We are pleased to announce Aisha Rimi as our Eleventh Muslim Woman of the Month and our First of 2021!
Aisha Rimi is known as the writer in her family. She graduated from the Queen Mary University of London with a degree in French and German, and is currently working on completing a Master’s degree in Magazine Journalism to pursue her passion of telling stories, while also doing some freelance writing on the side.
In January of 2020, she launched Black Girls Write Too, which is a platform that gives Black women writers the opportunity to connect, unleash their creativity, and tell the diverse and unique stories of Black Muslim women that aren’t seen, heard or portrayed correctly in the media.
However, the media isn’t the only place Aisha feels isn’t inclusive enough of Black Muslim women and their voices. She grew up feeling highly disconnected and ignored from the Muslim community, especially when she attended Islamic School. So when she didn’t find a seat for herself at the table, time and time again, she decided to create her own.
Black Girls Write Too is that community where Black Muslim women can come together for events, workshops, and writer’s retreats to hone in on their skills and pursue their passion in a nurturing environment. This platform gives them the resources and support they need to thrive not only in their writing, but in who they are as well.
The Black Muslim Girl is a blog that offers a range of content relevant to the experiences and needs of Black Muslim women, while also challenging the status quo. Through their content and the discussions they share regarding topics like race, religion, and modest fashion, to name a few, they aim to normalize their experiences and empower Black Muslim women to live their lives confidently and unapologetically.
Aisha is the perfect example of a woman who lives her life unapologetically and doesn’t let anything stand in the way of reaching her full potential. From the young age of one, when she lost her left leg in a horrible car accident, she learned to be resilient in the face of adversity. As a Black Muslim woman and “amputee,” as she describes herself in her Instagram bio, Aisha fully embraces and celebrates every aspect of her identity.
Her immense strength, confidence and perseverance have empowered her to use her voice toward changing and normalizing conversations about disability, race, gender, and religion, and to inspire other women to embrace every part of their identities as well.
In our conversation, Aisha shares more about the various platforms she is a part of, as well as her experience as a Black Muslim women. She also opens up about the reality of living with a disability and the challenges she faces every single day.
Read on to learn more about this bold, brave, and powerful Black Muslim woman, to hear her inspiring story and insightful perspective on a variety of topics, as well as her future goals for Black Girls Write Too and TBMG.
What is Black Girls Write Too and why did you start it?
I’ve always loved to write, but with education and everything, it took a backseat. I was trying to get back into it, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to go on a writer’s retreat?” But, one, they’re very expensive. And two, none of them really looked like anywhere I’d go. It was all older people, and I just didn’t see myself in them.
So that’s where the idea of starting writer’s retreats for Black women stemmed from, and it’s kind of taken a life of its own as it keeps expanding. Obviously, things have had to adapt because of the pandemic, but Alhamdulillah, I think it has actually worked in my favor.
It has allowed me to take a step back, do things slowly, and explore the avenues that I wouldn’t have thought of for Black Girls Write Too. So, at the moment, I’m just focusing on building our community on social media, and how to adapt to the situation as it keeps changing.
I understand how challenging it must be, especially in the current situation. But I think it’s such a great idea! I also noticed on your website that you have a writer’s club, a journal club, and also a blog. Are those clubs part of or separate from the retreats? How do they work?
So, they actually came out of the pandemic. They’re kind of in replacement of writer’s retreats, and adapted from what I would have done in the retreats. It has actually worked out really well. People have enjoyed it, and it’s quick and easy to do.
It’s right on Zoom. We spend the first half an hour to an hour writing two prompts. I share different prompts like paintings, photography, music, or words. I might say, “You need to start your story with this sentence,” and participants can take it in any way that they want.
Then we spend the next hour just writing or working on our own projects. Some people have academic work, and some are just trying to mind map an idea that they’ve got. It’s interesting to see the different projects everyone’s working on, and how they make use of that hour. It’s proven to be quite good so far.
I really like that because writing can be very difficult, so I think it’s super helpful to have that process. What are your future goals for BGWT post-pandemic?
I hope, Inshallah, to be able to do an in-person retreat. I have a plan for three different types of retreats– day ones, weekend ones, and in the future, going abroad and exploring the literary culture of different places, and using that as inspiration to write.
Also, just being able to come together. That’s the thing I’ve missed the most. I look forward to being able to bring people together whether it’s a workshop, a panel event, or a session where we sit and share our work.
That sounds awesome, and like it would be a lot of fun! I think it’s great to have a community of like-minded women come together to pursue their passion, and to just have an outlet and sense of support. Can you share with us more about The Black Muslim Girl, and your role as the director of that platform, and the podcast as well?
