Islamophobia


We awoke in an alternate reality almost too ludicrous to believe. As if all the networks teamed up with a mad scientist to trap America in a never ending episode of the Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, or Saturday Night Live.

And I keep oscillating between my hope that people power will win over hate, and praying that Steven Moffat didn’t actually write this vile episode of 2017.*

A year ago I sat in a hospital room, admitted with baby Quinn who needed oxygen and round-the-clock care due to a nasty virus (he kicked its butt!). The American election was in full swing, and in a protective, mama-bear moment I somehow got into a debate with the Hubby as to what we would do if “they” ever tried to ban Muslims. The Canadian people had just trashed our conservative government, but the rhetoric coming out of the United States scared me. Would they place us on a registry? Who out of the family could come home to Canada? Who can we sponsor? What could we do to protect ourselves and the extended family overseas?

I think the Hubby chalked up my dystopian ramblings to exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

But this week it’s all real. We are all affected by the #MuslimBan. My best friend and her husband, the Hubby’s dual-citizen cousin, American associates, dear blogger friends — the terrifying, personal news from everyone is overwhelming.

It hurts my heart to know that people in my community feel threatened in their own country. It hurts to know that migrants are still drowning, refugees are still fleeing, and suffering continues worldwide. And as I scroll through my Social feeds reading as much as I can in order to make sense of the loss of freedom and war on diversity, I’m having difficulties separating from the fact that we live in Canada. Because we should be safe way up here right?

Some of the conversations I’ve seen online point to a terrible new world where the racist bar has been lifted. It doesn’t matter what happens politically or who ends up in charge — fascists have a new playing-field and can enact all sorts of terrible things to disenfranchise people. And in some future time or place when civil liberties are in jeopardy, “they” can simply say, “Well at least it’s not a total ban.”

But my God. The American people’s response. It’s just as overwhelming. Every video of people marching in protest is an action of hope. It is amazing and phenomenal. The lawyers! The taxi drivers! God bless them all.

The Women’s March on Washington galvanized an incredible momentum for good that we now need in abundance. We weren’t able to make it out to a protest, so last week I sat with Eryn, Ivy and Quinn to watch Linda Sarsour and 6-year-old Sophie Cruz make history. We talked about ways we can combat hate and encourage awesomeness in the world through actions and thoughts. The result of their brainstorming session is now a poster on their wall.

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If you’re in Canada and want to add to this momentum and do something about the ban, the Women’s March on Washington Canada has a list of action items on their Facebook page that include joining vigils/protests, calling your MP, and volunteering.

My love and dua’as are with you. Stay safe.


*That’s a Doctor Who joke. It means everyone is going to die. So, it’s not really a joke. It’s quite horrific.

Last summer I spoke at a conference about some of the media stereotyping of Muslim women and the consequences that negative images and Islamophobia have on Muslim women and their families.

Over a series of posts I’ll be sharing some of my research looking at the various ways Muslim women and mothers are presented by media, how this effects women’s relationships to their families, religion and Selves, and how women are in turn, responding to these stereotypes online. Using authentic voices to create spaces where their work and empowerment are celebrated — helping counter the overwhelming negative construction of “the Muslim woman.”


A screen capture of a Google image search for "Muslim women."

A screen capture of a Google image search for “Muslim women.”

She’s wrapped in black from head to toe — and at this angle, it looks like she can barely see through the veil covering her face as she holds tightly to her child.

Media love the image of the anonymous Muslim woman.

Through stock photography that overwhelmingly includes images of women in black niqab, media often homogenizes Muslim women — otheringobjectifying, sexualizing, and promoting the stereotype that they are victims in need of saving or aren’t “modern” enough to accept western values.

