Writing a book on religious patriarchy

I have another blog and recently I was asked to talk there about the book I’m writing. The book will be an extension of this space so it seems right that I share my piece here too…

What am I working on? A non fiction book about my past. As a teenager I was forced to convert to Islam and after the ‘conversion’ I experienced (and witnessed many other women experiencing) years of religiously sanctioned misogyny. After falling in love with a non-Muslim I was disowned and forced to leave my home and family. In the years since I’ve pieced together a new, autonomous, identity. My book will tell my story and it will discuss how the female experience can be limited by religious patriarchy.

How does my work differ from others in the genre? the research process has helped me discover some great writing about women who escaped religious control and misogyny, but these pieces tend to be written by, or about, people who were born into the religion. I’m not aware of any books about women forced into converting to Islam, as I was.

There’s a dearth of first-hand representation regarding religious misogyny. This results in a disconnect between the reality of being controlled and abused by religious patriarchy, and the stories being told. My book will offer an alternative to the faceless, academic analysis of religious misogyny. It will discuss, honestly, the emotional (and sometimes physical) manipulation that occurs in the context of forced conversion, as well as the reality of living under extreme patriarchy, and with conflicting cultural identities.

My story might sound unusual, but it’s certainly not unique. Islam attracts large numbers of converts each year and, if what I witnessed is anything to go by, there are other women (and men) who are emotionally corralled or trapped into Islam, by parents or partners.

Why do I write what I do? Initially I started to write as therapy. I spent years consumed with guilt over my decision to leave my family, but writing has allowed me sift through the emotional debris of my past. Writing has taught me that I had every right to want more from my life than being an automaton, that I’m entitled to feel angry about the way I was treated and about the years of lost opportunities, and most importantly that I can and should talk about my past.

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I also write in the hope that I might be able to help others. And that’s not an entirely selfless act. If, all those years ago, I had come across a book like the one I’m writing, it would have started the healing process so much earlier. I would have found my voice before having my own family and it would have saved a lot of people a lot of heartache. I want to help those isolated by ‘sacred’ or cultural misogyny to feel less alone, so that they have the confidence to demand their freedom.

Lastly, I write because I know that human rights are being abused by those at the helm of organised religion (men). I passionately believe that any religious practice involving emotional or physical coercion, patriarchy, prejudice, or discrimination must be ripped apart for analysis – there can be no sacred cows. And women need to talk honestly about their experiences, because if we don’t rock the boat with truth, misogynistic attitudes and behaviours can’t be dismantled.

What is my writing process? I’m an impulsive writer and not particularly organised, but once I decided to write my book I knew I needed a more methodical approach, so I allocated time during the summer to plan my chapters, put them in order using Scrivener and fill them with notes.

In terms of writing software, I flit between the Evernote app on my phone and Scrivener. Evernote is so user-friendly, it syncs with all my other devices and I can use it whenever I have my phone to hand. Scrivener is a pretty slick programme that gives you complete control over formatting, but there’s no app so I don’t find it as practical as Evernote, especially as I tend to write in snatches – 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there – on my phone. My writing process is far from ideal and I often get frustrated at not having longer stretches of time to sit down and organise my ideas, but with two small children and a job, I’ve got to work with what I have.

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