Ayisha Malik is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature at university and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all). She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering and being a publicist. Now, when she isn’t searching for a jar of Nutella in her cupboards, she divides her time between writing and being managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.
guestpost by Ayisha Malik
I think I’m a covert optimist. When people used to ask me whether I’ve faced any racist abuse I used to have to think about it… Hang on, there was that time, what was it again? Oh, yes! I have…of course I have. I’m brown. Perhaps my tendency to not think too much about these things was because I never really felt a sense of ‘otherness,’ so when someone shouts out, ‘Paki!’ I look around, over my shoulder and think ‘Who’s this hideous person referring to?’ And then the English penny drops – ‘Ah, me.’
It’s not that I have an identity crisis. I know my origins are Pakistani, but I feel far more British, or English, or whatever you want to call it, than I do anything else. Must be the whole being born and brought up here. But this type of naivety has a way of being challenged by life circumstances. It’s not about feeling like the ‘other’ but rather being made to feel like the ‘other.’
Here’s one of the reasons literature is great: you end up seeing yourself in the characters you read. The immersive world of words conjures up feelings that are given circumstances in which these emotions can (or can’t, depending on character angst) express themselves. As I’ve read through hundreds of books I’ve been able to do exactly that, but every now and again I’ve been stopped short. People have a lot to say about Muslims and I see these opinions cropping up with increased frequency. I remember reading Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason many years ago and there’s a scene where Mark Darcy says something about Muslims not being forgiving – I went from being completely in Bridget’s shoes to being ousted. In the context I think it was a fair observation – something about Saudi Arabia laws, perhaps? – but I’d been ‘othered’ and it was a bit of a jolt to the system.
Not being represented in literature makes you realise others’ perception of you differs from your own and it’s damn well annoying. The point at the beginning about the racist abuse is that you don’t really see yourself. You just are. It’s others that see you, so why shouldn’t we be given a better platform when it comes to showing ourselves? Please, not in light of the poor Muslim woman who’s being oppressed by society/culture/religion/family/all of the above, or some token archetype that satisfies and fortifies readers’ pre-established views. Because diversity isn’t all about ethnicity, gender or sexuality, but about the range of experiences that take place within that identity.
At the end of it all it’s about involvement, surely? And in our increasingly, wonderful, varied world, I think it’s safe to say that no-one wants to be pushed to the outskirts of life, not even in fiction.
“Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.’ Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. ‘Are your parents quite disappointed?’
Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.
As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love…?
Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik is published by Twenty7,
available in ebook (£2.63) and paperback in January (£7.99)