I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Mikki Kendall's Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot. This review was published in i news.
Hood Feminism is a much-needed reality check for a movement which, says Mikki Kendall, “often centres on those who already have most of their needs met”.
Kendall pulls no punches when it comes to taking white feminist myopia to task: “If we’re going to say that this is a movement that cares for all women, it has to be one that not only listens to all women but advocates for their basic needs to be met.”
Read the full review on i news.
UK book tour dates
Do three dates count as a book tour? For the launch of my novel The Watermelon Boys, I'll be speaking at three events, in Cardiff, Durham and London. Click each venue for directions.
CARDIFF: Saturday 29th September, The Millennium Centre (Japan Room) 6PM.
DURHAM: Thursday 4th October, Elvet Riverside (A56) 4PM. More details here.
LONDON: Friday 5th October, Rosetta Stone Book Shop, Hammersmith 7PM.
I'll be talking all things literature, Orientalism and identity and answering all your questions.
See you there!
About The Watermelon Boys:
It is the winter of 1915 and Iraq has been engulfed by the First World War. Hungry for independence from Ottoman rule, Ahmad leaves his peaceful family life on the banks of the Tigris to join the British-led revolt.
Thousands of miles away, Welsh teenager Carwyn reluctantly enlists and is sent, via Gallipoli and Egypt, to the Mesopotamia campaign. Carwyn's and Ahmad's paths cross, and their fates are bound together. Both are forever changed, not only by their experience of war, but also by the parallel discrimination and betrayal they face.
My book trailer just dropped!!
You can now order my debut novel THE WATERMELON BOYS, released on 30 August 2018 by Hoopoe Fiction.
Buy The Watermelon Boys in the UK
Buy The Watermelon Boys in the US
Watch the trailer here. Hold on to your horses.
Published in The New Arab
After months, nay, years, nay decades of waiting – the Nike sports hijab is finally here.
I know what you’re thinking, Muslim women have been making and designing hijabs for years. There were Capsters, there was the ResportOn, there was ASIYA. There was even a line of sports hijabs at UK retailer John Lewis. And if all else fails, there’s the trusty old swim cap.
I have been wearing the hijab for almost as long as I’ve been playing sports – 19 years to be exact. In the last five years my sports of choice have been football, American football, running, badminton and weightlifting. If there’s a sports hijab out there, I have either tried it, tried to get it, or been put off by its flawed design.
Nike has received some criticism for championing themselves as the visionaries of the sports hijab, since an array of start-ups have attempted to break this market for some time. But here’s the thing, none of them had succeeded, and with good reason.
Some sports hijab prototypes can easily slip back or off with a tumble or tackle. Even when playing flag football, it’s not uncommon to come into contact with your opponents, or even have a collision.
For a sports hijab to be successful, it needs to be secure enough not to move or to fall off – especially while we’re out there, running away from Jayda Fransen and her UKIP pitchfork-wielding cronies.
Let’s talk about restriction. No, not the French authorities’ attempt to control Muslim swimwear, but the fact that sports hijabs are often elasticated around the neck, which can be unbearably suffocating if you are doing any kind of rigorous exercise.
Some of the hijabs I tried seemed to have been designed with a light walk in the park in mind, not as a serious item of sportswear, the technology of which should be on par with a sports bra. Fabrics used to design pre-existing sports hijabs is often dense, barely-permeable lycra that should only be reserved for deep-sea diving.
In my case, having exhausted the options available to me, and nearly fainting at a football game in 42 degree heat, while my wetsuit-hijab throttled me by the neck, I resorted to two alternatives.
For regular sports practice and at the gym, I would wear a hiker’s buff (which many Muslim women would be uncomfortable wearing as it reveals the neck), and for competitive games – which are obviously more aggressive – I enlisted the help of my magic-seamstress mother to design a hijab that would not slip and didn’t restrict my neck.
It says much that this homemade sports hijab was better than any that I had actually paid for.
But the wait is over. A sports empire finally noticed the gap in the market, and with it, no doubt, the opportunity for big bucks to be made. According to the "State of the Global Islamic Economy Report" produced by Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard, $44 billion was spent by Muslim on modest fashion purchases in 2015.
