Nobody’s Metaphor follows four teenage Muslim girls as they learn to fence and express themselves, challenging discrimination in the process. It is a powerful documentary with much contemporary relevance, especially for our young women.Sarah Khurshid
Muslim women have been described as timid and oppressed. They are stigmatised and stereotyped, objectified and ridiculed, especially in the west. It is a narrative that we seem to have very little control over. In the UK, 50% of Muslim families live in the top 10% of areas considered the most deprived. This lack of social and economic agency, combined with the cultural expectations often placed on our girls further reduces their chances of claiming their own narrative.
So how does the sport of fencing relate to this?
Fencing is traditionally a very white, male-dominated elite sport, However, fencing legend Ibtihaj Muhammad once described the sport as ‘uniquely accommodating for Muslim women’ because of the fact that fencing requires such perfectly modest attire. Bringing fencing, conversation and creativity together, the National Governing Body for the Olympic Sport of Fencing, British Fencing and the charity, Maslaha teamed up to create the Muslim Girls Fence Project. The project runs across London and other UK regions including Doncaster, Birmingham and Bradford.
Nobody’s Metaphor documents this unique project and its impact on the young Muslim girls who got involved. Directed by Emily Mason, the thirty-minute film follows Lana, Nisshani, Nabilat and Hafsa as they learn the sport with their fencing coach Lucy. In the process they are encouraged to speak about the sexism, Islamophobia and other issues they have faced in their young lives. It is often uncomfortable to watch as these four girls talk brightly and openly about their experiences of toxic standards and the assumptions made about them.
However, the overwhelming feeling from this documentary is one of empowerment, energy and validation. It’s not just learning to fight and focus through fencing. The girls are also exposed to game-changing Muslim women, from the globally-renowned poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan to psychology professor Amena Amer. They each encourage our four leading girls to get all that toxic negativity out into the open through poetry and open conversations.
Given that most of the social stigmas placed on Muslim women are inter-generational, a particularly inspiring highlight of this documentary was seeing Hafsa’s mum, Caasha, vocalise her experiences as a young Somali Muslim girl. Caasha was one of the only females in her area privileged to get an education at a young age and she very much wants her daughter to have active role in society. This beautiful part of the story connects generations of Muslim women and emphasises the hostilities we are striving to challenge. It’s even more inspirational to see Hafsa become a certified Fencing Coach at just 13 years old!
Stylistically, the film is innovative too, melding film, dynamic animation and motivational beats. Each girl is interviewed alone in a dark room, a creative choice that allowed an intimate understanding of the modern struggles Muslim girls face. As a Muslim female adult, I cannot recommend Nobody’s Metaphor highly enough. It is a documentary with huge contemporary relevance, not only for Muslim women and girls but our whole community.