Inside the world of UK Muslim women
A major survey shows most want to marry their soul mates and enjoy high street fashion, while keeping a delicate balance with their Islamic values
Nick Mathiason and Huma Qureshi
The Observer, Sunday June 1 2008
She wants to marry her soul mate, shops in Primark, TK Maxx and Top shop, and dreams of starting her own business. Meet the typical Muslim woman in Britain today.
A thousand women throughout the country have responded to the biggest lifestyle study of Muslim women undertaken in the UK. It appears to show that Muslim women have established a delicate balance between a desire to live a contemporary lifestyle and tap into consumer trends while sticking to values underpinning the Islamic guide to life.
The survey shows that 58 per cent of Muslim women do not think the racial background of a partner matters, although two-thirds believe it is very important for their man to be knowledgeable about Islam.
Success to 37 per cent of women means being a good Muslim, while 32 per cent say it is about combining work with family life, with 52 per cent wanting to run their own businesses.
When asked which Muslim causes were most important, 70 per cent of women said matters affecting Muslims in their own community or in the UK were a priority against 21 per cent who said that the Middle East was the most important issue facing Muslims today.
Talat Ahmed, 32, from Redbridge in east London, is a married with a three-year-old daughter and works in human resources for a charity. She said: 'I become so English when the Rugby World Cup is on. We're British and we love it here.
'[But] it's complex because living in the West we feel alienation. The media and the government categorises Muslims. We choose to be Muslim and we want to be respected and we want people to understand. A lot of things get misconstrued because Islam is a private thing. I totally respect people of all religions. Sure we are British. We choose to live here. To me it's terrible being told to go back where you come from.'
Half of British Muslim women polled for the survey - carried out by Muslim women's magazine Sisters and Ummah Foods, a halal food business - say the hijab is about dressing modestly, with 19 per cent equating it to 'covering up completely'.
More than half the women polled never go on holiday in Britain for fear of not being welcome in coastal resorts, lack of halal food outlets and uncertainty over where the nearest mosque would be. Eighty-two per cent of Muslim women want shops to sell products that are halal- and sharia-compliant - a desire mainstream retailers largely fail to satisfy.
'I'm proud of my religion, and being British as well as Muslim is important for my identity, but as I've got older, I've started to feel like I don't belong here,' said Farah Mulla, 27, who lives in west London and works in marketing. 'I don't hide my religion though - I'll do things like pray at work, even if there are people around - that makes no different to me.'
For Farah, praying and reading the Koran is part of her daily routine. 'The Koran gives me guidance and praying puts me at peace. It gives me a sense of belonging.' When it comes to marriage, she says she would only ever marry a Muslim although some members of her family have married out of Islam. 'Mixed-faith marriages can work, but it just wouldn't work for me. I wouldn't feel comfortable if I didn't marry a Muslim.
'My faith is so important to me and I wouldn't want any misunderstandings or conflicts arising from that. But Asian culture confuses things too much and sometimes people get too involved with caste and background, which just isn't right and isn't anything to do with religion at all.'
Nabila Pathan, 25, from Leytonstone, east London, presents Women's Voice, a woman's chat show, on Press TV, an English language channel funded by the Iranian government.
She says: 'The government is always funding these quite contrived attempts to "understand" Muslims, but to be honest I think a lot of Muslims are fed up with that. Sometimes it's better to read things about ourselves if it's come from ourselves - that way, it's on our terms.'
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