For the last two weeks I have been putting the Nike Pro Hijab through its paces. It has accompanied me on numerous cycle rides, American football sessions, weightlifting at the gym and a couple of runs. So how did it measure up against the pre-existing sports hijabs out there? Does it stand up to the hype?
For the most part, yes. It provides full coverage without resorting to a restrictive design, it is extremely lightweight, quick drying and breathable (to the point that it almost felt underwhelming to hold). In fact, it is so breathable that it can be worn multiple times without requiring a wash. My current record is four wears. It is by far the most versatile and reliable sports hijab I have come across, and it truly feels like an item of sportswear, rather than something that will do the job of covering your hair while you exercise.
It is not without flaws though. I’ve only been able to test the Nike Pro Hijab in temperatures up to around 17 degrees centigrade, and although it kept the head significantly cooler than its competitors – and despite its breathable fabric – it does still get hot under there. There isn’t much to be done about this if you want full hijab coverage though.
The Pro Hijab is currently available in black and navy, in two sizes, but Nike are releasing a wider range of colours this year, including white, which will likely fare better against the summer sun. When exercising in colder weather, the hijab provided a happy medium of defence against the chill, with enough ventilation to prevent over-heating.
If you work out to music, getting your earphones in or adjusting them, or the volume, is fiddly, but not a deal-breaker. It is also not a problem specific to this product, though I would have liked to see small openings for earbuds low down in the hijab.
In order to avoid slippage, the hem of the hijab around the face is very elasticated to the point of discomfort and – in my case – a bit of a headache. I would recommend a third, larger size for those of us with chubby faces.
When working out, I am assuredly a comfort-over-style type of person, but brownie points are definitely awarded to any item that does both. While a stylish sports hijab is borderline oxymoronic, the Pro Hijab gives it a good shot, in that nothing plain and black ever looks terrible, and the Nike tick makes you feel a bit less like your neighbours think you’re mad for running in that.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that this garment has the potential to open up avenues to Muslim women who shy away from sport out of discomfort, embarrassment, or the fear that sport and exercise is not the place for a woman in hijab.
Personally, I would have given a kidney to have a hijab like this when I was at school. With the market for modest fashion so strong at the moment, I would not be surprised if this simple garment, and the market it represents, helps to encourage Muslim women’s participation in sports.
Overall, the Pro Hijab lives up to the hype it has created for itself by hiring multiple Muslim women brand ambassadors plugging the garment all over social media.
And while I would like to support Muslim women-run start-ups over a multinational company, the bottom line is that Nike has produced a good product. With any luck this garment will open up the market to a greater level of competition.
The Nike Pro Hijab is as comfortable, reliable and lightweight as you’re going to find, and offers Muslim women a credible item of sportswear. But I still have one question: with its innovative breathable fabric, will ignorant people finally stop asking me if I can hear them while I’m wearing that?
My week as a white non-Muslim
Channel 4's My Week as a Muslim was a preposterous conception from the first minute, providing a platform for racism, brownface, crude caricatures, ethnocentrism and general all-round offence.
It was built on the antiquated, imperialist concept that a person of colour's word cannot be trusted; their experiences and suffering don't exist until they are verified by a white person.
In this post I satirise the ridiculous format of the documentary, via my alter-ego, Saeed.
You must do your research before you visit England these days. In a country gripped by the Brexit Blues, it is very easy to cause unintended offence, as I found out on my ride from Heathrow Airport to my hotel in the traditional town of Windsor.
A few minutes into the drive, I saw my cabbie repeatedly looking into the mirror and I could tell he was gasping for the chance to speak to what was undoubtedly the first foreigner that he had ever met. So I asked him what he thought of Brexit. He told me that he had voted in favour of it and I replied, “Doesn’t that make you a racist?” Unfortunately he didn’t note the irony in my voice, so after cursing at me in his local lingo, we sat in silence for the rest of the ride. I had so much more to explain to him about Brexit, but not to be.
After a good night’s rest, I met my local guide in my hotel lobby, which had a distinctly Bubonic smell to it. I could tell immediately that Albert would be a wonderful companion. His wizened sea-green eyes and careless dress sense told me that this was a man whose knowledge of England might rival mine. He expertly wove through the shrieking crowds of tourists, darting through chaotic traffic to bring me safely to The Long Walk, a park that led Windsor Castle.
