Faith And Feminism In Essex: Rasheedat’s Abroad Life.


November 1, 2019


I’m just going to come out and report myself. I thought I was late as hell for our 6 PM interview, but we thank the Lord for daylight savings. Tell me I’m not the only one this time difference thing has saved.

Oh not at all, but in my case, I always get into trouble. So every year, they take the clocks back an hour for daylight savings, and every year since I’ve lived here, I always forget! Just last week, I was telling someone in Nigeria to call me at 10 PM. By 9, they were already blowing up my phone. I’m looking at my phone like, what can fa? Luckily I remembered before I changed it for everybody’s daddy.

And I oop.

Yes oh.

So I’m always asking about the good and bad about living abroad. But today, I only want dirt. What’s the worst thing about living in the UK? Drag Charlie’s Mom for filth sis.

Haha. So here’s a funny thing. I was talking to someone on Twitter the other day, and I was like, I want to move to Canada, and he said, ‘Why are you greedy?’

Wow. I’m with him. UK never do you?

Wait now. Listen first. When I was leaving university, I left with £55,000 in debt.

Girl what?

Now, I’m doing my masters, I’ll leave with maybe another £11,000. The UK pushes you to live in debt. It’s how their system works. If you’re buying a phone, you get it on contract, pay £50 every month. My mom was telling me the other day that she’s owing Very (where we got our wardrobe) money because she picked the monthly payment plan. See, you can buy things on credit from Tesco, the grocery store, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, just take the credit and be going.

Please, just to confirm. £55,000 you said? Asking for my chest that is currently very tight.

Stay there. When I was opening my student account, they offered me an overdraft of £1500. I said please, I don’t want gbese.

Hold up. They wanted to give you free money and you were objecting? We don’t … we don’t really do that here oh 👀.

You say free money but I really don’t like owing. But the thing is, you don’t get the option. I actually had to take the overdraft because I wouldn’t have been able to open the account otherwise. But, I’ll be honest, I eventually used that overdraft money to live my best life in India, so I’m not really mad at it.

Hm, interesting. So someone told me it’s easier to pass through the eyes of SARS with dada than to get this UK Visa. How did you do it?

Well for me, my dad was already here. He already had indefinite leave to remain. So I just came in under him when I was 17. After that I…

Wait, wait, wait. What’s the colour of your passport?

Red oh.

Oshe, Louboutin pali.

Haha. So this doesn’t get as much press. But I had to take two tests before I got this passport. I thought it was going to be beans. UK that I’ve been living in for seven years; small stuvz. Next thing, I opened my paper, I saw Who was the king of England in 1818? What were the names of his seven wives? What was the colour of his favourite dog’s eyes? I closed the book and used one year to study for that test after oh.

You think it’s easy to enjoy abroad breeze without immigration fear?

It’s not oh. After I passed that, I did another test where they just asked me to tell someone about something I enjoyed doing. Just paining me I had to spend like £160 to get it. But it’s all good.

Okay, I’ve changed my mind. What do you love about living in your country?

Well, you know how I said I’m not about living on credit? Well, weirdly it’s one of the things I love about England. They have institutions that just work.

Go on.

The credit facilities are there so you don’t always have to worry about money. They have centres to lecture you and just guide you through the whole process of getting and living on credit. They pay student workers a minimum wage, plus holiday pay, I enjoyed that well-well. The National Health Service provides free healthcare.

Nigeria can you see your mate/colonial master?

No really though. Yes, it’s always packed because hospitals are filled with people that have been sporting colds for two hours are there complaining, but that’s how it should be. You should have access to healthcare that gives you the option of a free check-up when you’re not feeling your best.

God when?

Like the institutions just work. Don’t know how else to put it. There are employability centres in schools that look at your CV for you, prepare you for job interviews, give you mock job tests. I mean, you’re getting into  £55,000 debt for these things, which is why sometimes I think Nigerian schools should be more expensive. But England just works.

And there’s light!

Yes! Plus, people don’t care about titles here, I used to call my professors by name in school. Julien this, Julien that. Took me a year to get used to it, but it just made the schooling experience easier when there were no hierarchies, or how do I describe it?

See, I get, fully. What I don’t get is this Brexit thing. Why does it sound like an egg sandwich?

Haha. I’ll be honest, I’m no political major oh. But what I understand is that there was a vote to leave or remain in the EU, and a lot of people voted to leave for all the wrong reasons because they thought it would affect migrants, when really a lot of underlying issues were present like trade deals. I voted to remain in the EU though.

What were some of the wrong reasons?

So I had an aunt who voted to leave because she thought that would make all the Polish people that were offering cheaper labour to the English leave. She thought it would make Nigerians more important in the labour market again. I’m like Aunty what?!

Aunty what indeed!

It was weird hearing an immigrant want that for another immigrant, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Then something else happened. Because they brought back study leave which allows people with student visas to remain in the UK for about two years after schooling — when Theresa May left, a lot of people had the wrong assumption that they had Brexit to thank.

Hm. So let me get this, you’re living in England at a time where they’re not even using style to hide their racism. How is that going for you?

Have you ever heard of ‘Kill A Muslim Day?’

What?

Every year, it circulates in the Sisters’ Groups and the platforms on social media that this is a day set aside to harm a Muslim. Pictures circulate and everyone is advised to stay in and lay low. But I choose not to be paranoid.

So immigrants are really getting the worst end of the stick currently?

I mean, living in England, there have always been racist undertones. When I was telling my friend about how I voted to remain, he got so red in the face and he said: “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You shouldn’t be able to vote.” My mom had to talk to him oh, he sent us an apology letter.

Better!

Then there were people that said they didn’t want Somalis in England anymore. It’s just navigating those things. Funny thing is, this racism even affected how I wore my hair before I decided to start covering it.