A quick Internet image search of the terms “Muslim women” will return hundreds of examples of women shrouded in black, covered by face veils. Which is extremely problematic given that not only is the hijab worn differently throughout the world — with myriad styles, designs and colours — but many Muslim women don’t wear the headscarf, and a minority wear the face veil.

veilsRegardless of lived experience, the Muslim woman is framed as submitting to oppression — her own voice silenced, her actions and agency restrained by misogyny and a patriarchal religion. The camera focuses specifically on the veil — fixated by what she is wearing and not on the woman herself. In some images, she is literally trapped behind the bars of her niqab.

Over the last decade we’ve seen increasing amounts of media coverage on Muslims, partially in response to the war on terror and ongoing military actions in Muslim countries, France’s burqa ban, the Arab Spring, Canada’s citizenship oath niqab ban, anti-shari’ah law legislation, growing Islamophobia, and Quebec’s recent debate on overt religious symbols, and the Charter of Secularism

Often, these images are taken from countries where the headscarf and face veil are worn as a cultural norm — but are applied uniformly whenever Islam, Muslims, or topics vaguely relating to Muslims are mentioned. They usually include women who aren’t remotely connected to the news story, or are actors modelling religious dress — constructing an image of the “authentic” Muslim woman.

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This article is a must read.

Fabulady Humera Jabir takes a personal, passionate and rational look at Quebec’s Charter of Values:

My mother is the reason I began to wear the hijab. She is the strongest woman I know; intelligent, she stressed the importance of education, and most of all, faith in God. She prepped me for school speeches never accepting shyness as an excuse, insisting that her daughters speak for themselves and stand on their own. My mother wears the hijab as a fundamental part of her faith; for her it is way to carry out the Quran’s requirement of modesty and to live in accordance with the prophetic example…

I politicized the hijab and that is why ten years after I first began wearing it, I decided to stop. The hijab is not my tool; it is not a banner to be flown in the face of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia. I used the hijab as an object; a loudspeaker to say here I am, a strong Muslim woman in your midst. But though I changed people’s minds, I began to feel hollow wearing it. I was living only for other people’s eyes while totally neglecting the hijab as an element of my faith…

And yet, as Quebecers now grapple with the Charter of Values, the hijab is front and center, a tool used by the Parti Québécois to shore up political support… Louise Beaudoin and other outspoken “feminist” supporters of the Charter argue that it poses no barrier to Muslim women’s employment; they will simply take the hijab off on their way to work and carry on. But to turn the hijab into an object comparable to a hat or scarf that can be left at the door in the morning with no impact on its wearer denies the fundamental, non-political, reality of what the hijab is: an act of worship that has great meaning in people’s lives.

Humera’s story about her mother and the idea that the hijab is used as a political tool resonates with me — not only because this is a fabulous piece, but because I’ve been researching, hijab-deep in stereotypes surrounding Muslim women and mothers for the past couple of weeks.

On Friday I’ll be giving a talk for the Motherhood Initiative about the demonization of Muslim mothers in the media — which includes politicizing the hijab as a tool to identify Muslim women as the “creators of terror.” Because nothing says “bad mothering” more than insinuating that the cause of Islamic terrorism is literally “home grown” within a mother’s womb.

I’ll be sharing this talk with you all, and my other recent talk on Mothering during an era of Islamophobia in a new blog series that will also look at how Muslim women are addressing these stereotypes online. How, like Humera’s article, Muslim women are challenging negative portrayals, storytelling with authentic voices and creating spaces to encourage positive narratives about hijab, about motherhood, and about the lived experience of Muslim women that go lightyears beyond media stereotypes.

Stay tuned!

make-me-a-muslim_625x352When I think of Britain, I don’t think of a society so “rife” with promiscuity and drunkenness that it’s very moral fibre is in need of repair. Call me naive, but I usually imagine red telephone boxes, Mister Darcy, imperialism, fish & chips, curry houses, and Doctor Who. But according to a mini-series from 2007 called ”Make Me a Muslim,” Britain is so horribly off track with naked women in the streets and hooligans living hedonistic lifestyles, that things are going to get much worse unless something stops this social degeneration. What Britain needs is an infusion of “decency, respect and moderation.”

