Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is a writer, spoken word poet, speaker, and educator, known online as The Brown Hijabi.
A Cambridge University graduate from Bradford, Suhaiymah explores the complex and intricate relationship of being a British Muslim woman.
Her latest spoken word poem, performed at an event hosted by the Runnymede Trust and the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, has gone viral – but she has received racist comments since it was released.
Entitled British Values, the poem which claims Britain is bismillah (meaning in the name of God), has ruffled a few feathers but also won wide praise among the Muslim community and beyond for the scathing but accurate look at Britain’s history.
In it, Suhaiymah questions Britain’s failures like Grenfell, Windrush and current-day Islamaphobia.
She juxtaposes it with the brilliance of Britain’s current day diversity, saying ‘Britain is bismillah, basmati and bilingual, box braids and black barber shops, Bollywood, and bhangra’.
She decided to perform the poem after she was asked to speak on the whitewashed history curricula in schools and universities in Britain.
In it, she says: ‘Britain is body-popping outside of the tube, Brick Lane before it was cool, Britain is the burqa, Britain is praying in the changing rooms, Britain has its feet in your sink, Britain is barbaric, Britain has blood on its hands, Britain is blindly patriotic, Britain is built on false narratives.’
‘I was partly inspired by headlines I saw, partly by my own feelings of “Britishness” as a grassroots identity of multifaceted meaning as opposed to an unchanging, static “culture”,’ Suhaiymah explained to Metro.co.uk.
‘That narrative from the top down doesn’t really resonate with anyone I know.’
The idea came to her after her postgraduate research and took some time for Suhaiymah to write.
Suhaiymah has performed the poem in several places in the UK and internationally. Though it provokes some people, she says she wasn’t nervous about performing it.
‘This is one of my favourite poems to perform as people generally get very into the references that I make and I think it resonates with anyone born in this country who has had to grow up dealing with its contradictory narratives about itself.
‘The reception has been fascinating. I didn’t expect it to be shared at the rate it has been – I’ve had some people I really admire share and respond to it.
‘But I’ve also had a few people really disingenuously ignore the message of the poem and personally attack me on grounds that I should not critique an arbitrary structure like a nation-state.
‘I never understand how the same people who tell me I should be “grateful” for the “free speech” Britain gives me, try to silence my speech.’
Muslims online have commended the powerful poem, saying it shines a light on the skewed history Britons are taught.
They liked, particularly, the last line of the poem which said: ‘I am the great in Great Britain…and aren’t you terrified?’