Meet the Muslim Slam Poet Who Shook the World With This Viral Piece

At the 9th Poetry Slam Competition, second place runner up Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, shook the world with her poem “This Is Not A Humanising Poem” at a charity event organized by Roundhouse with her moving words on showing true solidarity and love in a time of Islamophobia. The 22-year-old’s raw emotions send a powerful message to stop the trend of “humanizing Muslims” through their accomplishments and relatable experiences. Muslim Girl got the exclusive opportunity to get some of Manzoor-Khan’s thoughts regarding her recent attention and her hopes for the future

Muslim Girl: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

So I’m currently a SOAS University of London master’s student studying postcolonial studies. I’m most interested in my own diaspora – the Pakistani diaspora in Britain and very concerned with gender, sexuality and the British surveillance state regarding Muslims – all of which I’m bringing together in my thesis! I love to cycle, I cycle everywhere… Oh, and I’m from Leeds, Leeds is home, but London is great, I can’t deny.

What compelled you to write the poem you did?

I basically wrote this poem because, as I allude to in the poem, I was sick of writing, or at least reading, about Muslims in this dichotomy where we’re either suspicious and criminal, or “victims too” and heroes. That’s not a dichotomy that allows for all the nuances of life. And it’s just as dehumanising to only ever be recognised when you contribute something deemed “valuable” to society, and to only ever be applauded when you’re publically condemning and proving you’re “against” the “Bad Muslims.”

I don’t exist in those binaries and I don’t believe anyone really does unless they’ve allowed the state to co-opt them to its own ends – primarily the vilification and policing of Muslims. 

I hate the bad/good, liberal/conservative and moderate/extreme Muslim binaries that the media, global political rhetoric and government policy has created.

I don’t exist in those binaries and I don’t believe anyone really does unless they’ve allowed the state to co-opt them to its own ends – primarily the vilification and policing of Muslims. Such binaries are based on words with specific histories and are value-laden… So that’s why I was compelled to write it, really – the final push was the London Bridge incident and a tweet about how Muslim taxi drivers were giving free rides home. Of course they were. The fact it had to be stated was heart-breaking and dehumanising and understandable all at once. That’s what I wanted to capture in this poem. That we’re human even when you don’t notice us.

What do you think of the attention it has received from media?

I’ve genuinely been overwhelmed by the attention I’ve received from people. I think timing has a lot to do with it. After the last month of an onslaught of things from Manchester Arena to London Bridge to Finsbury Park Mosque and Grenfell Tower – and then the ongoing Islamophobic attacks going on all over the place including the acid attacks in East London – I think it was a poem a lot of people could relate to, or that it gave words to a common feeling. The video going viral has been a real surprise, though. Although I have to say, it’s mainly been Muslim-run pages and media that have been in touch, which is lovely, but also telling… I’d be interested to see if the BBC would run one of their short Facebook-video-type things on it; I guess it probably doesn’t fit the narrative they’re part of constructing… but we’ll see…

You’ve written for the Independent on the France burqini ban and white feminism, and have your own blog as well! Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that began?

I started writing my blog about three years ago as an undergraduate student and it was actually never intended to be a public thing. However, I felt that some of the things I wrote really needed to be shared because they were opinions or angles that I wasn’t seeing being platformed around me, or things I wanted my peers to understand – especially regarding feminism and race. I guess I made it into a platform for myself because often through writing I am much better able to articulate myself than through speech.

Through my blog, I could respond to and analyse microaggressions that happened to me in a way I couldn’t in the moment; or I could counter news stories or policies in ways that got a wider audience than if I simply spoke about them. Usually my most popular pieces are ones I have written in moments of rage at injustice. The burkini ban was one like that. It was only meant for my blog, but the Independent ran it —which meant it got a really wide audience and I think that was important, as again, I felt it was an angle I wasn’t seeing much in the mainstream.

How do you hope to cause impact and change the narrative about Muslims we are seeing in the media?

That’s a big question. I often think about how narratives are changed and I think a key part of that is creating alternative narratives. Those narratives have to escape the paradigm and terms set by the mainstream narrative though – e.g. it’s not good enough for the alternative narrative to “muslims are bad” to be “muslims are good” – it has to be that “good” and “bad” are meaningless terms that work for and to the agenda of the state. In that sense then, I think there’s plenty of alternative narratives being told especially at the grassroots. Muslim organisations and young people in particular are telling their own stories, making their own platforms and connections.

I guess I made it into a platform for myself because often through writing I am much better able to articulate myself than through speech.

For me personally, I guess this whole going-viral has fallen into my hands before I really have a concrete plan about changing the narrative; from the messages I’ve been receiving from around the world though, I know it is causing impact already and provoking people to reconsider their faith in the current narrative. Ultimately for me personally, I don’t have a concrete plan, but I refuse to spend my time only on changing the narrative. There are more immediate things that need to be done for Muslims particularly in this country and whilst changing the narrative is part of that, if the mainstream refuses to listen then we can’t waste time and energy on shouting into the void, we also have to build for our own futures and make justice happen for people. In a more low-key way, I hope to keep writing and speaking about the falsity of the current narrative though – new people will always hear and provocation is a great way to make people reconsider their beliefs.

Are there any future goals/aspirations you would like to share?

I’m just submitting to Allah’s will at the moment. I have no idea where I’m going. I had no idea the poem would go viral and I’ve just been trying to keep on top of the fact it has. I hope I can use my platform in a way that is pleasing to Allah and best for all those who are powerless and oppressed.

If you would like to help Manzoor-Khan with her ambitions, Donate Here.

Check out more of her work on her blog and twitter handle @thebrownhijab!