So let’s make everyone Muslim.

“Make Me a Muslim” was a three part series aired by Channel 4 in the UK and followed a group of non-Muslim volunteers from the town of Harrogate in Yorkshire while they “lived under Islamic law” for three weeks. It popped up in my feed reader a couple of weeks ago when BBC Three aired another ingeniously titled documentary, “Make Me a Muslim.” This unconnected 2013 installment follows Shanna Bukhari, the first Muslim to compete for the title of Miss Universe Great Britain, as she learns what it’s like to practice Islam from a group of white women converts who have given up partying and drinking.

Since the convert party girl exposé is sooo last year, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the 2007 series and its specific focus on sharia law. I was curious to know how they were going to present Islam and depict a group of non-Muslims abiding by a system of religious norms that have vast interpretations, implementations and practices throughout the world, as well as within Britain. Unfortunately, my initial optimism was dashed the moment episode one opened by polarizing a modern and immorally broken British society, with the ancient religious values that can supposedly fix it.

To test the theory that Islam can save Britain, Imam Ajmal Masroor and his crack team of Muslim Mentors help six non-Muslims (and one “lapsed Muslim”) learn what it’s like to live under the principal tenets of Islam and sharia law — namely, no alcohol, no pork, no sex outside marriage, modesty, fasting and prayer. While I was hoping for more discussion on the nuances and reasons why Muslims are enjoined to pray and maintain levels of modesty, the series instead holds true to the performance of reality TV: They take an extremely surface understanding of Islam, enforce it on a group of people who aren’t Muslim by choice, throw in a group of stereotypical and at times ridiculous Muslim characters, and watch the sparks fly while both groups clash.

The understanding of sharia is not exactly explained, as much as it’s simply narrated in a two-second sound-bite as a system of law based upon the teachings of the Qur’an. The actual defining of sharia is left to Phil, a beer-swilling, bacon eating, mildly xenophobic taxi driver, who confronts a Muslim Mentor about how, “Muslims want to impose sharia law on Britain,” and that “we don’t want the stoning of women and cutting hands off thieves on the streets of England.” Sharia is not explained as helping guide personal religious observance, but as “barbaric.” And while he is sincere in wanting to learn more about Islam and Muslims, Phil’s views on the “Islamization” of Britain are used to reinforce every negative stereotype about Islamic law.

The group’s initiation into Islam begins by a brief introduction to the five pillars and, much to my delight, with the Muhammad Asad translation of the Qur’an. The Muslim Mentors then purge the participants’ homes of all things “haram under Islamic law” — and the camera spends a lot of time showing alcohol being tossed down the drain and the confiscation of “frilly knickers.”

The really unfortunate presentation in this episode was the role of women in Islam. Which, for the purposes of tabloid entertainment, was reduced to the wearing of hijab.

After taking away bathing suits, skirts, and shirts unceremoniously deemed “immodest,” South London preacher and Muslim Mentor Mohammed explains that:

“The religion of Islam is a religion of prevention. A lot of women have been raped in England and all over the world. Why are women inviting it by wearing something that is [immodest]?”

This hijab-as-protection-from-sexual-abuse trope continues when Muslim Mentor and white convert Dawn explains hijab to Kerry, a glamour/soft porn model, “this is about protecting you and keeping you safe.”

Understandably, the female participants are outraged and their unwillingness to abide by “the rules of Islam” are exploited to illustrate that Islam is foreign, oppressive and misogynist. Even when Imam Ajmal comes in as the voice of reason, defining modesty as protecting society, encouraging humble behaviour and allowing people to interact with their personalities by not focusing on the “body beautiful” — it’s all done secondarily to the BIG DEAL that non-Muslim women feel oppressed and choked by long sleeves and a head scarf.