It was a platform founded by my friend, Khadeejah. She started it in October 2018. I had been following it on Instagram, and I was really liking what they were doing. She put out an advert for a co-host for the podcast she was going to start. I applied and got the role, and we started recording. It’s all about being unapologetically Black Muslim women, but without the lens of that trauma that’s always added on to our experience.
“It’s a space for our community to talk about anything they want.”
The Black Muslim Girl is a space for us to come together and celebrate who we are. We try not to focus too much on the negativities that come with being a Black Muslim woman in today’s society. We want to highlight the great things about being Black and Muslim. We talk about a range of different topics, and of course, we address racism and Islamophobia, but it’s not the only thing we talk about.
We have such a global audience, which is so great, and we’re just so inspired by that. So, this year we really tried to make use of that. During Ramadan, we had Instagram takeovers every single day; it was really great seeing Black Muslim women from all over the world. We’re trying to adapt to the current situation, and continue to build online and connect with Black Muslim women everywhere.
I love that initiative and everything TBMG stands for! What other type of content do you guys share on The Black Muslim Girl?
We do a lot on Instagram stories. Every week, we try and do a Q&A. We have a topic of discussion, and then people answer with their opinions. For example, we did, “Do you think Muslim dating apps are good? Would you use them? What’s your experience?”
We also have live sessions as well, where members of the community can showcase a skill or anything they want. We once had a girl in America who was doing live painting. We’ve also had a girl do Quran recitation as well.
We have a blog on our website, which is theblackmuslimgirl.com. We had a Ramadan reflection on there this year. We’ve also had someone talk about the Black Lives Matter Movement, and we have a fashion piece on there as well. It’s a space for our community to talk about anything they want.
“I grew up not really feeling part of the Muslim community, or even knowing that there was a community that I needed to feel part of.”
It’s such an important resource for Black Muslim women to have to express themselves, and it’s needed now more than ever. So, I think it’s amazing that you guys are offering this space and are working to change the narrative surrounding the Black Muslim women experience.
I just love that in the last few years, there’s more and more of these platforms that are coming out. TBMG is definitely not the only podcast out there for Black Muslims. It’s great listening to them and hearing things from a completely different perspective.
The same with general Muslim women platforms as well. It gives me hope for future generations that they hopefully won’t feel as excluded as we did growing up.
Yes, I agree! It’s definitely reassuring to know that the younger generations will have more resources to look to for guidance and a stronger sense of community than we had, and hopefully won’t struggle as much as we did as a result. That being said, you’ve talked about your experience before as a Black Muslim women, especially in regards to not feeling included in the Muslim community. Can you share more with us about your experience?
I grew up in Cambridgeshire and lived in a small, very English countryside village, so not many Black people, not many Muslims. Actually, NO Muslims. I went to school in a town called Cambridge, and there was a Muslim community, but it was predominantly South Asian.
The kids that I went to Islamic School with definitely had a community. They’d come in on Saturdays and talk about different events or someone’s wedding they were all going to, but it was me that wasn’t part of that. So, I grew up not really feeling part of the Muslim community, or even knowing that there was a community that I needed to feel part of.
“But even as a Black Muslim woman, I have some privileges over other Black Muslim women. So, I think there needs to be that education and acknowledgement within the Muslim community.”
Once I graduated from university, I made a conscious decision to get closer in my faith. It was then that I really realized that I didn’t have that community. But TBMG has definitely helped me feel more part of some Muslim community. It’s been a journey from being a kid growing up where I did, to moving to London and being around so many different types of people, and now finally having that community.
I just hope that it continues to grow and that, in the future, things like TBMG aren’t necessarily needed in a way. It might sound weird for me to say that, but I don’t want us to feel continuously excluded from the Muslim community as Black Muslims. I hope for my children and for future generations that there will be spaces where they can all just come together, and there’s not that feeling of, “I don’t belong here.”
Inshallah, it’s unfortunate that our community isn’t very inclusive or welcoming in a lot of ways. In your opinion, what changes does the Muslim community need to make to reach genuine inclusivity of Black Muslims?
Like we say to white people, we tell them to acknowledge their white privilege. As non-Black Muslims, it can be difficult to acknowledge that there’s privilege, but you do have a certain level of privilege.
I understand that it’s difficult when we grow up in a society that puts people of color down to be like, “I have privilege.” But even as a Black Muslim woman, I have some privileges over other Black Muslim women. So, I think there needs to be that education and acknowledgement within the Muslim community.
I think also just going back to the deen. There’s too much culture that is mixed into religion, and I think that’s where our problems come from. Culture is an amazing thing, and I love the fact that we’re such a diverse community, but we need to practice what we preach.
