Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch

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Muslim women are engaged – they already are and always have been. This is the premise of Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch.

The collaborative, bottom-up project harnesses and strengthens the expertise of local Muslim women activists and agents to make the existing involvement of Muslim women more visible, while simultaneously making the spaces of engagement that are already in the public eye more inclusive to them. Towards this end, a core team of Muslim women are working together as experts to develop guidelines for civil society stakeholders to examine and improve the inclusivity of Muslim women – the Sehtest.

The vision of Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch is to expand the spectrum of engagement opportunities for Muslim women by both deepening current participation and further ensuring that civil society is reflective of our existing religious plurality.

The project Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch was funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Reflecting on the first “Kontaktlinse”, December 3, 2020

Written by Zehra Tuzkaya

Thanks to the continuing nazar of Covid, we gathered in front of our computers again to learn from each other in a cozy atmosphere.Before we enter the “We expose racism, sexism and Islamophobia” mode, there is first an exchange about our closets, tax returns that have yet to be filled out, annoying Uber drivers, and Sumeyya reveals her tips and tricks for a sustainable clothing consumption. Even Rumeysa who is still on her way home calls from the backseat of the car and Nadine made the time despite the time difference.

I think we would all agree that the past year was filled with extraordinary moments and that our perception of the life we were once used to sometimes seemed blurry. What could be more appropriate than a Kontaktlinse (contact lens) that helps us take a closer look at the circumstances and get a sharper vision of the future?

The project Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch consists of Augenblicke and Kontaktlinsen. Our last two meetings were Augenblicke which were safe spaces for us as muslim women to talk about our civic engagement and our experiences. The Contact Lenses provide the fertile ground to discuss participation and inclusion, Muslim (civic) engagement, and visions for the future with outside representatives from various institutions.

During our first Contact Lens on December 3rd, we welcomed as guests the supportive and activist souls Emine Aslan and Fatima El-Sayed. As the founder of the PoC Hochschulgruppe Mainz, board member at “#SchauHin”, blogger at “Diaspora Reflektionen”, and author at Missy Magazine, we got to know Emine as an all-round activist. Fatma’s work as consultant with the neue deutsche organisationen empowers not only anti-racist work in general but also us.

The goal of the Contact Lens is to exchange ideas with other Muslim partners in order to validate the representativeness of our individual experiences and thus ensure that our guidelines are universally applicable. As experts, we joined small groups with Fatima and Emine and returned to the full group later to share our results and insights. The casual atmosphere of our group allowed us to share our experiences as Muslim Women in society and to explore the question of how to create inclusive spaces of civic engagement. We recalled the painful and exhausting experiences, but we did not let ourselves be taken in by this pain, but instead went on to transform it into criteria of solidarity.

Probably the most important insight is that self-determined safespaces need to be recognized and encouraged, and that we should not only look for spaces but also create them, without, however, becoming obligated to provide them. In addition, we need to foster intersectional feminism, respect and a critical examination of images of the self and the other, to name just a few. I realize, how moderating the meetings with our guests not only provides us with answers but also stimulates a process of self-reflection: Why do we get involved in certain spaces? How did we get into them? What do we desire from these spaces and from society?

As always, the nazar of Covid-19 did not stop us from learning from each other and from experiencing feelings of community and joy. Part of this joy are our project leaders, Kübra and Nahla, who – as Nadine pointed out – design the project with incredibly much love and thus create an authentic space in which we are understood without having to justify ourselves.

They convey this love not only through their great project management skills and authenticity, but also through unique surprises. For example, each of us received a personalized drawing, a card filled with kind and empowering words, and chocolate in the shape of our initials. It looks so cool that I can’t bring myself to eat it (although I never make exceptions when it comes to chocolate).

We end our last meeting of the year with Emine’s call upon all of us to pat ourselves on the back. And we thank our first, encouraging guests, who made the time for our project and gave us yet another nudge to keep going.

With Rumeysa’s beautiful words, I would like to thank everyone and end this reflection: “Thank you for letting me discover the world with you.”

Reflecting on the second “Augenblick”, November 04, 2020

Written by Zehra Tuzkaya

To some, November 4th, 2020 might just have been a regular Wednesday, but we perceived it differently. At 6pm, we gathered in front of our screens for the second Augenblick of our project Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch.

Changes were in the air since we had first met: We were all in “lockdown 2.0” (100% nazar), the new semester had started, Sumeyya had graduated (mashallah) and Kübra was one year closer to becoming an adult. What has remained unchanged, however, is the determination of young muslim women to change their civil society for the better. 

