My Salaam - Meet author Hanna Ali who shares the struggle, taboo, and trauma of Somali women
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All of those things come together to a certain type of person, somebody that was perhaps part of forced migration and has perhaps experienced a lot of trauma from that as a child. How do you move on from childhood trauma and then come into adulthood with this emotional baggage, and how do you unravel that? They are everyone that I know, parts of me, parts of friends. How are the stories shaped by combining elements of fiction and reality?
For example, the use of the first-person and letting readers have a variety of interpretations. The reason why I use first-person is because I started off writing as a poet.
I think that a lot of us growing up, when we reach a certain age, have had certain types of experiences, where we have probably, at some point, felt some sort of hurt. If somebody can take from it and relate to it and perhaps find some sort of comfort, then that would be great. Can you expand on some of the defining elements of Somali poetry, its use of imagery and language, and how that influences your writing?
How have readers reacted and engaged? When I grew up, I read fiction that had nothing to do with me. I was reading coming-of-age books that were talking about white girls in America or England.
It forced a lot of people to admit that they are frustrated about their lack of Somali language. The amazing thing that Market FiftyFour did is give the audio version of the stories, which was recorded by an amazing woman, Susu Amina, and it just sounds fantastic.
How can translation in literature or otherwise be political? This is an area that many might think of as being apolitical. My effort has been to keep it apolitical. In research and life, what nuances have you observed with how Afro-Arab identity is perceived? I keep my research about Afro-Arab identity from my Somali identity. As if there is a nationalistic, patriotic duty that you have—that when you do a PhD it has to be about your country because otherwise, what are you doing?
But my PhD has nothing to do with Somalia, at all. I do think that the idea of identity is really important. Spoken language is a huge way that people think of group membership.
Somali language is an integral part, I would say, in being part of the Somali community.
Do we look at them as less Somali? Does that make them less Somali?
And the reality is that all of us have different life experiences, especially being scattered everywhere and living in different countries, speaking different languages, eating different foods. Somalis living in Finland are going to be completely different from Somalis living in America.
People are changing, people change all the time—this idea that you are this one thing, is very much something that I write against. I think that you are constantly evolving, changing with your life experience.Cherrie: The Scandinavian RnB star with Somali roots - BBC Africa
Those things are important to you. How does feeling between identities and seeking belonging affect young people and children in particular?
When I look at these questions about lived experience and identity and displacement and trauma—all of that—my stories, I think, are perfect examples of that, because my stories in the collection are talking about four different women who are all Somali and who have had completely different experiences.
For me to grow up here and realize why my home country was facing the hardships that it was, helped me understand imperialism, colonialism, and white supremacy for what it was.
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This made me fixate on exploitation and injustice around the world. A more reactive approach that took recently happened after the Muslim ban took effect. We were looking to get the community organized and mobilized to know what to do if they get affected by the ban. What inspired you to want to speak up for people who could not for themselves? I am Somali American and my family fled the war in when I was nine months old. I also organized Muslims in Black communities, which helped bring me to what I studied in grad school: So I think all these things, the history of my family and what we went through and these experiences, led me to do what I do.
Yes, all the time. My parents raised me to have humility. So if you were doing something good for the community, you were not to speak of it. They do it to make themselves look better and to take ownership of your work. So now, I have to unlearn something that I was raised to do, to be able to take credit for something that I worked hard for and get recognition for it.
If I am not fighting for my own contributions, it is for my Black Muslim brothers and sisters, though. Would you say there is a conflict of acceptance of Black Muslims in the ummah?
Black people are casted as the lowest and that is reflected in our ummah. In my community, I was fortunate enough to have other Somali Americans grow up with me, but we still felt this other-ization.
What advice would you give to a Black voice being silenced? Always remember that our contributions are great, expansive, and invaluable to the Muslim experience and to the history of this world. Have knowledge of yourself and speak true to power. For non-Black Muslims, you should honor, respect, and highlight Black contributions instead of just taking up space within a movement that is meant for all of our liberations.
I think he is too often tokenized within the Muslim experience as the Black Muslim, but there were so many. Do you think Black Muslims are doing enough to represent in the movement? Black Muslims are the movement! We are at the forefront.
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You go to any protest in D. There are also African Diaspora that are forming a forefront for refugee and immigrant rights. We are doing more than enough. We are being erased and we are being ignored. We are also being written out of our movement. Have you ever wanted to give up? Sometimes, I do want to give up organizing Muslim spaces. But I will never give up organizing, that is a part of my identity — passion.