Swarms of revellers had come out to pay tribute to the Queen, some of them travelling for days by primitive transport for a chance to glimpse their unelected leader.
Draconian regulation is enforced by the state in an attempt to restore order to post-Brexit England. Since voting to leave the EU, this already drunken, loutish and uncontrollable nation has sought solace in the national pastime, known locally as gowin downtha pub, or inebriation to you and me. Note the traditionally passive-aggressive, insincere Thank you.
To avoid the wrath of an angry mob in England, never criticise wars – past, present, or, indeed, future. The armed forces hold a position of veneration second only to the Royal Family, and this respect must be observed at all times. Even criticising the government or politicians that ordered the war can be interpreted as wishing calamity upon individual soldiers.
Today’s traditional red letterbox (centre) is juxtaposed with Queen Elizabeth’s father’s blue post box (right). These shrines offer a place for revellers to pay respects to their current and former unelected rulers, in a physical dance, or act of veneration, known informally as posting a letter. Note that the female ruler has a red box, while the male ruler had a blue one, paying tribute to the centuries-old tradition of gender stereotyping and gendered colours.
Speaking of gender, once I had gained his trust, Albert was very happy to talk to me about his relationship woes. Or rather, relationships woes. You see Albert, as he divulged, has both a wife, and a girlfriend. I asked him how they felt about the arrangement and he told me, in his colourful English way, that they have no idea. I gritted my teeth but forced a smile – I must not bring my Eastern judgement into this very Western scenario. Who am I to judge how Englishmen treat their womenfolk?
An ancient well, from the Olde English word welle, (meaning I don’t speak Spanish so I’m just going to shout in English) that once provided water to King George V. My guide, Albert told me proudly that he shares a first name with King George. I didn’t have the heart to tell him but your name is Albert as I think he may suffer from that prevalent English spelling impairment, dyslexia.
After a long, grey winter, the villagers of Windsor take to the streets at the first glimpse of the spring sun. Still drowsy from their state of hibernation, many people find it difficult to stand until they receive some much-needed vitamin D. Albert told me that a lack of exposure to sunlight can lead to depression or unusual behaviour, which I took as explanation to the man in the back doing the English cultural dance of Heads, shoulders, knees and toes.
For lunch, I demanded that Albert lead me to the best place in town. He gestured to a nearby market café and said ‘this place is alright,’ in his charming, non-committal English way, that told me that this café would be the best in all of Windsor, possibly all of England. Now I’m an adventurous type so I opted for a local dish, chips and fish and it was the most intense, fragrant dish I had tried since getting to England. Fried potato infused with freshly-picked sweet English garden parsley, and cod oozing with aromatic sunflower oil. The scents set my nostrils alight in way that I’d never experienced with food back home. This was, no doubt, the best fish and chips in the entire United Kingdom.
On our way back to my hotel we passed this questionably-structured house and as I stopped to observe it for a moment, I felt a tickle in my eye. I thought of the hardship that the builders of this structure must have had to endure – constructing this edifice with little to no equipment or expertise, in the year… all those years ago. These Brits really know how to be optimistic about their future, despite the odds that are against them. I wiped tear off my cheek, hoping Albert hadn’t seen, because I’m humble like that.
I’m sure he must have seen though, because Albert took me down this road and muttered something in his crude Windsor way about needing a dump. He disappeared and I suddenly noticed the name of this street. Sheet street. Albert had gone to have a sheet. I laughed through my tears and that moment filled my heart with poignancy. It was his way of cheering me up, that pun. We humans aren’t so different from one another after all.
To all you travellers who hope to visit England one day, I urge you to avoid the tourist trap of London, and come to the off-the-beaten track town of Windsor. It’s tree-lined streets and charming ancient houses will leave you with a smile on your face. It’s odd-ball characters will find a way, through their own, curious culture and traditions, to connect with you.
And if it does turn out to be a boring trip, just remember no matter how insignificant and uneventful the experience, it’s easy to turn it into a good old presumptuous story about an entire nation.