Today I am delighted to be hosting the blog tour for Hijab and Red Lipstick by Yousra Imran.
“You cannot do anything in this country without my permission.”
Being a teenager isn’t easy. And it doesn’t help when you have a mega strict Egyptian dad who tells you that everything is “haram” a.k.a. forbidden. All Sara wants to do is experiment with makeup and read fashion magazines, but her dad’s conservative interpretation of Islam makes it impossible.
Things get even harder when her dad lands himself a job in the Arabian Gulf and moves Sara and her family to a country where the patriarchy rules supreme. In a country where you have to have your father’s permission for everything, every door feels like it is being closed on Sara’s future. Can Sara find her voice again? Will she ever be free?
When I talk about the many benefits of reading with my ‘Librarian’ hat on, I often say that one of the most important things is that it gives you the ability to walk in another person’s shoes. This is even more evident in teen/YA fiction today. Hijab and Red Lipstick took me away from everything I have ever known. Or perhaps I should say that Sara took me away. I walked alongside her and watched her as she and her family were taken from everything they knew and loved, and the (somewhat limited) freedom she had whilst living in Britain, to the Arabian Gulf. Here any sense of freedom is taken away as her father embraces the strict rules of the new world they are living in. Sara is a strong girl though and she is determined. But the price of freedom can be high indeed and she soon discovers that in this new, harsh reality, her actions have consequences for others too. But perhaps the time has come for women to break free from suppression.
When asked what taboos was she trying to break and why is this important, Yousra’s response was:
‘I think Hijab and Red Lipstick is all about taboos in the Arab culture – it’s the year 2020 and enough is enough – Arab women have had enough of being told that speaking openly about their lives is shameful and harmful to their reputations and this is what my book is about – speaking openly about relevant issues in society such as homosexuality and homophobia, pre-marital relationships, sexual abuse, domestic abuse and mental health which many societies have regarded as a “taboo.” I am trying to break the taboo that talking about your life and about things that affect you like love, intimacy and mental health issues as a woman is “shameful”. As Mona El-Tahawy famously said, “the most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really matters.”
This was an eye opening read and an important one at that. Yousra shined a light on how many people still live, a way of life that we can often find hard to believe still exists for some. I would definitely recommend this great YA and I think it will be an important and popular addition to the school Library. I can see why it was chosen as the winner of the Hashtag Press competition and I think it will be very interesting to see what Yousra has in store for us next.
Thank you so much to Helen Lewis and the team at Hashtag Press for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for providing me a digital copy.
About the author
Yousra Imran is English-Egyptian who works and lives in West Yorkshire. She won the Hashtag Press 2020 competition and her prize is to see her debut novel published! Yousra has been writing from the moment she learned how to hold a pen and works full time in marketing and events in the education sector.
Yousra grew up between the UK and the Middle East and has a BA Hons in International Relations. She is passionate about women’s rights and gender justice. Yousra lives with her husband in Bradford, Yorkshire.
Below is an extract from Hijab & Red Lipstick by Yousra Imran which was kindly supplied by the publisher. I hope you enjoy this snippet.
Extract from Hijab & Red Lipstick by Yousra Imran, Hashtag Press, November 2020
I went to a party. A party in a bar with boys! And I didn’t get caught by Baba. I could hardly believe it.
“My friends love you, by the way,” Heba said, as we walked into university. “And the guys asked me why I’ve been hiding such a beautiful friend.”
“Really?” I asked, blushing.
Heba linked arms with me. “Told you it’s fun to go out!” Heba’s friends added me on Facebook and started to invite
me to their parties. I couldn’t get away with going to parties every weekend without my parents getting suspicious, plus we were in our final year of university. I had dissertations to write and exams to study for.
But once a month, I’d tell Baba there was a Gulf wedding I’d been invited to and he would let me go with Heba. The story that I was going to someone’s engagement party or wedding was a plausible one because in the Gulf it was normal for the young women my age to get married within weeks of each other.
In the mid-2000s most Arab women got married while they were at university or soon after graduating. Plus, agreeing to Heba picking me up meant Baba saved himself having to drive me places. It was the perfect arrangement.
Sometimes Heba would drop me home afterwards, and if Baba was in a very good mood, he’d let me sleep over at hers. I started to feel like I was leading a double life and I wasn’t bad at it.
Despite all the new-found interest from the Egyptian guys in Heba’s circle, I wasn’t interested in any of them. I was still attracted to Gulf men, despite that weird date I went on months ago. I’d written my date with Aziz off as a one-off.
Unlike the other expatriate girls I knew who went out with them just to get free expensive dinners, rides in sports cars and lavish gifts, it wasn’t the Gulf men’s wealth that attracted me.
I can admit I was a bit of a romantic, and found their Arab beauty alluring. I also felt that their lives, as boring and as routine as they were, had a sense of stability I hadn’t felt all my life. My childhood memories were of us moving from area to area in London. Even now, in the Gulf, I still felt a sense of insecurity, knowing that at any time if the government wanted to, they could terminate Baba’s work visa and we’d be deported.
I didn’t want to have to move again. I just wanted to settle down in one place, and Gulf families spent their whole lives in the Gulf. I believed that somehow, if I could find a good Gulf guy, we’d fall in love and he’d do the honourable thing and ask Baba for my hand in marriage.
One evening I was sitting on the family computer, browsing through an Arabic entertainment website, when I saw a banner ad for an Islamic marriage website. I looked over my shoulders to make sure no one was around. Mum was downstairs cooking and Baba was having a nap. Saffa and Abdullah were in their rooms studying, and God knows where Ahmed was. He was always out in the evenings, and neither Mum nor Baba asked him where he was and what he was up to. He was free to come and go as he pleased.
I clicked on the banner ad and it took me to the website. The home page had stock photos of smiling Muslim couples holding hands or putting their arms around one another. The membership was free.
I signed up, attaching one of the few photos I’d saved on the computer. It was me wearing my abaya and shayla, with a full face of make-up that Heba had taken for a photography project.
I knew Baba had showed that picture to his friends who had sons, much to my protest. After a year of me refusing all marriage proposals, he’d given up and now told anyone who proposed that I wasn’t interested in getting married.
Don’t get me wrong, I did want to get married, just not to one of his backward salafi friends’ sons. I didn’t want my life dictated by misogynistic doctrines that believed that women should go to university, but then get married as soon as they graduated, hang their degree up on the living room wall like a decorative painting, focus on the housework, pop out babies and get dinner ready for when their husband came home from work. No thank you.
So, after setting up my profile on the Islamic marriage website, I decided to set my filters so only Gulf men’s profiles appeared. I clicked ‘Search’ and hundreds of profiles swept on to the computer screen.
I went through profile after profile, until I couldn’t search anymore. I logged out, then cleared the Internet history. I didn’t want my parents or Abdullah stumbling across this website and figuring out that it was me.
I logged on again the next evening and found dozens of Arabic messages in my inbox, mostly from Egyptian men or men with faces that only their mothers could love. But in the midst of them I found a message from a Gulf guy who went to my university.
In his profile picture he was sitting on a jet ski, smiling at the camera, and had really cute dimples. The message was in English. Score! Someone who actually speaks English.
I think you have a very interesting profile. You write that you’re British but I can see that you have Arab features. I think you’re beautiful. My name is Fahad. I’d love to have a coffee with you. If you’re interested, this is my number.