In stark contrast to, as the Washington Post put it, the ‘funeral-like’ inauguration of now-President, Trump, who actually wanted tanks and missiles in his parade, #WomensMarch protests took place across the United States, as well as much of the world, outnumbering vastly the turnout to the presidential inauguration, injecting a sense of hope.
That an openly misogynistic man can assume the office of the most powerful person in the world while flippantly disregarding the dignity of half of humanity, this is a wake-up call to even human being of conscience that unless we are involved in our societies encouraging dignity, kindness and justice for all, we leave the path open to those who divide us by exploiting our fears.
So it was in London that we gathered and spoke.
Starting outside the American Embassy, British Entrepreneur and Activist Akeela Ahmed, who used to run the Muslim Youth Helpline, has contributed regularly to international media e.g. BBC, Sky News, and who is also the founder of She Speaks We Hear, spoke:
“We are living in a climate of fear in which being a Muslim woman is very challenging. We are more likely to face physical and verbal abuse on the street just because of who we are and how we dress. As of yesterday, we have a leader of the free world who questions our rights to be treated as equal citizens, who wants to deny our basic freedoms and fundamental rights. (We need to )Tear down the walls of division that are being built by those who seek to divide us. We will not let bigotry and hatred overcome us… To stand united for justice, equality, peace and love.”
Filling the space in front of the embassy, the square, and all of the roads around the embassy, it took a few moments for the speakers and march leaders to make their way to the front of the queue as the number of participants grew. Eventually we marched past the world famous Ritz hotel, along Pall Mall, and to Trafalgar square. So many were in attendance that as I stood in front of the stage on the square, friends who were marching were still on Pall Mall.
BRIT nominated singer Camilla Kerslake helped set the atmosphere with a rendition of We Are Family, energizing the crowds. Our host on stage was Sandi Toksvig, a Danish-born British comedian, presenter and political activist. She spoke:
“I will not tolerate Islamophobia, anti-semitism, misogyny, homophobia or any other divisive nonsense. I am here to stand with you.”
“Women are gathered, and the men who support them are gathered, all over the world today. And we give notice to every person in charge of every government when we say, we are watching you.”
Canadian-born, British actress, Tanya Moodie spoke, “Today I saw the swing in your waist. Today I saw the joy in your feet. Today I saw each of your faces above the parapet. You are phenomenal. Today you have rejected the rhetoric of division and hate and the rise of xenophobia in this country and around the world. Racism and sexism threaten to roll back hard won feeds and hold progress in areas where there is still so much work to do. Today in all our diversity, from all over the country, we have marched as one community, to reclaim our democracy and to bring the interest of all women into the political space.”
Former investment banker, now comedian and political activist Kate Smurthwaite, spoke: “I couldn’t watch the telly yesterday. Eventually I pushed the BBC red button and they cut to a live stream of Elizabeth Warren filling out impeachment papers. Some of you are thinking, Is Pence any better? No, in my fantasy this protest goes on for several months, and eventually, the janitor at the Whitehouse is sworn in, in an emergency briefing, and she’s a Mexican woman.”
Returning to the more serious notes of the march Kate spoke, “When things are against humanity, you can be sure that it is women who are the first to suffer. The first to lose out. And the hardest hit. This is going to be not a short battle, but an incredibly long, drawn out, tough one. and I’m sorry to say that, but bring your megaphone, you are going to need to raise your voices, not once, but over and over again, and when you do so, remember this, you are not alone.”
Polly Neate, the the CEO of Women’s Aid took to the stage saying, “Misogyny is on the march. It has marched all the way to the Whitehouse and it is not stopping there. For some time now I’ve been feeling confused, I’ve not been thinking much about what is going on, and that feeling is profoundly disempowering. It’s time to name what’s going on. And to take back the power to say no to it. We can only do that together. Misogyny and sexism give permission to abuse, it’s as simple as that. We all know that Trump’s locker room jokes are not funny. Actually they are dangerous. They normalize sexism. We see it as normal, and then we see men’s violence against women as inevitable.
For me, the highlight from the march was a poem authored by Dorothy Oger who lost a loved one in the Brussels bombing. Spoken by a ten-year-old named Sumayah, the poem opened with the words, “I shall stand for love, even with a broken soul, even with a heavy heart.”
As citizens of the world, we have the option to either allow prejudice to divide us, or mutual growth and opportunity to unite us. From a Muslim’s perspective, we have already in Prophet Muhammad’s example the mandate for the latter – to acknowledge that we are different but to come together on what is common and shared, and to support each other with the freedom of faith and behavior.
Insecurity is not spiritual, Godly, or a preferential character trait. Nor is insecurity a pleasant thing to see. This is why in electing President Trump, America showed itself to already be great, for when a leader can behave so negatively towards more than half of his nation’s population, it awakes the spirit in every person of conscience ensuring that the better values of justice and kindness will inevitably prevail.
After the March a few friends and I took to defrosting in the warm over desserts and cream teas at a nearby restaurant. There, 10 year old Sumayah sat, at first, with her hair in a pony, which she eventually braided in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder from the TV sitcom, Little House on the Prairie. She reminded me of my nieces. And in between our silly and fun conversations all I could think of was the need to improve society so girls and women, half of humanity, could have the freedoms we men take for granted.
Women have the right to be treated with dignity, kindness and respect. If as a Muslim Prophet Muhammad is meant to be my role model, then, from amongst men, I see no greater an advocate of women’s rights; being a part of the march was very much in tune, of following his sunnah.