Hanifa Deen is a Melbourne-based award-winning author and social commentator of Pakistani-Muslim ancestry who writes narrative non-fiction. She has held a number of high profile positions including Hearing Commissioner with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; Deputy Commissioner of the Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission of WA, and was a director on the Board of SBS for five years.
Hanifa Deen was born in the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie WA and blames all that desert air for turning her into a ‘Muslim maverick’. 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 years.
Hanifa is proud of her Muslim childhood and adolescence, but speaks out against what she sees as fundamentalist ideologies on both sides of the religious divide. She is also a feminist and a great believer in the capacity of women to reinvent themselves and is particularly fond of disobedient women in history, literature and real life: she began her career as a high school teacher (English and History), taught English as a foreign language for seven years in (West) Germany at a boys’ high school before returning to Australia where she became active in ethnic affairs and human rights at both a community and, finally, at a professional level in the public service.
Feeling that an irreverent tongue was better suited to writing than a career in the public service and concerned that years of churning out ‘Yes, Minister’ memos and reports was turning her into a writer of turgid prose, Hanifa turned to full time writing fourteen years ago.
Caravanserai: A Journey Among Australian Muslims: (Allen & Unwin) won a NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 1996. Fremantle Arts Centre Press released a revised and updated edition of Caravanserai rewritten in the shadow of the September 11 tragedy in May 2003. Judges described Caravanserai ‘…as an outstanding contribution to Australian literature.’ The book was also short listed for the Nita B. Kibble Award.
Broken Bangles: her best-selling book on the lives Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, published by Transworld, was short-listed in 1998 for the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award; a second edition was published in India in 2000 by Penguin-India.
The Crescent and the Pen: The Strange Journey of Taslima Nasreen: (Hardback) was released in the USA, in November 2006 by Greenwood Publishing under the Praeger imprint. In the course of this book Hanifa travelled, like a literary sleuth, on the trail of freedom of expression icon, Taslima Nasreen to disclose the real story behind the campaign to save the feminist writer who has been likened to a ‘female Salman Rushdie’.
The Jihad Seminar: was published in 2008 by University of Western Australia Press and was short listed for the Australian Human Rights Commission award for non-fiction. The book covered Australia's first case of religious hate speech, which took place in Melbourne.
Ali Abdul v The King: UWA Publishing 2011. Mahomet Allum, wonder herbalist and ladies' man, bush battler Ali Abdul, and Sam the republican pear diver...this fascinating collection of narratives combines Deen's gift for storytelling with history and nostalgia as she takes the reader back into Australia's past.
On the Trail of Taslima: Paperback edition published by Indian Ocean Press 2013. Revised edition updates later escapades and headlines around Nazreen's life in exile.
Purple Prose: Anthology edited by Byrski and Robertson Fremantle Press 2015.
'My Descent into Purple' describes Deen's flirtation with black, red and purple over the years.
(Photo by Amanda le Bas de Plumetot)