After everyone had settled comfortably in front of their screen, we got into small groups to share and collect our thoughts on the term “Muslim woman”. 

What does it mean to be a “Muslim woman”? What do we associate with the term, what do we think of? These questions constitute our sense of self and yet I had never really taken the time to think about them. All of a sudden there they were, and I was allowed to say whatever I wanted – without having to justify myself to anyone or having to feel the weight of representation resting on my shoulders.

The experiences, thoughts and opinions we shared with each other in a  safe space brought us closer to each other in the bigger group. Sumeyya found the right words: “Die muslimische Frau ist keine Box, sie kann nicht in eine Box gepackt werden, weil die Bandbreite zu groß ist” (The Muslim women is not a box, she cannot be put into a box because the spectrum is too big) or “die Widersprüchlichkeit, dass man sich immer zwischen Räumen bewegt – man ist immer was anderes bevor man die Chance bekommt, ein Individuum zu sein” (the paradox of always moving between spaces – you are always something else before you get the chance to be an individual). 

I caught myself picturing a “woman with hijab” as a first association and it became apparent: The “Muslim woman” does not exist. This concept is a ghost that has haunted our minds for too long and should have been driven out long ago. Have you ever noticed how biased you are in your own perception? When we see a Muslim woman in an advertisement, we get almost as excited as when we gaze at the food at Iftar. Shouldn’t it be the norm that Muslim women are represented in all areas of life? We can wait for fast-breaking but not for the inclusion of Muslim women in all areas of public life.

You know what Dua first associated with “Muslim woman”? Brave, powerful, diverse. And she’s right! Do you want to know where I got that from?

This became clear to me when I looked at my small screen on this seemingly simple Wednesday and saw the congenial, steadfast, generous and powerful women of this project.  

Reflecting on the first “Augenblick”, October 20, 2020

Written by Zehra Tuzkaya

“Would you like to participate in our new project Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch“?”

When I was asked this question, I didn‘t know what to expect. I couldn‘t imagine what a project that deals with Muslim women and their social engagement would entail. Could structures in voluntary work and civil society block the view of marginalized groups? Do Muslim women face discrimination even in their aspirations to shape civil society?  Are we at all aware of these obstacles? 

All these thoughts were in the back of my head that was searching for answers. From time to time I had sudden insights, such as that Muslim women often do not receive the recognition that would do justice to them and their work. Instead, they seem invisible, even if they shape this society every day with their commitment and visions. Full of curiosity about how other Muslim women feel and what experiences they have, I became part of the first Augenblick.

The project Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch (MUSSlim Visual Aid) adresses the question of how accessible it is for Muslim women to be active in the civil society of Heidelberg and how visible they are. Over the course of more than a year, a group of female experts consisting of Muslim women from Heidelberg and the Rhine-Neckar region will share their perceptions, reflect on their experiences, and bring together expertise to develop guidelines for the future. All this  will happen in so-called Augenblicke (moments) and Kontaktlinsen (contact lenses). Augenblicke are our safe spaces; a space for our experts, for us Muslim women, to be together in a free and honest way, while in Kontaktlinsen we take our questions and ideas to various audiences in Heidelberg for discussion. . 

Although the first Augenblick should have taken place offline but was rearranged at short notice to an online event (nazar, i guess). Yet as the friendly faces appeared on the screen and small talk and jokes were on the agenda from the very first minute, I knew I was at the right place. 

As a conversation starter, we all imagined what a perfect day looked like to us: Whether it was 24-year-old Kübra, who defines herself as a person “coming of age”; Sumeyya, who is currently doing her Masters in London; Beyza with her love for small cafés in Heidelberg; anthropologist Gülay took part from Cologne; Rumeysa who even on a Tuesday evening sat in front of her camera with a bright smile; our “overwrought” Nahla; or Nadine who did not believe in the ‘perfect day’ – everyone agreed that on a perfect day, the sun wakes you up before starting the day with a cup of coffee and ending it with a nice movie night.  

After getting to know these seven incredibly congenial and ambitious women – this time two experts were missing – we had the opportunity to exchange experiences or, as Kübra put it very nicely: “talk about all the things that define your presence here”. We discovered that we shared the feeling of despair as a Muslim woman exposed to the internalized structures of racism and sexism, the feeling of being trapped in the ambivalence between “I want to design projects” and “will anyone support this?” We agree that the project “Sehhilfe MUSSlimisch” offers us a space to express these emotions, to become aware of their likeness and to gain valuable experiences which we would like to bring together and make them accessible to others.

Stay tuned for the guidelines and cachet we will develop and report on in the future!

Full of joy I look forward to the next Augenblick, the reunion on November 4th!