Amanda Morris responds to an article written by Shazia Awan, the one-time Conservative parliamentary candidate who accused Abu Eesa Niamatullah and an Islamophobia event co-hosted by the Muslim Council Wales of misogyny.
I, like many other women, seem to wear a lot of different hats: Muslim, British, Welsh, student, teacher, hijabi, avid reader, social media addict.
I’m a divorced mum of two.
I’m a survivor of domestic violence.
Perhaps because of this last hat I wear, I have absolutely no time for anything which even hints at misogyny. For those of us new to the term, Oxford defines misogyny as: Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.
So I was horrified to read a recent opinion piece by local entrepreneur and one-time Tory parliamentary candidate, Ms Shazia Awan, in Wales Online, in which she speaks of having walked out of a recent Cardiff event because the speaker, Abu Eesa Niamatullah, holds what she considers, “misogynistic and orthodox views.” The writer also claimed that there were no women “at the top tables,” and that the events’ co-host, the Muslim Council of Wales, “doesn’t represent my views or, I believe, many like me, who are happily integrated into our communities across Wales.”
I have to remove my hats and scratch my head in confusion, because it seems we were attending the same event, but in parallel universes.
I am a member of the committee which organised the event “Wales Challenges Islamophobia,” in order to raise awareness in the wider community of the causes of and possible cures for this growing problem. This committee has, since its inception, been significantly majority female in membership. Perhaps it is because Islamophobia is a phenomenon whose victims are mostly female, especially females who are visibly Muslim because of how they choose to dress. Whatever the cause, the notion that women were under-represented at this event is a strange one, as is the notion that misogyny could exist at such an event.
Her claim that there were no women at the top tables further shows that she was for whatever reason not paying complete attention. I could see from where I was sitting (next to the stage, as I also presented at the event) that the four “top tables” reserved for guests of MCW were occupied by a diverse range of people, Muslim and non, male and female.
She clearly had an unsullied view, as her own table was one of those reserved by MCW, i.e. a “top table”.
Moreover, the entire event was chaired by a woman, Ms Sahar al-Faifi, one of our local Muslim activists whose personal struggles with Islamophobic attacks have been well documented in the media. Ms al-Faifi was on stage for a large portion of the evening’s programme. So again, how Ms Awan can claim that the event excluded or demeaned women in any way truly baffles me.
I also must wonder at how she can suggest that, in order to integrate into British society, one must not wear any obviously religious garments. I have worn hijab since the late 1990’s and have never had any issues with integration.
I also wore niqab for a short time, and again, no issues. If my hijab somehow makes me less Welsh, I must say that I have worked, studied, taught, taken my boys to football and rugby, and eaten probably more Welsh cakes than is entirely healthy, all while covering my head and sometimes my face. No one has ever suggested I am isolated or putting a barrier between myself and the community.
As noted above, I am a person who has experienced and battled violent misogyny first hand. I knew of the controversy surrounding Abu Eesa when it was first suggested he be invited to speak. So I carried out my own research on the man. And here is what I found.
Is Abu Eesa Niamatullah a misogynist?
I found a student and teacher of Islam who has made statements of opinion, which he has then looked in to further, reconsidered, and retracted. I found a man who has a zero tolerance policy towards domestic violence; a man who tweets cheeky song lyrics when he’s missing his wife; a man who, like me, bemoans the sexism Muslim women face in the world of Islamic scholarship.
At the end of my research, I was actually looking forward to hearing him speak because I had found that yes, like all of us, he has made mistakes, but isn’t afraid to humbly admit and correct them.
When Abu Eesa did speak, not a word did he say of misogyny. He spoke of the community coming together as one. He spoke of adhering to the practice of our faith with pride but not arrogance. And he spoke of not being afraid, but rather of involving and engaging with the wider community simply because Muslims have so many talents to offer society. In short, to me and many others, he spoke sense.
It is obvious that Ms Awan has an agenda of some sort, one which allows her to state as fact that which is so easily disproven. Not only has she entirely dismissed the existence of an immense female presence at the event and at the “top tables”, she also failed to hear anything said by the speaker who caused her such offence. I truly wonder what she stands to gain from trying to spread such misinformation.
Moreover, that she would use an event aimed at fostering social cohesion and unity in the face of hate to further this agenda is extremely worrying. She states in her article that the community must unify, but she is willing to publish untruths about people and organisations, and then refuse to enter into dialogue when approached.
Several others who were at this event refuted her allegations on various platforms, have tried to make contact to clarify her statements, only to be ignored and then “blocked” on social media. She states that she is trying to foster dialogue, but efforts at just that are immediately shut down if they are not supporting her inaccurate claims.
I personally would invite Ms Awan to enter into dialogue if she has any concerns or suggestions regarding ways to tackle Islamophobia and unite our various communities. But I feel my invitation will go ignored, as have those made by others before me.
I would like to think, and sincerely hope, that those in positions of influence (our politicians and journalists) would choose to investigate all the facts to establish the truth of what happened, rather than listening to one side and concluding everything from this biased perspective.
Amanda is currently studying her MA in Islam in Contemporary Britain at Cardiff University. She is also a part time lecturer in Japanese Language at Cardiff University. Amanda is the Social Media Officer for MEND Cardiff, and a community outreach volunteer at Dar ul Isra mosque.
You can follow her on Twitter @amandarabaab