Dealing With Sexism

Bismi-Llah, Al-Rahmani, Al-Rahim. As-salamu alaykum. This is a short discussion on how to deal with sexism at school and also in the workplace. And this discussion is for those of you who who will be growing up in Western countries, perhaps not even just in Western countries, but for our viewers as well in other parts of the world who are watching these programmes. But obviously, since we are broadcasting from London, it is bearing in mind the type of culture that a lot of Muslim girls and women are growing up in, in this region. And so this is perhaps a little bit of reflection and advice on how to deal with sexism at school and also in the workplace.

If we are going to be thinking about what we mean by sexism, this can come in different forms. At school, for an example, you may be, perhaps, treated in a derogatory manner by other boys in your class, perhaps even by male teachers. In fact, what I have heard from Muslim girls who go to schools, especially if they are the only one in their class with hijab. Let's say you're the only one in your class with hijab, everyone else is non-Muslim, you've got boys and girls in that class. And you've got a teacher, in fact, the teacher may be male or female, what I have heard from many of these Muslim girls is that the teacher makes comments at them in the class in relation to the stereotypes that that teacher has about Islam, about women being oppressed, about you having to wear hijab, as an example.

And sometimes unfortunately, it's the teacher who sets the bad example for the rest of the class to follow. And perhaps you're thinking, if you are in this situation where your teacher is actually making comments about you in front of the rest of the class about you being a Muslim girl, you might not know what to do. You might think, well, I don't want to rock the boat. I don't want to create a bad atmosphere. It is better that I keep quiet and do my best in the class, and I will try to tolerate the teacher's attitude, or I will try to tolerate the attitude that is being given to me by my classmates who also don't understand Islam, or don't understand the role of a Muslim woman.

But it's very important in this day and age, especially when there is so much misunderstanding about Islam. It's very important to communicate. Again, reflecting upon the examples that we have with, say, the Zaynab, salamu Allah alayha, Lady Fatima az-Zahra, salamu Allah alayha, the women of the Ahlul Bayt, aliaihum as-salam, who did actually speak out, so that it would go on record that they had, at least given their testimony, they had at least spoken out with regard to what Islam really is and actually is.

If you are receiving some sort of harassment from your teacher in the class because of misunderstandings, and some sort of derogatory comments about Muslim women or about being a Muslim girl from your teacher, it is very important not to just let this pass. Any time someone is speaking to you out of ignorance, that is an opportunity for you to correct their ignorance. It's very important in these situations to maintain Akhlaq, to maintain courtesy, and to speak politely and to try to help them to understand and to explain.

Often psychologists or professionals, they say that in a time of conflict, or at a time of an argument, or at a time as an example, if someone is saying a derogatory comment to you, it may not be better right in that moment to say something, especially as you may find yourself getting emotional in that moment as well. But it is better to speak to the person at the right time about the issue.

So let's say that you get a comment from the teacher in the class about you being a Muslim girl wearing hijab. I have heard of Muslim girl studying English literature, and the teacher will be teaching them some book that may be based in India, or it may be based in a country where there are Muslims, and then the teacher won't be able to resist making a comment about Muslims or about Muslim women. So you can try, after the class, or perhaps when the teacher is in the staff room or in the corridor to ask if you can actually speak to the teacher about that issue, about the approach that the teacher has, and arrange a time to speak to the teacher about what is going on in the class. And then InshaAllah when you arrange to talk to the teacher, wherever that may be the staff room or in the classroom, then you can bring with you some books, you can bring with you some discussions on the position of Muslim women in Islam, especially what would be helpful would be to bring some articles on Western women converting to Islam.

This may sound like a very scary idea for many of you, and I am sure most of you would probably shy away from arranging to have a discussion with your teacher. I am sure if you did ask to talk to your teacher and you did actually sit down and have a mature discussion with them, it would take them by surprise with the way that you handle the situation.

If you do feel perhaps not confident enough to talk to your teacher yourself, then definitely go to your principal and calmly and politely explain to your principal what is going on in the classroom. I have an example of a family whose daughter, they may even be watching this clip. A family whose daughter was the only girl at her school and she became Baligha, it was time for her to wear hijab and she's going to be the only one in her school wearing hijab. And what the parents asked me to do in line with the principal, they were working with the principal of the school is that they had an assembly with the school and they asked myself to come in and to give a presentation a PowerPoint presentation on hijab.

So I was able to show how in different religions in Judaism, Christianity as well as Islam, women cover their hair. So we had a whole discussion on this with the girls at the school and a gentle introduction and explanation on why, in particular, this Muslim girl was going to be starting to wear her scarf.

So this is really to say that it's important if you are at school and you are receiving certain comments, whether it be from the teacher or whether it be from your fellow students, that you don't keep quiet about it, that you speak up about it not arguing, not in an aggressive way, but in a systematic and mature way.

Best way is to go to the principal or to go to a teacher that you trust and who will give you the support and arrange to have a meeting with whoever it may be, and to take that meeting as an opportunity to educate these people.

So it is possible to change people's attitudes with your approach, if you take the right approach.