If this be Madness … by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


Shamima Shaikh (1960 – 1998) was South Africa’s best-known Muslim women’s rights activist. She was also a brave anti-Apartheid activist, notable Islamic feminist, community worker, journalist and devoted mother who died, 37 years old, from breast cancer. After the Holy month of Ramadan in 2016, I spoke with Islamic Feminist Shehnaz Haqqani about the new-to-me figure of Shamima. I was very excited to know about her and inspired by her fierce and at the same time compassionate moral courage. That year I wrote some pieces about her.

I asked, 18 months ago, Na’eem Jeenah, who was married to late Shamima, if there was a book about her where I could amplify my knowledge about her activism. He said, so far, there wasn´t. Later, I commented to my friend and Chilean feminist comrade, Rocio A., that the idea of an anthology book for Shamima Shaikh had arisen in me.

You must be mad, completely mad, you know? – she said

I am a feminist claiming that we women are people in a patriarchal world – I replied – of course I am mad.

A few days after, surfing between the conviction that I had a vision worthy of being shared and the expectation of a brutal rejection to my rough audacity, I came back to Na’eem saying:

-What if I send you a proposal? I have the idea of a collaborative volume, crafted around the life of Shamima Shaikh
– Send it. I will let you know
– If you disagree, I will make this book happen anyway, just FYI. (I know: THE NERVE!)

The result of that conversation is the book that I present to you humbly and joyfully. A book that pays that tribute to her legacy. It is an anthology marking the twentieth anniversary of her death and celebrating her life of faith, compassion, courage, resistance and love.

Rocio now would say … Nevertheless, she persisted.

I say… Nevertheless, the book is here. Nevertheless, Shamima’s activism will be known beyond the limits of her country, and her memory will be remembered. Nevertheless, may this book inspire others to amplify the rescue of Her-story about Muslim women and their contributions for everyone, beyond and far away from the “cliquish glossiness” of Ivory Towers.

Shamima’s mission was to struggle for justice – whether against white racists oppressing Black people or Muslim misogynists wanting to keep women in their submissive place. She was involved in the Black Consciousness Movement and, later, her activism expanded into the Muslim community, attracting much attention through her role as the first National Coordinator of the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM) Gender Desk. She was a pioneer in promoting inclusive mosques, bravely fighting for the participation and representation of women in religious spaces and struggling for just Muslim family law. She was labelled as mad for for daring to question the patriarchal and racist status quo of her time.

This book turns a spotlight on the unassuming Shamima Shaikh as a woman whose life is a testimony for all times and for all social justice struggles. Her legacy deserves to be known by, and to belong to, all struggling and justice-seeking people, beyond the limits of religious, ethnic, and national identities.

Contributors joined from South Africa and all over the world: international scholars on Islam and Gender like Margot Badran, Kecia Ali and Alina Isak, together with Fatima Shaikh (Shamima’s sister), South African scholars like Ebrahim Moosa, Farid Esack and Farhana Ismail, Palestinian activist and scholar Rabab Abdulhadi, as well emergent voices in the advocacy for equality in Islam such as Lailatul Fitriyah from Indonesia and Nelisiwe Msomi from South Africa, among others, are some of those who have embraced our vision of this work not like an academic book, nor as a biography, rather like an open space held around Shamima, like a primordial act of love, gratitude, and sisterhood towards her.

Their writings are diverse; while some address aspects of Shamima’s life, others examine issues that she was passionate about in her short but brilliant life, concerns that prevail in the struggles of Muslim feminists around the globe: gender equality, segregation in mosques, gender justice as God’s plan, resistance to oppression and colonialism, the fight against racism and misogyny, and the dialogue between women to build bridges of collaboration and resilience. Interspersed among the academic and reflective chapters are bursts of poetry with an intense feminist resonance by outstanding South African women like Malika Ndlovu, Zulfa Abrahams and Aaliyah Kara.

As a latina feminist muslim, I am deeply grateful for the generosity of all the people who trusted me to make this book possible. This is another milestone that reinforces my bond of love, gratitude and beauty with South Africa. I am in debt for the collaboration of Na’eem Jeenah, who became my partner in this project, with the required patience, wisdom and temperance to deal with me, a woman from the south of the world who carries within herself the telluric energy of the 700 volcanoes.

All of you are very welcome to be part of this act of remembrance, to enter into her life and legacy through the voices of those who keep her in mind with love and inspiration. You’re invited also, to follow the Facebook page created for her memory and the issues she struggled for: Shamima Shaikh Tribute Page.

As a woman who passionately and fearlessly challenged the status quo, Shamima Shaikh should be known everywhere as a woman who rose to claim her dignity, and, perhaps, even more as  a woman who rose where oppression and suppression are such that many women have not the strength or inspiration to rise. Wherever violence and exclusion prey upon female bodies and lives, we will need a little dose of madness to stand up for justice and to persevere, and we will yearn for the inspiration of warriors like her.

The book is already available in amazon.com for pre-order in kindle and it will be released (in kindle) together with a version in paper back on May 31th.