For example, on The Black Muslim Girl, we received a DM once saying, “You should call yourself ‘The Muslim Black Girl’ because by saying ‘The Black Muslim Girl,’ you’re saying that it’s more important that you’re Black than you’re Muslim.” It’s like, “No, you obviously don’t understand that the two are interlinked, and that just because we’re ‘The Black Muslim Girl,’ doesn’t mean we’re any less Muslim.” So, people just need to understand their religion more.
Yes, I completely agree. It’s a huge problem in the community that we need to do a better job at changing. Do you, as a Black Muslim women, feel that discrimination, inequality, and the lack of representation and support have truly improved for the Black community since the heightening of the Black Lives Matter movement this year?
The reemergence of The Black Lives Matter movement ignited conversations that needed to be had, and people became more open to having them. It was great at the time, but I’m not sure what the actual impact is going to be long-term because things move so quickly.
If we’re being honest, this isn’t the first time the events of this year, like Black Lives Matter have happened. I think everything was just kind of heightened because of the pandemic, being in lockdown, and no one was really able to escape it.
“It’s something that dictates my life every single day.”
I was thinking just the other day about those God-awful black squares that everyone posted, and since then, I’ve not seen anything come from it. Like I was saying before, a lot of the time when platforms and people want to talk about our experiences, it has to do with trauma.
But I feel like the only way we can fully move forward is if we’re talking about us just as normal human beings, with everyday problems and everyday experiences like everybody else, and not just trauma. Until I really see that and continuous support, I’m not sure if long-term effects will be felt.
I hope that, as a community, we learn to be better allies and not in the way that we think is right, but in the way that the Black community needs. You’ve also talked a lot about your disability. What is the reality of living with a hidden or “invisible” disability that most people might not be aware of?
I put it in my Instagram bio that I’m an amputee as a way to break the ice because disability is an uncomfortable thing to talk about. I’ve always been very open about it, so I am constantly trying to make sure that everyone else feels comfortable talking about it.
It’s something that dictates my life every single day. I don’t think that’s something a lot of people realize. I remember explaining to my mom one day how I find it difficult to turn left. She didn’t quite understand. I was like, “Yeah, I can’t. Because my left leg is my prosthetic leg, I find that I can’t turn left as easily as I turn right, as in my body just doesn’t find it easy.”
“…just because I’ve got a smile on my face, and I’m going about my day with what seems like no issues, doesn’t mean that I’m not having a difficult time with my disability.”
It’s little things like that I have to think about every day. So, if I’m turning a corner, there are adjustments I make to my body in anticipation of that movement. Back in the day, before I had this particular prosthetic leg, I used to have to sit down in a particular way, and my mom never realized that until I got this new leg, and was telling her the difference. She was like, “Oh, I had no idea.” This is someone that I live with, that has known me every single day of my life.
And sometimes, when I’m on the tube, and as crowded as it is, people have their bags on the floor, and for me, it’s an extra struggle because I can’t step over things the same way anybody else can.
So the reality is that my mind is constantly working in little motions. There are so many little thoughts and movements that I make every single day based off the fact that I’m an amputee, and adaptations that I make to a society that doesn’t fully embrace disability in so many different forms.
I can’t imagine how difficult that must be, especially when there is such a lack of awareness. What is the most challenging part of living with a hidden disability?
The hardest thing about living with this disability is trying to make people understand that, just because I’ve got a smile on my face, and I’m going about my day with what seems like no issues, doesn’t mean that I’m not having a difficult time with my disability.
I think a lot of people around me tend to forget that I have it. In a way, that’s kind of a good thing, because no one’s pitying me or making my disability my sole identity. But people tend see me as living my life as normal.
For example, when I was at university, it was the first time in many years that I was surrounded by a new group of people, and I had to go through explaining that I’ve got this disability. But sometimes if I wanted to take the lift instead of the stairs, I’d get called lazy. If I didn’t want to walk somewhere, and I wanted to take a bus, I’d be called lazy.
“…there’s nothing wrong with the fact that I am disabled. It’s not a bad word.”
So, I feel like, sometimes, because people see me going about my day the way I do like I’m cool, no cares in the world kind of thing, they forget that there is something that I’m experiencing every day that is difficult. Just because I don’t talk about it, just because I’m not complaining, just because I’m not whining in pain, doesn’t mean that it’s not there. So that can be quite difficult sometimes.
It wasn’t until I did my BuzzFeed article that a few close family members really understood some of the things that I go through on a daily basis. Because again, they forget, and these are family that have been with me from day one. I don’t know myself with a leg, but they do.
I live my life in a very positive way, so I’m glad that’s the appearance I give, but it’s just also remembering that I am disabled, and there’s nothing wrong with the fact that I am disabled. It’s not a bad word.
