshana does retrieve her glasses; she wants to see her aunt’s face properly.

“You are up. You can come and have some tea with Waseem and I. He said he wouldn’t have his breakfast without you.”

“Is he not going to work today?” Rukshana wonders aloud, it is 10.30 and even by the standards of Indian weekday mornings, it is getting late for someone to start work.
“He’s decided to stay home today and make sure you are not bored on your first day.”

Rukshana smiles; today is going to be special. There aren’t many times that she can recall having all this to herself. The decision to come to India alone was not without its challenges and mother for one had been reticent. The fact that Rukshana had agreed to spend some time with her aunt and her cousins had been the selling point. Read more

Poem – “Born”

By Sisterhood Blogger Hayah. For the occasion of One Billion Rising – Sri Lanka. 

 

Born.

We brought the light from our grandmothers eyes

The light our mothers wombs held for us

Captured in ever cell passed down through her pains

Voices of her grandmother’s soul in our veins

echoing us into existence..

Read more

SISTERHOOD Guest Post – “The heart of darkness”

Sisterhood Guest Post by Huma @Huma101 

freedom-2

When I was first given my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder on an August night two years ago, I felt a strange sense of relief. Finally, I had a language to understand the waves of emotional distress that were consuming me and, to those closest to me, the beginning of the inexplicably destructive behavior  The red strips across my arm and the hair I had chopped off in a frenzy of anger at myself.

At the time it seemed painfully ironic that the trigger was the experience of being with the loveliest and gentlest man I had ever known. I now realize that it was no coincidence that this journey of greater understanding would start with the experience of something as close to love, than I had ever encountered before. There is a juxtaposition of love unleashing the most painful emotions: that acute and terrifying fear of being abandoned. But the trigger situation had to reach the deepest part of me to unleash the flood of painful emotions.

There is a darkness that I have always kept at bay and when finally the dam burst, there were waves and waves of distress and a mental pain that crippled me. The darkness was well suppressed for years before the eruption. I tried to push it away – I worked hard, I mentored others, I was always out with friends, going on holidays, filling all my spare time. The darkness is a voice that tells me that I am “ugly” and “disgusting”. I know that voice intimately. In Islam we are taught that there are two angels, one on each shoulder telling you right from wrong, and sometimes I wonder if this voice is a substitute for those angels; it crushed me. Read more

SISTERHOOD Guest Post – “Find your voice”

Guest post by Sisterhood guest blogger Selina Ditta (UK) Freelance writer, tweets as @selina_writes

Can you imagine a world without Dr. Maya Angelou’s voice?

"Maya Angelou: Letter to My Daughter" at Barnes & Noble in Union Square on October 30, 2008 in New York City. Photo: Maya Angelou's website

“Maya Angelou: Letter to My Daughter” at Barnes & Noble in Union Square on October 30, 2008 in New York City. Photo: Maya Angelou’s website

In the Youtube clip posted at the bottom of this blog; she said some of the experiences that shook her up made her stop speaking, but she realised it was dangerous for her to stay silent.

One quote that strikes me from the YouTube clip:

Mutism is like a drug, it’s so addictive, you don’t have to do anything

There are so many people around the word whose voices are being muted. Sometimes the news catches on and sheds some light: Read more