I contemplated the bold red cover and turned over the pages. At that moment the words of Sabrina Mahfouz jumped out at me. ‘It never fails to surprise me how much representation can empower and how much non- or mis-representation can disempower.’ I was propelled back to a memory that continues to unsettle. ‘Daddy, what colour am I?’ I don’t remember the answer I gave to my then four year-old daughter, but I do recall being blindsided – feeling utterly unprepared for the question. Not being one to take things at face value, she came up with a follow up just a few days later. ‘Daddy, am I “wheatish”?’ Soon thereafter, I remember us bumping into a neighbour in the park, a Hindu, and my daughter, happily swinging away, suddenly interrogating her about language, and whether we spoke the same one. Instinct made me rebuke her, but in hindsight, there was no need – her questions weren’t rude, just born out of a burning curiosity – something which I’d never wish to dampen in her. Already feeling somewhat inept, it wasn’t long before my little girl dealt me her coup de gras: ‘Daddy, am I Muslim? Is Mariyah Muslim? Why is no-one else in my class Muslim?’
As adults, we recognise that yearning for terra firma – sure-footing within one’s milieux. But throw any deviation into the mix and, as my daughter was clearly finding out, the ground beneath you can feel less supportive. Ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, language, skin colour, religion – how many of us are forever shuffling our deck, and wondering which card to play next? Alliances form and then dissolve; points of meeting end up morphing into fissures. For some, this ever-changing landscape is a thing of beauty – an opportunity. For others, the fight for purchase on this brittle earth is hugely disorientating. Give or take, I was thirty-five before I felt comfortable in my own skin. So how will the dice roll for my daughter? Insight into possible futures can be gleaned from The Things I Would Tell You, an anthology of writing by British Muslim women. With contributions in poetry as well as prose, fiction and non-fiction, and covering weave and weft in the tapestry of female British Muslim experience, this is a hugely ambitious project that Sabrina Mahfouz has spent nearly two years working on.