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Muslim street preacher Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto. (Terry Davidson/Toronto Sun)

So what is the media obsession with Muslims? Why is there such a need to discuss what’s under our burqas, or better yet, use ridiculous veil puns when speaking about Islam, Islamic law, Women in Islam, countries like Dubai or Iran, and of course, hijab?  From fake fatwas on phallic vegetables to the threat of creeping shari’ah coming soon to a McDonald’s near you — whatever the story, the Media is sure to get a lot of play from Muslims.

Especially if they’re able to ridicule Muslims as a community, make underhanded racist comments, depreciate Islamic religious practices or promote xenophobic fear mongering.

Take for example the recent, unfortunate remarks made by Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana. This 33-year old convert and street preacher wrote an email to the Toronto Sun suggesting that Canadian lawmakers should, “introduce laws that would make it illegal for women to dress provocatively in the streets” in order to “help prevent sexual assaults from happening in the future.” Naturally, The Sun News Network sensed a winner and constructed a handful of articles, three expert video interviews, mirror articles in Canada’s major Sun-affiliated cities, and a HuffPo spot out of some guy’s random, illogical thoughts.

Within 24 hours, the Toronto Sun had interviews with Atangana — complete with delicious sound bites of him saying that women who dress provocatively are always at risk for rape, and that the Muslim women’s dress should be used as a model for protection. Because you know, blame for rape and sexual assault lies directly with the victim, not the perpetrator. And wearing modest clothing is going to magically protect you. Right.

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Second up in our month of guest posts is long-time reader and astute commenter, Dandelion. I asked Dandelion to write for the blog not only to inspire him to start writing full time and share his enthusiasm for feminism but also because the dandelion is part of the natural diet of a wood turtle:

I am a white male who is atheist. I am also a feminist, university student and an avid traveler. I am a university student based out of Vancouver, and I love love love to cook. Particularly if things get stressful, a nicely prepared homecooked meal calms me down nicely. I also love eating, the inevitable result of cooking.

Please join me in welcoming Dandelion as he shares an analysis on positive prejudice, privilege and religiously-coded bodies in the Canadian citizenship landscape.


I am a local Vancouverite, where all my stories originate. For those of you who haven’t glanced at my bio, I am neither Muslim nor female.

A couple of months ago I was giving a guest lecture to a local high school on architecture, describing the different styles that can be found in Seville’s Cathedral. The cathedral is an excellent example of gothic and renaissance architecture, and in the 15th century, was built on top of a grand mosque that existed there earlier (which in turn replaced an even older cathedral). Examples of Islamic architecture remains throughout the cathedral, as portions of the outer courtyard and foundations haven’t changed.

As I was explaining this to the students, one put up his hand and asked, “What’s Islam?” I was a little taken aback, but I responded with “The religion of Muslims.” I continued my lecture, but another hand went up, and this student asked, “What’s a Muslim?” I didn’t have an immediate response for the question, because it was so unexpected.

Then another student in the class answered with, “They’re the terrorists.”

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Dear no sense of personal space,

Sure. Go ahead and touch my swollen belly without asking for permission. The baby you’re fawning over is actually situated below my belly button.

Hope you enjoyed fondling my “maternal stores” and large intestine.

Love,
~me.


Dear gushing prejudice,

What exactly do you mean by saying Eryn “takes after her father?”

Now, I understand you “absolutely adore mixed children” — but I just wanted to take a moment to outline some pretty obvious things to those who really care about my family.

She has my hair and makes my facial expressions when feeling intelligent and self-assured. Those shrugging shoulders when she doesn’t know the answer? Yeah, that’s from me. And I’m pretty sure her shifty eyes when she’s up to something is from me too.

Her gorgeous cheek bones and eye shape look like they’ve come from her paternal grandmother. And her chin? That’s straight from her aunt. Her amazing eye colour is her own. It’s a bit too early to say whose feet, hands, legs or waist she’s growing into, so I’m not 100% sure what you mean by ‘takes after her father’…

Oh. Wait. You mean she has his skin colour.

Classy. So thrilled you see things in such stark, ignorant categories.

Love,
~me.


