Review: The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write (edited) by Sabrina Mahfouz - 9/10*
What does it mean to be British and Muslim? This is a question these writers tackle with stunning clarity. Modern day British society has a varied sense of cultural heritage; it is a society that is changing and moving forward as it adds more and more voices to the population, but it is also one that has an undercurrent of anxiety and fear towards those who are minorities. So this collection displays how all that fear is received; it comes in the form of stereotypical labels and racial prejudice, which are themes eloquently reproduced here.
Chimene Suleyman's short story Us is one of the strongest examples. It is a harrowingly beautiful piece of writing which once it has been read simply cannot be unread. Madeeha, a Muslim woman, is asked to apologise for the killings carried out by extreme radicals of her faith. Suffice to say, her relevance to the event is non-existent. She refuses, so she is attacked in the street by white British men who have falsely (and ignorantly) presumed that she would condone such actions. Madeeha is left humiliated, frightened and, most of all, angry. Suleyman demonstrates how hate only leads to more hate, ultimately, creating a cycle that is bad for all members of society.
Racial stereotyping is something very common on the streets of Britain. The writing of Seema Begum addresses how such a thing can be debunked through poetry. The literary cannon, at least what we are taught in early education, can be very restrictive. Those who are Muslim and British may struggle to identify with some of the things they read at school. This book, though, is a celebration: a celebration of what it is to be British and Muslim. There is a strong sense of empowerment within these pages, empowerment of womanhood and individual identity. Begum's poetry piece was one of my favourite in here for those reasons exactly.
As well as short stories and poetry, there are also a couple of pieces for the stage and a taster of non-fiction writing added to the anthology. These present similar themes, but come from slightly different angles. There's a real mixture of writers in here; some have received literary awards and some have never been published before at all. However, I do think the collection as a whole is slightly one sided; it predominantly focuses on the negative experiences these women face. There are, no doubt, good ones too. Not everybody is as unwelcoming as some of the people in here. Granted, this goes against the general theme of the book, but I do feel like this is something that shouldn't be overlooked. Perhaps a brief mention in the introduction would have been appropriate.
This however is only a minor criticism on my behalf. This anthology is strikingly relevant today. Not only that, it is one that is sorely needed. Racial prejudice and hate crimes are always in the news and displayed across social media, many of which, as represented in some of the pieces, are born of ignorance. The veil is lifted here. This is, indeed, a very contemporary collection of voices, voices that have an experience that they need to share.