Hanifa Deen

Woman standing in a garden
Hanifa Deen
Image: Lahza Photography
Source: Museum Victoria

Hanifa was born to Pakistani parents in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, in the 1950s. At a time of cultural conservatism in Australia, and in the absence of any cultural community to identify with as a child, Hanifa learnt early to forge her own identity.

Hanifa studied education with a focus on history and English literature. After graduating she moved to Germany, where she met her husband Franz. When Hanifa returned to Australia, she commenced her foray into various roles promoting multiculturalism.

Hanifa has authored several books, addressing gender, faith and cultural issues and is an inspiration to many Australian women.

Video transcript

Well, my name's Hanifa Deen. I was born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. I won't say how long ago. How do I identify myself? Well, I believe there are many blocks to a person's identity - the fact that I was born in Australia, the fact that I'm Muslim, the fact that I'm a writer, I'm a feminist. All of these things sort of work together in making the Hanifa composition, I guess.

One of the biggest shapers, if you like, of my identity was the White Australia Policy. Because there wasn't a community around, it meant, as I said, no reflections of myself, so I became very much an individual. I didn't conform. I was a naughty, disobedient little girl. I became a bit of a Muslim maverick, but... but it did allow me to perhaps start asking questions that eventually turned me, one day, into a writer.

My first profession was as a teacher. I loved teaching. I started off as a primary teacher and then a high school teacher. I taught history and English literature. I've always been a great reader and a movie buff, I must admit too. Then I wanted to stretch my wings and I went overseas. I eventually taught in Germany at a German boys high school for about nine years. Eventually, after... I think I spent about eight or nine years altogether in Germany, and after about six years, I met my husband, Franz - Franz Oswald.

I came back from Germany in about 1980 and this was at the beginning of the, um... great multiculturalism policy days. That started a whole world of adventure and interest in social justice issues and human rights.

I often describe myself as the accidental author because I stumbled into writing. I've never ever done a writing course and it just seemed to happen by accident.

It's always better to write about yourself than be written about. And that's why I think... I think more and more Australian Muslims should write. I'm glad that I've had a lifetime of reading. I fell in love with Scheherazade when I was very, very young and I'd like to think there are more and more Scheherazades growing up in Australia too.

I was a 1970s Australian feminist and I'm still very proud of that, even though I understand that the F-word sometimes is not as popular with younger generations. And I guess it was always that little girl talking to her father, who used to tease her. I think I was... As a little girl, Dad loved to tease me. He was a terrible teaser, my dad, and he spoilt me outrageously, and he would say, 'Two girls equal one boy.' 'Nifi' was my nickname. 'Two girls equal one boy.' And I'd say, 'No, Dad! No, Dad! Two boys equal one girl. Two boys equal one girl.' And I think I spent my life trying to show Dad that I was better than any boy.

I often find myself described as an Australian Muslim writer, particularly on promotional flyers and so on, and I guess that's alright. I'm certainly... I'm a Muslim - it's part of my identity - but I prefer to be described as an Australian writer. Australian writers come in all different colours, shapes, sizes, and that's my identity - as an Australian writer.