The British website ImamsOnline.com has an interesting series ‘What British Muslims Really Do‘. It has different episodes (with highlights and extended interviews) with different British Muslims doing, well you know, different things. There are of course episodes with imams but also with others. It is somewhat striking (somewhat, because it makes a lot of sense and the surveillance of Muslims is inescapable and already the title gives it away of course) how the larger debates on Islam and Muslims always trickle down in the episodes. Sometimes people criticizing the ways they are being interrogated in the debates, sometimes confirming particular views and sometimes being inattentive to it.
One of the most interesting episodes, also given the Dutch debates on Islamic marriages, sharia and so on, is the one with Khola Hasan who (among other things) works for the UK’s first sharia council, the Islamic Shari’a Council. The council has a big fatwa department and the majority of the work is related to family issues (as is the case with many of these councils I think). For Khola Hasan the sharia council is about helping British Muslims to live their life as they deem fitting and correct. She is one of the very few women working in such a council.
She talks about connecting life in Leyton (East-London), the difference between Islamic law and British law (and she presents the council as helping and supporting British law by taking up many mediations for example), her presence on and lessons she takes from social media, about common sense, decency and good morals, the problems with intolerant and agressive modes of Islam and various other topics. And not to forget her own farm and being connected to nature.
She stresses how important it is to have a female presence in the sharia councils (and according to her 90% of the clients are women), about her personal and academic journey into law, the lack of compassion for and understanding of the changing roles and predicaments of women and the stereotypical representations of Muslim women by Muslims and others. Her story shows an interesting paradox between on the one hand being quite unique (as one of the few women in these councils) and on the other hand between being quite mainstream for the British Muslim community. It reveals both the challenges women have to deal with within the Muslim communities as well as the dominant framing of Muslims and Islam as potentially dangerous, a-modern or even anti-modern which she feels suppresses the mainstream and highlights what she considers as the extremes. As Muslim women have a particular position in the dominant discourses she also reflects a lot about it.
This post is part of ERC project Contested Muslim Marriages