The Muslim women breaking taboos and cycling around London together

Lockdown gave us plenty of time to try out new things, or take up old pastimes.

From Couch to 5K, to completing mammoth jigsaw puzzles, everyone was doing their bit to try and stay sane.

For Sabeha Miah from Tower Hamlets, riding a bike was something she had not done since her early teens.

‘I gave cycling a go and broke my own taboos’

Sabeha Miah

This is partly because as a Muslim woman, Sabeha’s community believe riding a bike is ‘not very ladylike’.

Sabeha adds: “As a Bangladeshi woman being brought up in our community in the UK, there’s a sense of tradition and young women are told to behave in a particular way.

“At one stage, my parents said ‘it’s not very ladylike to be on a bicycle’, I never questioned this, until lockdown where I gave it a go and broke my own taboos.”

Sabeha has been cycling all over London with Cycle Sisters, a charity that inspires and helps Muslim women to cycle by organising routes and events for them to enjoy.

Since 2016, Cycle Sisters has established several groups across London where Muslim women can cycle together weekly.

Cycle Sisters was launched by Sarah Javaid, who noticed that only a minority of Muslim women cycled.

'Women who join Cycle Sisters have a huge sense of achievement', says Sabeha
‘Women who join Cycle Sisters have a huge sense of achievement’, says Sabeha

‘You can still cycle and maintain your religious beliefs’

A TfL report released last year revealed that a majority of London cyclists are white, male, middle-aged and on middle to high-income salaries.

Sabeha adds: “A lot of people are led to believe that cyclists are Lycra-clad from head to toe and are often white. But you can wear whatever you want to, there’s nothing to say you can’t wear a burqa or a headscarf.

“Women who join Cycle Sisters have a huge sense of achievement. With adjustments, you can still maintain your religious beliefs and still be able to cycle.”

Cycle Sisters aims to fight stigmas and make cycling accessible for Muslim women of all abilities, from absolute beginners to experienced riders.

Sabeha, who is a project manager for the Tower Hamlets group, believes another barrier which stops Muslim women from participating is the affordability of a bike.

However, Cycle Sisters provide bikes free of charge to whoever needs one and plenty of London boroughs offer free cycle training sessions too.

'We take living in London for granted', says Sabeha
‘We take living in London for granted’, says Sabeha

Tackling stigmas

It’s not just the stigmas Cycle Sisters is tackling within the Muslim community, but from society as a whole.

Sabeha says: “Society likes to say Muslim woman are oppressed, but when we think of ourselves, we don’t think we’re submissive at all.

“We make our decisions and we just want to create a positive image of Muslim sisters on bicycles but in a supportive way.”

There are many perks to Cycle Sisters too, every Sunday, Sabeha enjoys stopping to socialise with her Muslim sisters, as well as visiting cafés which serve Halal food and stopping for prayer.

Some routes have taken Sabeha from Bow, East London all the way to the Tower of London.

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‘We take living in London for granted’

Sabeha says: “Living in London, we take it for granted living here, there’s so much around us that we rarely notice. When you’re on a bicycle, you see London in a new light.”

Cycle Sisters hopes to expand their network beyond London and across the country.

To listen to Sabeha speak about Cycle Sisters, visit the Down To Earth podcast.

To join a Cycle Sisters group, head online.

Got an important story to share? Contact Ruby at [email protected]

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