One-On-One with Hanifa Deen
Hanifa Deen is a Melbourne-based award-winning author and social commentator of Pakistani-Muslim ancestry who writes narrative non-fiction. She was born in the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, and blames the desert air for turning her into a ‘Muslim maverick'. She is proud of her Muslim childhood and adolescence, but speaks out against what she sees as fundamentalist ideologies.
Hanifa was previously Deputy Commissioner of the Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission of Western Australia, and a director on the Board of SBS. Five generations of the Deen family ‘belong’ to Australia, going back to both her grandfathers who came out from what is today Pakistan in the 1890s, before the White Australia Policy of the era closed the doors for nearly eighty. She is also a feminist, a great believer in the capacity of women to reinvent themselves, and is particularly fond of disobedient women in history, literature and real life.
Q. Tell me about the work that you do?
I’m a full-time author and speaker; I write narrative non-fiction; I’m a Mentor with the West Writers’ Program at Footscray Community Arts Centre. I’ve just started work on the research phase of book number seven. I’m keeping the title a secret for the moment, but when I whisper it to friends, they fall over laughing!
Q. What first made you interested in your line of work?
I call myself the ‘Accidental Author’ because I never planned to become a writer. I stumbled into it by accident—it’s a funny story.
I began writing in 1995. Before that I was trapped in the Public Service churning out turgid prose for Ministers to read. There were no writing courses around when I began writing. Besides, in all honesty, I’m not so good at team work and would have flinched at the thought of exposing my ‘darlings’ to critical scrutiny, aside from my editor’s—NMS (not my style)
Q. How much does your faith guide your work? If not faith, what does?
Social justice and human rights issues, past and present bound up in a storytelling style motivate my writing. Sadly, an ugly form of Islamophobia is on the rise in Australia with religious and racial vilification seen as a free speech right for bigots. Muslims today are tarred with the ‘un-Australian’ label—an ugly tag for an even uglier accusation.
Q. Women have been key contributors in bringing faith based community’s together, why is this important?
Women display less ego, listen more, are less competitive i.e. are not necessarily preoccupied with becoming president or chair of various organisations. They operate outside of hierarchies, display more empathy, perhaps because they meet women of other faiths outside of their church, mosque, temple or synagogue: at child care centres, school meetings, fetes, supermarkets. Women are naturals at reducing social distance, if they care to.
"Social justice and human rights issues, past and present bound up in a storytelling style motivate my writing."
Q. What can be learned from interfaith work?
That alliances are crucial—both interfaith and secular.
Q. What is your favourite thing about a faith you don’t practice?
Christianity has inspired magnificent music: Mozart, Handel, Bach et al. And I do love Gregorian Chanting—it has something in common with Sufi chanting.
Q. What role do you believe literature/storytelling can have in helping society to come together?
Books, stories, poetry, plays, movies, they all have the power to clarify conflict, to analyse what keeps us apart and to reduce barriers—this is the starting point to understanding one another.
Q. In Australia is there a particular issue at the moment you want to see more work being done/ focused upon?
Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres is an international disgrace.
Q. What is one piece of advice you have for young women today?
Sorry, can’t stop at one! Read more, travel more, step outside your perceived comfort zone, don’t flinch at the term ‘feminist’ AND manage your selfies addiction—try cutting them down to one a week and setting up a selfies free zone.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, watch out for my next book!
Hanifa Deen is an award-winning author and social commentator of Pakistani-Muslim ancestry who writes narrative non-fiction.