Way of the Ninjabi!
In a grim part of east London a powerful Somalian teen is giving me a beating while a friend eggs her on - they are both clearly enjoying themselves. As the blows rain down, I curse myself for responding to the advert for this unusual self-defence class at a Newham sports centre. "From the mean streets of London," it had read, "where Islamophobic attacks from chavs, hoodies and pervy so-called Muslim men have become increasingly common ... it's time our sisters stood up and defended their honour! Enter the Ninjabi."
Ninjabi is a play on the word hijabis - women who wear hijab. This six-week self-defence course for Muslim women was set up by a community group, Islamic Circles, in response to a growing demand for women-only classes and has attracted attention throughout the Muslim world. There are plans for follow-up courses, most titled in homage to Bruce Lee: Return of the Ninjabi, Way of the Ninjabi and (more Newham than Hong Kong) Ninjabi vs Minicabi.
The instructor, Dee Terret, talks us cheerfully through knee strikes to the groin and how to respond if an attacker grabs your headscarf - essentially, give it up. (She also advises that, on this basis, Velcro is a better bet than safety pins). At the end of the two-hour session we line up, cadet-style, put the moves together in sequence and shout in sync. It feels pretty good.
A straw poll I took of young British women wearing niqab and hijab in Brick Lane suggests the market for these classes could be huge. Most of the women were interested in taking them up, with only three exceptions. One said, "I don't need classes, I'd just give anyone who tries to give me any nonsense a good wallop - that's the way to deal with that!" A woman in niqab pushing a buggy had already done taekwondo so didn't feel the need. And the third, a 20-year-old student, had seven years of Shotokan karate under her purple belt - her main concern was simply to find a more advanced class.
While the need for these classes in the first place is unfortunate - the article notes that after the London subway bombings, police recorded 269 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 40 in the same period of 2004, and that verbal abuse, spitting, and pulling women's hijabs off were common - I always love to hear about women taking the initiative and learning how to kick ass. As long as these lessons don't take the place of necessary actions to eliminate Islamophobic violence in the first place (the way women's self-defense courses are so frequently offered in response to attacks on women, as opposed to, say, trying to stop the attacks), I'm all for them and declare them awesome.