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BEYOND THE HIJAB (b. 2013)

What comes to mind when you think of a Muslim woman? A group of women are working very hard to make sure you don’t just think about the “hijab”, or “tudung”, but also consider the deeper explorations of the Muslim experience beyond identity markers. Diana, Nazirah and Filzah are three of the women who run the website Beyond The Hijab which was set up in 2013. Together with many contributors, they aim to make Beyond The Hijab a safe space for Muslim women to tell their stories.

“Muslim women are traditionally a group that are spoken over or spoken about, but there is actually very little space for them to say, ‘This is happening to me. This is what I am concerned about. This is what I struggle with,’” says Nazirah, who was one of the co-founders of the website.

Beyond The Hijab also has a healthy offline following who support its activities and events. The website appeals to both Muslim and non-Muslim readers, with its collection of personal stories on controversial and often taboo topics within the Muslim communities, such as mental health, sexuality, toxic parenting and domestic violence. These stories particularly flesh out how these issues play out within the Muslim context.

“There are campaigns that address mental health in Singapore, but they are very general. They don’t speak in a very culturally specific way, or address some of the damaging ideas. For Muslims, we might need to address more specific cultural messages. Patriarchal messages translate very differently for Muslim women, for example,” says Filzah.

The importance of having a diverse range of voices on the platform is to counter the idea of a monolithic, singular understanding of a Muslim woman, which can create a lot of stigma, despair and community estrangement. The aim is to enable access and open up spaces for conversations that often times are excluded from religious spaces. It is these exclusions that limit understanding of the complexities that exist in everyday experiences of Muslim women.

The team also speaks up on issues that may be outside of the Muslim experience, such as highlighting the work of Black women during the Black Lives Matter protests.

“As the people who work on this platform, we share the belief that Islam at its heart is about equality, it’s about social justice, it’s about honouring and showing compassion to everybody else,” says its editor, Diana. “It’s an extension of that mission to make sure that when it comes to issues of racial justice, whether it’s here or overseas, that we don’t sit out of the conversation.”

As an inclusive platform, Beyond The Hijab wishes to encourage more non-Muslims to read and support its content. The team believes that some people might consider what they are writing about as a very niche topic. They don’t see Muslim issues as relevant to the bigger issues. That’s one of the things Beyond The Hijab is working on: how to make sure that it’s not just minorities who have to care about minority issues. “The majority also has to care. We are all Singaporeans. It’s a citizen issue.”

To know more about Beyond The Hijab, visit www.beyondhijab.sg.