By Zahed Sultan (editor)
A collection of essays prescribed by voices from the Middle East, South Asia, and the diaspora.
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Journalism in the UK is 94 per cent white and 55 per cent male, while only 0.4 per cent of journalists are Muslim and 0.2 per cent are Black. The publishing industry’s statistics are equally dire. Many publications will use British Black, Indigenous People of Colour individuals when it’s convenient; typically, when the region the writer represents is topical and newsworthy. Otherwise, their voices are left muted.
Haramacy amplifies under-represented voices. Tackling topics previously left unspoken, this anthology offers a space for writers to explore ideas that mainstream organisations overlook. Focusing on the experiences of twelve Middle Eastern and South Asian writers, the essays explore visibility, invisibility, love, strength and race, painting a picture of what it means to feel fractured - both in the UK and back home. Appreciating both heritage and adopted home, the anthology highlights the various shades that make up our society.
The title, Haramacy, is an amalgamation of the Arabic word ‘haram’, meaning indecent or forbidden, and the English word ‘pharmacy’, implying a safe, trustworthy space that prescribes the antidote to ailments caused by intersectional, social issues.
The book features contributions by novelists, journalists, and artists including Aina J Khan, Ammar Kalia, Cyrine Sinti, Joe Zadeh, Kieran Yates, Nasri Atallah, Nouf Alhimiary, Saleem Haddad and Sanjana Varghese, as well as essays by editors Dhruva Balram, Tara Joshi and Zahed Sultan.
ABOUT THE BOOK
- B-format paperback - 198 x 129mm
- 160 pages
- EXCLUSIVE new content from novelists, journalists and artists
- Contributors include: Aina J Khan - Ammar Kalia - Cyrine Sinti - Joe Zadeh - Kieran Yates - Nasri Atallah - Nouf Alhimiary - Saleem Haddad -Sanjana Varghese
- Additional essays: Dhruva Balram, Tara Joshi, and Zahed Sultan.
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The cover design is for illustrative purposes only and is subject to change
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Zahed Sultan is an award-winning multimedia artist, culture producer, and social entrepreneur. His work seeks to further the idea of community through social impact programs and collaborative culture projects. Zahed has received particular attention for his audio-visual-dance performances which have been presented internationally.
Having moved to London three and a half years ago, Zahed noticed a lack of cross-cultural projects in arts programming - especially for people from marginalised and ethnic communities. In response, he launched a pilot, combined arts program in 2019 called Haramacy in London to act as a catalyst for cross-cultural engagement. The program focuses on engaging emerging artists from Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian backgrounds in a collaborative way. Using disciplines such as performance, music, spoken word, etc., Haramacy creates a space for artists to learn about the similarities and differences between their diverse cultures and the intersectional social systems (race, gender, class and ethnicity) that exist within each other’s communities.
Through the Haramacy program, Zahed was inspired to found COMMUN in early 2020 - a combined arts co. with a focus on community-building. Through collaboration and inter-disciplinary tools such as digital arts, music, and performance, COMMUN produces meaningful and engaging experiences for creators and audiences to achieve a greater understanding between them and celebrate cultural diversity.
A Roadmap to Surviving Professional and Emotional Heartbreak by Aina. J Khan
'Remove your top, please.'
After six months of back-and-forth between hospital emergency departments with chest pains, a fantastically stubborn infection, weight loss, a persistent cough, and no conclusive results, I finally struck gold on a routine check-up by my GP; a small lump had infiltrated its way into my breast. It was the tell-tale sign of nothing or something.
I was due to fly out on a month-long work trip and combined holiday the very next morning. The choice was simple: Go topless in front of the robotic male doctor for a mammogram or carry the burden of not knowing like a trail of bulging clouds until I returned.
The sudden urge to laugh at the absurdity of the situation swept over me as I sat on the navy-blue hospital bed. My hands felt like anchors, pulling sluggishly at each end of my hijab, resting on my shoulders as if slowing my pace would halt the inevitable stripping. The corner of my mouth drooped in passive protest, and I reluctantly undressed, raising my arms above my head. The doctor wanted to check my lymph nodes just to be safe. He squirted the cold ultrasound gel against my skin as though he were shooting a toy water-gun. Digging the device deep into my armpit, he scrutinised the black and white images on the screen behind.
'There’s a slight abnormality in one of your lymph nodes', he said. 'I’ll need to take a small sample so we can test it. There’s a chance I won’t be able to extract enough cells. If that’s the case, we’ll have to schedule a biopsy when you get back.'
My thoughts wandered to a lamb’s eyeball I dissected in school eleven years ago. Thinking of the way it had stared in unlidded terror as I prodded the corneal gel gleefully with a metal scalpel, I wondered if I had the same look of naked horror as the needle disappeared into my underarm. I screwed my eyes shut and tried to imagine the cerulean Caribbean Sea of Negril in west Jamaica that my nurse, a Jamaican woman herself, had spoken to me about earlier.