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a specialist in training and community outreach in Gender, Communication and Interculturality. She’s also a learning and social projects designer and a qualitative researcher; an awarded activist for women’s rights who too does independent scholarship in Religion, Gender and Social Discourses. Nomadic writer. A woman with stories and geographies, lover of books, cats and spicy Chai.

Pictures in the text: Shamima Shaikh Conmemorative Site

Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Islamic feminism

Tags: , , , , , ,

33 replies

  1. Let’s hear a big round of applause for crazy women! Congratulations on your achievement!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your article.

    I think I was meant to read this, this morning for sorely needed affirmation.

    I too, have the energy of 700 volcanos but right now, I feel I will self destruct and in danger of giving up.

    I am involved in trying to stop the church of England role playing the marriage ceremony with young children in church in front of an ordained Priest. http://Www.kentonline.co.uk / dartford / news / child-marriages-sparks-bitter-row -128370.

    I have just had a run in with a member of FAR over this (who obviously may be reading this). Her argument being this is just an individual bit of activism on my part. My argument being only one person from FAR has commented when I have posted comments, merely thanking me for bringing this matter to the community’s attention. Contrary to what she says, I am not expecting people to fully immerse themselves in this, but not even offer to put this on their Facebook page? Surely it’s not too much effort? from this “loving and supportive community”. Come on guys, get it together!


    • http://www.kentonline.co.uk/dartford/news/child-marriages-sparks-bitter-row-128370/
      Hopefully this link works, the one above does not. Helen, this priest is totally sick-o. Children do not get married. Period. Though it is ok if dolls do, I suppose. Mine did.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Carol. Particularly for the correct link.

        I totally agree that it is ok for dolls/teddies to ‘marry’ – even children, in their own time, in their own way but not in church, in front of a Priest. I made the suggestion to use teddies – it was ignored.

        I don’t know whether you realise that this is not just one totally sick Priest, this is being done, all over the country (I live in England). Having researched a bit – I realise it was/possibly is done in America.

        When this article went on line, I was called a dirty minded puritan, in need of psychiatric help, a fruitloop and someone suggested driving me out of the area.

        There were 20 negative comments in all and hundreds of support for those negative comments. I managed to convince the newspaper to remove all comments and disable any further comments.

        I have had signed for delivery letters ignored by the Church safeguarding Officer and when I wrote to the Queen, whose secretary forwarded it onto the Archbishop, it took 3 months to reply and that was only because I chased them up.

        The reply was, that the reason they had not responded was because they have a policy in place not to answer third party correspondence. So, you get a letter forwarded to you, from the Queen about a child safeguarding issue and you don’t respond because you have a policy not to answer third party correspondence?

        The Headmaster’s response: “we have a good relationship with the church and we expect to have a good relationship in the future”.

        The school is an Academy, which basically means they are accountable to no outside agency. The government departments can do nothing. Male MP basically reliant on being voted into the job, so worried about losing his job, if he takes this up too vehemently. One male councillor let slip “how much power to you think I have?”

        So, we all have to sit back and watch.


      • As you say, Carol – children do not get married. This is a kind of brainwashing, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Quote:

    “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers.

    The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, disbelieve them, glorify or villify them. About the only thing that you can’t do, is ignore them because they change things. They invent, they imagine. They heal, they explore, they create, they inspire.

    They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do it.”

    John Appleseed.


    • Helen, I think that when you are on fire, you need to be careful of who your fire consumes. I do think this is a loving and supportive community. I read the article, agree that it is a very inappropriate thing for 2-6 years old to be doing in a school. They do not have the developmental function to be able to just ‘role play’ this … all sorts of harmful implications from having a real priest pretend marry pre-schoolers in what sounds like an elaborate process. I will share in my group, but please also say what you would like us to do (who to contact) and respond directly to me (hit icon) as I do not wish to take the focus away from Shamima Shaikh.

      As for Shamima and your book, Vanessa, Wow! I am putting the book on the resource section of the app and will get – in much honor of Shamima, I can see the spark of fiery compassion in her eyes and would like to know more!


  4. Congratulations, Vanessa! Thank you and Shamima Shaikh for courage and persistence!


  5. I particularly liked the ‘Be not a slave to others for Allah has created you a free person’ banner.

    She sounds like an amazing woman and I wish there were more like her.


    • Yes, she was, that’s why this post I wrote and the book mentioned are about her.


      • I appreciate this is a veiled dig at my decision to free associate about child abuse and I appreciate your anger at having your post seemingly hijacked and your good work seemingly overlooked.

        I’ve seen some of your comments before and you are far from subtle with them.

        Are there rules that one shouldn’t bring in other topics of concern?

        One must put aside ones ego in regards to these matters and perhaps not fight amongst each, other, although we seem to be doing quite well at that. Male patriarchy would love/does love that.

        Lisa Lister who wrote ‘Witch’ would say this woman wound comes from when we experienced a female genocide and we were either killed or made to squeal on our sisters in order to save our physical life. Who initiated that genocide? – the church and now what are they doing? Abusing our children, right in front of us.