I want the person’s name, address and phone number. Just to talk.

Haha. So what happened was, I went to get a blow out. I was feeling like the biggest diva, my afro was popping, I was feeling myself. Some girl just stopped me and said, “Oh my God, you look like a microphone.”

I’m ded.

And you know what, I was never able to wear my hair in an afro after that. It actually really affected me, because on a normal day, I’d have said who asked you Jackie? I usually give them back hot-hot.

Who really asked you Jackie? Sorry you had to go through that. You mentioned that you started covering your hair. What brought about that decision?

See, there wasn’t some magical moment that made me decide to start wearing a hijab. I always said I would when I got to university with a fresh start and very few distractions to disturb me. I stopped putting extensions in my hair at that point, not just because it’s haram but because I didn’t want any temptation. Next thing, I’m taking off my hijab, let me even flex with this hair, you get that kind of thing?

Fully. Have you ever been targeted because of your choice?

Not really oh. Any targeting has moved from Hijabs to Niqabs. Like they’ve graduated from being uncomfortable with hijabs, to accepting it in a bid to be inclusive. But niqabs, oh no!

I’ve had too many sisters tell me their stories of assault. And this isn’t even just from men or white people, you have feminists like Mona Elthawy loudly advocating for there to be a niqab ban. When really, feminism should be about making everyone equal, likewise every woman equal, allowing her the choice of what items of clothing she chooses to have on or off.

How do you balance feminism and the more traditional aspects of Islam?

You know what, there has been a lot of unlearning and a lot of learning.

Teach away.

Easy example. My friend was getting married, and this girl is a recent convert to Islam and she was telling me about how she’s going to include in her marriage contract that her husband can’t up and travel, without carrying her along with her. And I’m like, marriage contract?

Sister, that makes two of us. What’s a marriage contract? 

Traditionally, women believe only the man can divorce, only he has a say in whether he gets to marry four wives, things like that. But women are equally allowed to stipulate in their marriage contracts that their husbands not have any additional wives, or carry them along when relocating without consent and they can just as well divorce them by including all of these things in their marriage contracts. I’m currently researching Sharia law and writing a module on women’s rights because of this.

Mind blown. So that’s part of what you learned. What did you have to unlearn?

It’s not so much unlearning, but listening to both sides and making my decision. I mean yes, I had to unlearn a lot of the more harmful things Alfas in Nigeria taught me, but mostly it’s finding that sweet spot where my feminism and my faith can intersect, although it’s not the easiest thing.

Can I say something?

Shoot!

I’ve learnt that being a Muslim in Nigeria and being a Muslim in England are two entirely different things. I mean in Nigeria, you can tie scarf and still gbedu, still flex a little bit. But here, it’s different, some people believe there’s even a heirarchy.

Hol’up, hol’up. How did hierarchy enter this matter?

So there are niqabis, who cover everything up, but their eyes. Then hijabis like me, and there are those that wear only scarves. This is supposedly how the hierarchy works. And you’ll hear someone wearing a scarf saying things like “I said ‘salaam’ to that niqabi and she didn’t respond by saying “WaAlaikumSalaam,” (which is the traditional response back) because I’m not fully covered.

Oh wow.

Yes, but I just try to diffuse the situation, perhaps the person didn’t hear. That has definitely happened to me a number of times. But I try to emphasise that whatever a sister chooses to wear absolutely shouldn’t deter you from giving a friendly greeting or make you turn your nose up at her.

A word.

At the same time. I try to infuse my feminism into making sisters more accepting of women that are not like them. I’ve had a niqabi say ‘astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from Allah), how can she dress that way?’ at a woman who was living her best life, wearing a mini dress. I couldn’t help it, I asked her how she, who had been subject to prosecution for the way she looks for so long, could go on to do the same thing, judging a woman for how she chose to dress. While Islam is about modesty and moderation, there should be room for being accomodating, which is why it’s so important to have feminism discourses about certain issues.

Absolutely. So how accommodating is Essex for practising Islam, I’m talking food, prayers.

It is so accommodating! Like it’s no joke, practising Islam in Nigeria and in the UK are two very different things. There are signs in restaurants and on food, letting you know which is Halal (acceptable) and which is Haram (unacceptable). You can ask at the restaurants if their food is Halal, I can’t imagine going to a buka and asking ‘shey ounje yin wa Halal?’ (is your food Halal) and anybody answering me. There are prayer centers everywhere, at the airport. I can ask for breaks to pray at work. Like it’s a very condusive environment.

Must be nice. How about observing Ramadan (fast period) in England?

See, if there’s anything that can make me move from England to Nigeria, it’s this. I’m playing. But man. The day can start at 3 AM here and the sun won’t set until 9PM. You’ll have like 18-hour fasts. Not that I’m complaining oh, but I’ve looked at ticket prices to Lagos before sha.

LOL. So, you have to be the ultimate plug here. I’m new at Essex and I want to pepper them with my matching Hijab and Abaya like those ladies on Instagram. Where do I go?

Ah, error. I’m the worst person to ask. I have like 30 scarves and people dashed me or I used scope to collect them. Maybe I’ve bought only one ever oh.

Wow wow. Sister Rasheedat! Anyway, I’ll take your slay like that, let me bless everybody with your pictures.


Plans for after Masters?

Hmm. Depends on what they say about this Brexit oh. I got this red pali specifically to travel. I went to Portugal sometime this year and that’s how I want to be ticking these countries off. Nobody should come and tell me I have to get a visa to visit Paris, that’s where they’ll see my red-eye.

And Nigeria?

I might move back for NYSC, I’m not sure. But even if I do, I’ll be honest, there’s always that small happiness that I can sharply jump bus and enter the UK again, so I like the security.

Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.


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