“I just wouldn’t be me.”
I absolutely love how positive you are! And I appreciate you sharing your truth because I don’t think enough people truly realize or understand that reality, whether they know someone with a disability or not. So there definitely needs to be more awareness in order for our community to become more disability-inclusive, and just more mindful of our actions. Have you ever felt that your disability has held you back in any way?
I don’t I feel like it has because I haven’t allowed it to. Obviously, there are some physical limitations that I have, and I do try to push myself. I’ve had to learn in the last few years that I shouldn’t push my body as much as I do sometimes, and it’s okay that my body isn’t moving the same way as everyone else’s, because it can’t. That’s something I’ve had to process and come to terms with.
But in terms of holding me back, no. If anything, I think it’s enhanced my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t have this disability. A while back, my sister asked me, “If you can have an operation now that would give you a real leg, would you take it?” And I was like, “No, I wouldn’t.” It might sound crazy to some people, but I just wouldn’t be me.
It’s so inspiring to hear your story, how you’ve embraced your disability and how it’s empowering you in a lot of ways. Do you feel that society today is not very accessible or is not doing enough for people with disabilities?
Yeah, definitely. I always say, I am better off than some other people with disabilities, depending on the disability, of course, because I can get about. I have two legs, one might not be real, but I still have two legs.
For example, sometimes when I get to a location, and there’s no elevator, and just loads and loads of stairs, I think to myself, “As painful as it might be, and as much of a struggle it might be to get to the top, at least I can get up those stairs. There are some people that can’t.”
There are so many different things that society just doesn’t acknowledge, and it’s crazy because it is 2021, and it’s like, “How can we still be so inaccessible as a society?’ Pre-pandemic, I was living and working in London, and the London subway system is one of the most inaccessible transportation situations I’ve ever experienced in my life.
It’s tiring for someone like me. I would have to go upstairs to get to my train. I would then change to get to another train, and that would involve more stairs. Then when I get to my destination, there’s three more flights of stairs. Finally I’m at work, and there’s an elevator there, but sometimes, the elevator’s not working, and I have to climb like six flights of stairs. Like, seriously? So there’s a lot of things that society needs to change.
Oh my gosh, that’s horrible. It is unbelievable that we haven’t advanced as a society in that way. I also think people need to change the way they think about disability, and broaden their understanding of what disability means and looks like.
Yes, I remember learning that in the UK, 97% of disabled people don’t use a wheelchair. And if you ask most people, “What do you think of when you think disabled?” they will think of someone in a wheelchair. So, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done about the representation of disability in media, literature, and everything basically because we do very much have one idea of disability.
“I have made the most of it. I have to because I can’t sit around feeling sorry for myself because, otherwise, I’m never gonna get anywhere in this life. It’s not built for people like me. So I’ve just got to do what I can to get through it.”
I remember when I found out that conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia are technically disabilities. But, if you tell some people who have dyslexia, dyspraxia or other neuro-diversities, (this was something that I was told by my university’s disability and dyslexia service), they don’t usually tend to identify as disabled because they just feel so far removed from that term. It’s such a complex and multi-layered conversation.
I also think society needs to get more comfortable talking about disability. It’s not a bad word. People will try to say things like, “Oh, no, you’re not disabled, you’re differently-abled.” No, I’m disabled, it’s fine. I have made the most of it. I have to because I can’t sit around feeling sorry for myself because, otherwise, I’m never gonna get anywhere in this life. It’s not built for people like me. So I’ve just got to do what I can to get through it.
Mashallah you are so strong! Your story will inspire so many other girls who are living with a disability to be just as strong, and will Inshallah empower them to reach their true potential despite any obstacles in their way. What advice do you have for women who feel they are at a disadvantage, whether it’s because of their race, skin color, religion, disability or some other factor or condition?
The first thing I’d say is, walk in all your identities. Own them. As a Black Muslim woman, I’ve experienced this a lot where people are like, “Are you Black first? Are you Muslim first? Are you a woman first?” And it’s like, “I own every single part of my identity. It doesn’t matter what I’m first. I’m me.”
So, I think you have to really, truly hold on to who you are, and hold on to every aspect of your identity in order really to get through life, and to remain authentic as well. Also, there are so many spaces that just don’t accommodate us or aren’t built with us in mind.
If you are someone who feels like you are not being heard or represented in any way, create your own space. You’ll find that there’s other people exactly like you that will want to be part of it, and you’ll create your own community before you know it.
You can follow Aisha Rimi on Instagram and Twitter. For more information, or to join Black Girls Write Too, visit their website, or follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Be sure to check out The Black Muslim Girl’s blog and follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as well. Also, tune into the TBMG podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, My Tuner Radio, and more!