        I would be prepared to walk down Oxford Street naked, on my own, if necessary and if I thought it would stop this practice.

        If I am banned from this group for butting in on others’ glory, then so be it.

        I know you’re not going to be happy but then, nor am I. Can’t we work together on this?

        People will feel sorry for you. Probably think I’m too on fire. Criticise my manner, criticise my attitude, subtly shun me when I make comments on other posts and all the time they’re doing that the Church gloats and carries on hurting our children.


        • Helen, I think you took things too personal. I regret to mention that not everything is about you nor is said to make you feel bad. I don´t get what a bit of diverting attention can cause you outrage. Maybe you’re sensitive about this community for things you experienced in the past. My comment was just confirming what you said. Shamima was a outstanding woman and that´s why she deserve to be known and as I said ” That´s why this post and the book is about her”. I don´t know how that can offend you. We are here expressing happiness and celebrating the visibilization of a sister who deserve to be visible. So, I invite you not to look throught the glass of resentment nor to project your own biases and insecurities on me. I just made a comment. I highly appreciate you feel sorry for me, as I am a woman who can largely show concrete results in her life regarding the purposes she sets, your pity reminds of moving forward despite haters to focus on goals and rejecting any cause or activism that give space for that kind of anger against other woman to take place. We women should be happy of other’s women advancement instead of taking it as a personal attack. Since you suggest we have interacted in the past, I would like that fire you claim to carry within could feed some courage to tell me your real name because I don´t remember any helen, so we can discurss and overcome any grudge you have against me. Otherwise, you have to excuse me, I can´t take charge for random hatred, since, as we know, haters gonna hate anyway.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations Vanessa!!! – You have constructed what sounds like a laudable courageous contribution to Feminism. I plan to read your book when it comes out in Kindle (my old eyes can’t read book type anymore). I have never heard of this women – and that’s just it. We are still so damn invisible.

    I loved your pithy response: “I am a feminist claiming that we women are people in a patriarchal world – I replied – of course I am mad.”

    Thank goodness for “mad” women. We may still change the world.


  7. Ah, yes, madwomen. Who do things men–sane or mad–cannot conceive. Courage and persistence take us to new heights. Good luck with your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I also look forward to reading this book, Vanessa. Besides being an inspiring story of a brave woman, it is a Muslim woman at this time of crazy men with power who try and present others as “evil”, or “less than” or banned. Even after her death, with help from you and other friends, Shamima Shaikh continues to speak truth to power and work for justice.

    I want to add my appreciation for Na’eem Jeenah, and all the men who support women like Shamima. I think they must be of great integrity, courage, and love. There are probably insults hurled at them, violence threatened, and the worry about a loved one being hurt or killed.

    Thank you for writing this book and sharing this story.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Vanessa, when I went to the Fbook link in your post, it wasn’t working. But searching Shamima’s name did eventually lead to your book, and another, so I shared that on my page.


    • Barbara. I fixed the issue and now there should not be a problem to access the Shamima Shaikh Facebook Page from the link provided in the article. I saw you shared it from my wall. Thank you very much and you’re welcome to connect there too whenever you want.


  10. I have mentioned role play marriage many times in comments and no one has said or done anything except one person thanking me for bringing it to the community’s attention.

    The first time that Carol responds, all of a sudden, there are comments and an invitation to put it on Facebook.

    Is it that we need mummy’s approval/backing before we can be galvanised into action?

    I have seen people fawn over Carol and wish to make a good impression. I myself think that she seems to be a good woman and writes interesting articles, but I do not need her approval before making a move – why do others?

    Thank you Carol for starting this group and I am not ungrateful for the articles/experiences here – good and bad, but “loving and supportive” ? I think there are a nub er of people who would wince at that.


  11. Salaams, Vanessa–as a Muslim Feminist myself, I am so excited about this forthcoming book! Biggest congratsI will pre-order it for sure. Just want to say also how sorry I am that these comments have been hijacked by an Islamophobic person. She has every right to write her own article, as you kindly suggested, about her own issue which is the classic pedophile priest of the Catholic church, which is apparently a rampant Catholic problem, and has nothing to do with your book, and her tenaciously insisting to keep inserting it into the comments should be noted and removed by the administrators. She has posted a link–that is more than enough. Not that there isn’t some examples of this in Islam, but doesn’t belong in the comments of this article. Your story of this brave, beautiful, outspoken woman deserves respect and I’m so excited to read it in the near future. Subpanallah!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Salams!!! Thanks for your comment! Much appreciated. Please spread the word! Every muslim woman should know about Shamima Shaikh, how she being a believer, a mother, a wife, a woman like us, made her way to leave a legacy for us that we can take for our struggles. In other note, haters gonna hate anyway and there’s nothing we can do about it, I wish you a bleesed Ramadan and may Allah accept our Jihad.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. If this be Madness … by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente — – Michael Foussianis
  2. Shamima Shaikh 1960-1998 - sister-hood magazine. A Fuuse production by Deeyah Khan.

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: