Tuesday 22 February 2011

Conversations at Work

As a Muslimah who is recognisably one – all be-hijabed and abaya-ed up, I often find that people treat me better because I am a Muslimah – holding doors, being careful not to touch me, not swearing around me, avoiding crude talk around me. But sometimes, you do think that it would be nice for people to see beyond the scarf and abayah and brown skin (to be frank) and see the person that is there.

What has brought this whinging on? Usually I don’t care what people think, I can speak for myself and challenge their stereotypes if I feel the need to. But recently, one of my managers, who I get on very well with and a colleague were having a conversation about their interest in literature and particularly sci-fi. No big deal, apart from the fact that they would never have had that conversation with me. This saddened me a little because I love sci-fi, particularly post-apocalyptic novels and I love talking. Even more I love talking about books, for hours.

Usually I rise above it telling myself that it is my choice to dress this way and therefore I have to accept all that comes with it. Usually I just tell myself it is good for people to have low expectations and then for you to deliver above them. Every now and again though, being treated as if I am stupid, or would only know about certain things, gets to me. Things like religion, cooking curries, terrorism and…that’s seems to be about it. Oh yes, and plus the assumption that every ones makes that I live in Green Street. Nothing wrong with Green Street, but why does every person I meet assume I must live there?

Sometimes it’s understandable. So much of our community is not born or raised here, so the cultural markers and milestones in our lives differ. They have interests you would not expect to share. Also so many sisters in my community barely speak English. But still, if I work with you, and produce good work at that, you should expect me to have half a brain. If I was born here and grew up here, my references would be similar to non-Muslim and English people of the same age – maybe not the drinking and clubbing, but certainly the shell-suits and baggy jeans, Philip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher in their cupboard on CBBC after school, Roland Rat, Punky Brewster, He-Man and She-Ra, Thundercats, New Kids on the Block, Just 17 magazine and the feud between Take That and East 17 when I was at school (my Sisters from over the pond are probably thinking WHAT ON EARTH is she talking about by now).

Bit of a whinge, but just a reminder also, that our priority might be our faith, but we still have other things that we are passionate about – books, fashion, culture, travel, business, art, pop culture, sport – you’d be surprised what you find when you are willing to widen your scope to look beyond the fabric that covers us.


  1. I know exactly what you mean.it's as if they don't see you as a regular person..and therefore you couldn't possibly be interested in the same things as them.Occasionally it amuses me like when I was in a store looking at laptops the other day and the young clerk was floored to find out I was more tech-savvy than him..he wasn't expecting me to have a clue...

  2. Assalaamu Alaykum sis,

    So true. There is more to us than they think. My work situation is quite different though as it's a ladies' institute. I just had to stop by though as I remembered all the things you mentioned from when I was growing up!!!

  3. Assalaamu Alaykum,

    This post resonates very deeply with me...you have eloquently stated how I feel in the work place sometimes...my biggest gripe is that we are only 2 Mulimahs here in the office...the other sister is a dear friend but poles apart from me in personality and tastes, etc. She is a hijabi also and I cannot tell you how often colleagues come to me assuming that I am her...can they not see past the head scarf? We are not the same person!!!!!!!

  4. Asalaamu Alaikum

    I was just watching Little Mosque on the Prairie last night (have you ever seen it?) and the main female character was making reference to Lord of the Rings and the imam called her a nerd. It was funny because it was so run of the mill and mainstream. Your post reminded me of that. I think you have to initiate these conversations because you could wait forever for them to or to include you.

  5. I too remember all your references from growing up, and it made me smile. I have been hi-jabbed bow for over 10 years and am so comfortable with it that I really forget that it could be an issue for some people. Recently a temp joined the office, and one day he was seated at the next desk to me and we had a converstation about all sorts of things. During the conversation, he admitted that when he had first seen me, he had assumed that I was a "quiet little thing with not alot to say", but over the course of the week, he had overheard my conversations with others and realized that I was educated, smart and had a great sense of humour!
    I was absolutely speechless, but I thanked him for his feedback, and admitted that I forget that people may have assumptions about me and my hijaab. It made me realize that I need to be more assertive and ensure that other people at least question their preconceived notions.

  6. Assalam-alaikam

    Welcome Sis June,
    I wish I could have seen the clerk's face. One of my friends is a hijabi and she is also head of an ICT department, people just don't expect it do they.

    Sis FF,
    yeah!! somebody else remembers some of the things I grew up with!

    Sis Washi,
    I know you are ougoing with lots of interests too, so you must know how it feels sometimes. I can relate to being traeted the same. I have had people mistake me for another hijabi who looks nothing like me - she just wears a scarf, so we must be the same person...

    Sis C,
    yes I watched a few episodes of Little Mosque on the Prairie - not hilarious, but good fun, and really pokes fun at people's assumptions and stereotypes. I did like the main charchter Dr Rayyan Hamoudi, I like nerds (being bit of a one). Someone else said the same thing o me, why didn'tt you just join in the conversaion, fair point.

    Sis Zenprincess,
    you remember that stuff too?! Don't you just love having that effect on people, when you totally turn out to be the opposite of what they expected.