The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write is an anthology of literature written by twenty-two British Muslim women and edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. Rather than being a book about faith, this book is sometimes about the lived experiences of women who exist in the intersection of their Britishness and another identity and is sometimes simply an exhibition of these women’s literary talent. Some of the pieces are set in the UK; others are set in Palestine, Pakistan, and Yemen.
The contributors include big literary names like Ahdaf Soueif, Leila Aboulela, and Kamila Shamsie as well as newer authors. The pieces include short stories, poems, short plays, news-style articles, spoken-word pieces, and memoir-style nonfiction. Some are dark and heavy; others have a lighter tone. They are all honest, powerful, and moving. Emotionally resonant and deeply thoughtful, most of the pieces in this anthology will hold up to several readings.
As in any anthology, I liked some of the pieces more than others. But I liked enough of them well enough to want my own copy. Here are some of pieces that resonated with me the most.
“The Right Word,” a poem by Imtiaz Dharker, explores how the words that we use to describe people color our understanding of them before we’ve even met them and the devastating consequences of that.
The right word
Outside the door,
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.
“Us,” by Chimene Suleyman, is a simple story about Islamophobia, but it is so evocatively written, and it so perfectly captures the feeling of fear in the face of the senselessness. This story should be required reading.
With bags of shopping in her hands, Madeeha was guilty until proven innocent: she hated British people and cheered the deaths of western journalists and soldiers. She had information on future acts of terror and could conceal a weapon beneath her garments. Truth was irrelevant, even proof wasn’t required. This backwards, barbaric society she belonged to, for didn’t they treat their women appallingly? And yet the man in the grey suit gripped the back of her arm.
“Battleface,” by Sabrina Mahfouz, is a short play about loyalty and the faces we show to one another. Its form is simple, but it is fabulously layered and will stick with me for a long time.
I also discovered the poetry of Hibaq Osman, which is hard-hitting: surprising, breathtaking, and relatable. From “The Things I Would Tell You”:
Immigrant kids speak a language
only broken souls can read,
same one you were fluent in.
You gave away a tongue and picked up another
padlocked language, recognised your lungs
in pages of Arabic script.
. . .
I would tell you
Mum has nightmares still
a fresh scar torn every day while I slowly forget your face
and if this world is a stage then brother I am nervous
shaking, pushing words out too fast,
trying to catch my breath
and tripping over things I haven’t said yet.
From “July and the Following Months”:
I think you are lucky
to be able to have a bird’s-eye view
while we stand in the middle of it,
one eye to the backs of us, the other on our feet
making sure we are ready to run when we need to
From “The One I Try to Forget”:
When you made your way back to
women who trust you
hiding my screams in your pockets
Where did the guilt go?
If you’ve read this anthology, please let which pieces were your favorites. And I’m curious if anyone is aware of similar projects—let me know if you know of one!