'I spent four months as a breast surgeon – 99% of this stuff in under 35/40’s is non-sinister', a doctor friend had messaged me reassuringly. But ever the optimist, one thought lingered in my mind as the robot doctor rummaged the needle around grotesquely:
What if it was cancer?
I grew up in west London at the turn of the 1990s when ‘British Muslim’ hadn’t been fully embraced by the Muslim community. Then 9/11 happened. As my 10-year-old brain grasped at how it was humanly possible to fly planes into the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan, I had no idea that in the years after I would have to justify my humanity, defend my faith, and rationalise my claims to being British enough. In journalism, I found a way to translate my everyday experiences, a cocktail of passive racism, misogyny and Islamophobia mixed with condescending remarks of how polished my English was, or why on earth I wore a hijab on my head.
As a young, naïve journalist starting out, I had subconsciously internalised the Thatcherite mantra of meritocracy. If I just worked hard enough, collected more academic credentials under my belt, got more by-lines, I would succeed. If it wasn’t working out, there was something deficient in me.
And so last year, I concluded that if I completed a journalism diploma alongside the part-time Masters I was already half-way through (while working a full-time job), and still I couldn’t get a full-time journalism job, only then could I quit - knowing I had tried everything. It was as though qualifications and accolades could provide a lifejacket that would keep my head above the violent waters of a melanin-phobic industry keen on promoting ‘diversity of ideas’, when what it needed was diversity of authority, faces, and lived experiences.
Constantly floating from one freelance contract to another, unpaid work experience placements, internships, well-meaning positive action schemes and completing applications for entry-level jobs four years into freelancing, I was struggling immensely to keep financially and mentally afloat.
The more I was supposed to plant firmer roots with my journalism career, the more a crippling sense of imposter syndrome continued to whisper in my ear. Maybe if I exploited the privilege of my fair-skin, removed my hijab, anglicised my name to ‘Anna’ and masqueraded as a racially-ambiguous woman, I could escape the limitations of ‘diversity’, that nine-letter word that has metamorphosed into a taxonomy of human species for those with an ounce of melanin in their skin. And so I began doubting why I wanted to pursue journalism. Ambition and talent were two wobbly crutches that would only get me so far, but they needed to be tempered with discipline and endurance that would help me to bull-doze through self-doubt and rejection. But with a stable job still eluding me and my financial situation becoming even more uncertain, my endurance tank was running dangerously low.
Barely a few days before my travels, I lost someone I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. For the very first time, I was in love, deeply, foolishly and recklessly. I astonished myself with my capacity to love so beautifully and infinitely, I simply couldn’t bottle its intricacies inside one single word. My love for him blazed with the warmth of an internal, eternal sun which rose each time I saw his face, and set whenever we parted.
But his love was cold and conditional. Though the two of us were insatiably ambitious, in his own words, his work was his life. As I scrambled for just the bare minimum of commitment, I lost myself in furiously trying to fulfil his countless needs. The proud woman who would rely on no man metamorphosed into a mannequin to be picked up and put down when it suited him.
My Pashtun pride puffed its chest out, proudly insisting that I did not need that much attention. But waiting on the edge of a cliff for him to prioritise our relationship gnawed at me excruciatingly slowly. As he lifted the bar higher and higher, in the same way I convinced myself that my inability to secure a full-time job was entirely my own fault, the fool in love that I was, I naively leapt over his hurdles unquestioningly because surely, the deficiency was with me?
Gradually, the light of that internal sun began to diminish. I simply could not compete with the glistening professional jewels of Ivy-league credentials and glowing words from those with power that were so important to him. The news of the lump brought a death sentence with it, but not the one you might expect: It was the crippling realisation that his needs would always come first, and that his ambition would always eclipse our relationship. And so I left, only to return to a London that no longer felt like home.
I had built an Other London for him, where he and I could walk together hand in hand, untroubled and unhindered by the chaos of its twin; the real London where the smog of car fumes and the sound of shuffling crowds numbed by the chaos of busyness, gnawed like rats scuttling amongst the trash. I built the roads, paved the streets, erected the minarets of its mosques, painstakingly assembled the stained-glass windows of its churches, synagogues and temples.
I spilled the warmth of our love into its steamy coffee shops, the leafy sanctuary of the plane trees arching over the public gardens as a monument to us, to the roots we were supposed to plant, together. Every fragment that made London, was a fragment of him.
- 25th November 2020 150 Strong!
Outside multimedia art and music, I have wanted to explore writing as a medium to tell stories. I met Dhruva Balram (co-editor) in the Summer of 2019 just after I presented my first residency program and multi arts festival in London, Haramacy. The conversation ebbed and flowed about voices from our shared community being drowned out, muted even at times. This unexpected exchange manifested over time…
These people are helping to fund Haramacy.
Muna Al Mousa
Faisal Al Hassan