I am a woman.
I am born to immigrant parents.
I am a British-Pakistani woman
I am a Muslim British-Pakistani woman
I am a hijab wearing Muslim British Pakistani woman.
I am a minority.
And what does that feel like?
It is waking up every day and fighting each stereotype that exists about me.
Growing up, I loved cricket. My favourite player was Pakistan’s Moin Khan (I have no idea why). I have spent so much time watching cricket with my father, whether it is the latest test match series or classic reruns of Pakistan’s dramatic World Cup win in 1992. I wanted to be a cricketer, I had this dream of playing for England (if you know me, you will know that I dream big). I only ever saw men playing cricket, not really a career for a brown girl like me.
Men work and women stay at home to look after the children. This is an age-old stereotype, it existed way before my time and is still very much prevalent today. I pride myself in how independent I am. I have never wanted to be reliant on others and I dislike asking others for help. I would rather do it myself, not a damsel in distress. Whether that is by moving two hundred miles away from home to a city so alien to me or taking a job in a town where I received more racism in the nine months I was living there, than I had my entire life. I can live alone and fend for myself, carry bags of groceries, build furniture, and fix light bulbs. It is as if I have been trying to prove that I can do all these stereotypical male orientated tasks.
Being a British-Pakistani is a whole other ball game. I was brought up speaking English, Urdu and Punjabi and eating spicy food from an early age. My dad would bulk buy flour, rice and every dhaal you can think of. My favourite breakfast was a paratha with sugar mixed into pakeeza yoghurt. I ate curry most nights, not Rogan Josh or Vindaloo but Aloo Gosht and Chooza Chawwal. The freezer was filled with homemade samosas and kebabs ready to fry for when we had guests over. Pakistani hospitality is insane. If guests ever come over, a whole range of foods are made, and no one can leave hungry, I have on several occasions been sent back to the kitchen to make a cup of tea again. Food is so central to being Pakistani, it brings everyone together. ‘Dawaats’ were so common growing up, my mum would cook for up to one hundred people at a time and we would host them in our home! There would be huge ‘handis’ of pilau rice and three or four curries with side dishes and dessert and followed by chai and biscuits of course. All this served in my mother’s best (and most fragile) dishes.
I would open my lunchbox to find last night’s curry in my sandwich and sometimes this would make me feel too Pakistani for Britain. Now when I look at adverts on television I see chicken tikka pies, I see all these dishes, none of which are even close to what I grew up having. A version of Pakistani culture that is tailored to a different community, a version of Pakistani culture that is more acceptable. The washed down, milder and detraditionalized version of Pakistani culture. Spices are added to every dish, if it is even slightly mild it will not pass the taste test. When I have experimented with more ‘British’ dishes, I have almost always been told there is not enough spice and I need to make it more desi-styled but sometimes I just want a cheese and onion pie to taste like a cheese and onion pie and not a cheese and onion curry pie.
My mum would sew all my clothes, mostly traditional colourful salwar kameez. My favourite outfit from my childhood was a pale yellow kameez-pyjama with a floral jacket. As a teenager, I became more conscious of what I was wearing, I was embarrassed by my culture. Embarrassed wearing salwar kameez when I left the house because I felt like a ‘clown’. I did not want to be noticed or made fun of. The two times I have visited the motherland, I could not imagine wearing anything but my salwar kameez. I felt at home with my roots and the vibrant patterns and colours of my clothes. But I could never feel comfortable wearing my western clothes in my small village in Pakistan, it would not feel right. Now my wardrobe is a mix of my traditional clothes, my fancy traditional clothes and my western clothes. I would like to feel more comfortable wearing more of my traditional clothes out in public, not worrying what people may think.
My weekends as a child were spent learning Urdu and my mum would teach my siblings and I from a series of books. There was a poem about the moon and the stars I remember vividly. Whilst I was taught the Urdu language growing up, I would visit family and realise that my Urdu is poor. I would struggle to string a sentence together without having to drop in a few English and Punjabi words! This would be worse still when I visited Pakistan, people would laugh. I would be too British, and I never would hear the end of it.
This last time I visited Pakistan, one of my older cousins joked that I was from England so I would not know how to cook authentic dishes properly. When I came out with chicken pilau and achari chicken he along with most family members were surprised. Surprised that I was able to cook well even though I was British to them. More British than Pakistani. There is an ongoing conflict with my identity as a British Pakistani. I am too British for Pakistan and too Pakistani for Britain. Quite honestly, I do not know where I plot on the British Pakistani scale.
I am a hijab wearing Muslim. This is where it all becomes even more complicated. My hijab is part of me and a very visible sign of my faith. Now being a Muslim in Britain comes with its own issues. I do not bother with the news because I know how Islam is represented in the media. I live in a country in which the Government makes fun out of Muslim women who cover their faces, women like my sister. I live in a country where Islamophobia is rife. I live in a country where I have had people laugh at my hijab and throw alcohol at my front door. I am ‘randomly’ searched whenever I go to the airport. My mother was forced to publicly remove her hijab at the airport and when she complained, she was made to feel like the criminal. I have read comments from the local paper online and I have cried. I cannot believe how people can spew so much hate. I live in a country where hatred towards Muslims is normalised. I read a report a while ago which stated that after the Christchurch Shooting in 2019, the UK saw a 692% increase in Islamophobia. Islamophobia increased seven-fold. More recently I was listening to a podcast about Islamophobia in Canada/US, it is a multimillion-dollar business. Thirty-nine million dollars is pumped into the Islamophobia industry to fuel hate and discrimination. Every time there is an attack anywhere in the world, I fear the retaliation if the perpetrators are found to be Muslim. I fear that people will blindly believe everything they read in the media and see me in the same light as they do the perpetrators.
So often I have been faced with the misconception that as a Muslim woman I am oppressed. That I need saving. The only thing I need saving from is these misconceptions and stereotypes. I have a collection of facts stored away for when someone wants to tell me how Islam oppresses and mistreats women. One of my favourites is that the first University in the world was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihri. Islam has always considered women as an integral part of society, as independent bodies, and spiritual and intellectual equals of men.
My face does not fit. I am too much of one thing or another for society. I am very much a minority. My Pakistani roots are too authentic for some and too westernised for others. I do not need to tone down who I am. My faith scares people. I will not compromise my faith; it is the most important to me. My cultural traditions may confuse many, but they form part of my core values. Some of these traditions I do not agree with and challenge, and this does not sit well with members of my community.
It is always too much of something or another. Whether it is too pakistani, or british, or halaal, or haraam, or liberal, or conservative, or loud and outspoken, or too feminine or not feminine enough. But this is me being unapologetically me whilst still trying to figure out where I fit in at all.
I could go on, but this post was in response to something I experienced a few days ago, the reality of being a minority. I realised that I could say the exact same thing as someone else but because my face does not fit, I will not be heard, and this bothered me a lot. I can only hope that this changes and that society sees us all as equals, all with a voice that deserves to be listened to.