This woman is my hero.
I’m not saying this just because a newspaper is showcasing her fabulous strength and intelligence — or because I love amplifying stories of amazingly fierce women.
This woman is my hero because we’ve laughed together, shared incredible experiences, seen each other at our most vulnerable, and have given each other support in countless ways.
This woman is my AMAZING sister-in-law and I am incredibly proud of her and all her achievements.
Eye is determined, resilient, totally bad-ass and one of the most courageous people I know. She was recently interviewed by the Ottawa Sun about her return to boxing after a brief hiatus to finish writing her PhD dissertation.
Yeah, no biggie.
When I first heard about the interview, I cautioned her to watch out for being positioned as a “token” Muslim, or as the “ideal” representation of Canadian Islam. This is the Sun — Canada’s conservative news network in love with tabloid-worthy headline news and sensationalizing or demonizing issues relating to Muslims.
Now my filters are 100% biased. I’ve watched this video a hundred times and can only feel intense love and excitement for her words. Because that is how this story is framed. According to her words.
When I’m in a fight, I’m thinking of how much I need to protect myself — and how worthy I am of being protected. It’s almost as if you’re like a mother who wants to protect her child — and that self love is something that is beautiful to be able to get from a sport. Honestly, the satisfaction at the end of a fight is worth it. Regardless of the outcome… The outcome is truly something that is from God.
Eye was interviewed to share her experiences as a female boxer. The article and video showcase her skills, abilities and the sense of empowerment she gains from boxing. There’s no suggestion that she’s the only hijab-wearing amateur woman boxer in Ontario. There’s no subtext hinting that she’s somehow liberated or free when she gets in the ring. There’s absolutely ZERO mention of her hijab or the support she receives from her opponents, coaches, club, and Boxing Ontario regarding her uniform. In fact, outside of a juicy headline, the only person to mention her religious identity is Eye herself.
This is how you write stories about Muslim women.
But the question remains: Why? So she made a return to boxing. What’s the story? What makes her special outside all of the wonderful traits and abilities that allow any one of us to be “special”?
There’s ongoing talk online about the need to creatively challenge how people think about Muslim American (and Canadian) women, as well as Twitter #hashtag campaigns challenging what it means to include Muslim women in the media. All are efforts to break down stereotypes that we are monolithic, oppressed, in need of saving and aim to challenge this dominant narrative. But as blogger Sara Yasin rightly points out in a recent post:
If that could really change up the narrative, wouldn’t it have changed by now? That’s because Muslims don’t decide what the mainstream discourse looks like. And the folks who dictate that, or have power over it, are the ones that need to be changing the narrative.
Enticing headlines sell papers by creating a buzz. Interesting features on Muslim women meet diversity quotas.
Despite the title of Eye’s showcase, “Ottawa Muslim woman returns to ring,” the front page headline simply said “Local fighter inspires” — and that’s because the journalist in this case made a conscious effort to focus on the person and not the mainstream discourse.
But guess which title got more play, even within the Islamosphere? (*hint* the first one)
For the narrative creators, being “special,” and “diverse,” and “oddly exotic from the norm” has real entertainment value. The irony is that within Muslim circles and in the mainstream, it seems like we really love the sensationalized, fierce-female-feature story. Whether its seeing a woman in hijab play sports or a progressive fashion trend among hijab-wearing women — we are the ones making these feel-good stories go viral. And by doing so, it plays right back into the media who evaluates the worthiness of paying attention to sensationalized stories and #hashtag crazes about Muslim women.
And while they are fabulous, these stories do little to shed real light on the diverse and varied voices within the Muslim community. With only one type of Muslim constantly being showcased — normally the fierce woman, usually covered — we’re courting our own negative stereotype as a monolith.
But that’s not going to stop me from sharing fierce-female-features. Because I do feel there is value in these stories. Even if they do nothing to change the dominant narrative — they do create heroes and role models. These stories paint a picture of what it means to be a North American Muslim and fill a humongous gap found in many other media spaces, such as movies and written fiction.
And I want my daughters growing up seeing positive images of Muslim women — ALL Muslim women featured and showing off their talents.
Alhamdulillah, my daughters have the absolute privilege of learning from the most amazing Muslim woman I know.
Eye *is* special. She is special to me, to her family and to all of the people who have told me that she is an inspiration. She is gorgeous and talented masha’Allah and she will teach my daughters the value of agency, kindness, volunteerism, leadership, education, sport, self-identity, faith — and most importantly, that they are WORTHY and have the power to represent themselves.
I love this woman so much and I am so blessed to have her as my sister.
Now all I have to do is find someone for her to marry. (I’m serious)