Dear misdirected, Islamophobic mutterings,

I’m an only child and spent years preferring to walk behind my parents. It seemed like a wonderful space to be at peace with my thoughts and daydreams while knowing exactly where they were at all times. You see, I had an irrational fear of getting lost. The only other place I’d rather be when walking with my parents would be swinging between them.

But when I wanted solitude, I walked alone two feet behind them.

I did the same when walking with friends on sidewalks. I’d always triangulate behind so we could all walk together — but I could distance myself mentally from the conversation when I just wanted to window shop.

Suffice to say, I have a habit of walking behind people when I feel like it.

So when I’ve carried my child all.day.long. and my arms are burning and I’m suffering from round ligament pain with every step and I just want five bloody minutes to myself without blowing a snotty nose or singing my ABC’s YET AGAIN, yeah, I’m going to carry the bags so the Hubby can carry Eryn.

And YES, I’m going to walk two feet behind him BECAUSE I want a moment to breathe.

It is NOT because I’m a Muslim woman.

I am not THEM. I am ME.
We are from Toronto, not OVER THERE.
And my Hubby is NOT treating me like a pack horse. He’s FANTASTIC and I’m more than capable of carrying a diaper bag, some Christmas presents and opening doors my own bloody self.

kaythxbye,
~me

I’ve experienced my share of prejudice based absolutely on what I wear on my head. Gendered Islamophobia guarantees that it doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t focus on body size or ability, doesn’t question your sexuality, desire or ability to have children, social or economic mobility, citizenship (though it often makes it easy to slip into racism) or political affiliation — it is racism and prejudice based on identifying women as members of Islam based on their style of religious dress.

But while people have accosted me, spat on me, made lewd remarks, racist remarks, told me to go back home, or used my hijab as an excuse to unload their frustrations about the war of terror or “those crazy people in country X shouting God is great when X horrible thing happens” (yes, even in Canada) — it has never thankfully happened while I was with Eryn.

In fact, I have received mostly kindness, only once having someone ask if she was a “mixed” child and of course, the occasional negativity many parents experience irrespective of religious affiliation when out in public with their children: how dare you bring that annoying child into my child-free public space. Make it stop crying/talking/pooping/screaming/laughing/touching me right NOW or face the wrath of my disapproving stare.

There is of course a huge difference between anti-child prejudice and anti-Muslim prejudice. I just find it interesting that over the past two weeks I’ve only experienced one or the other based on whether or not Eryn is with me.

It’s not every day that I experience Islamophobia just like it’s not every day that people are annoyed with Eryn’s existence. But Monday was incredibly trying and I have to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to the many people who made our day bearable, enjoyable, and absolutely fantastic.

So thank you to:

  • the woman at the Museum who gave me a kind smile with Eryn had a meltdown because her french fries wouldn’t line up the way she wanted them to
  • everyone who held doors open for us
  • the gentleman who actually held my umbrella over our heads as I struggled to get Eryn into the sling
  • the commuter who made space for us on the train when it was 25 minutes delayed and we were squished like sardines
  • the woman who, amongst “tsks” from others when Eryn started crawling on the floor, made the loud comment, “You would think someone would give that poor child a seat. She’s too little to be standing!”

And a gracious thank you to:

  • the woman who gave us her seat
  • the woman who moved her legs so Eryn could avoid kicking other passengers
  • the woman who probably sensing how stressed and harried I was, entertained Eryn for a full 30 minutes by teaching her how to give a “thumbs-up” and the “peace sign.”

Your kindness and understanding really made my day and showed me that for every person who “tsks” at my child, there are more who will go out of their way to accommodate us.

(I’m sure the same can be said for Islamophobia… now, just give me that one experience of someone standing up and saying “NO!” when they overhear ridiculousness spouted at a Muslim. You’ll make my millennium.)

Happy Friday everyone! Wax your surfboard and grab a drink, in this edition of the roundup we’re riding the wave of Islamophobia. The water’s full of anti-shari’a fail and unrealised potential with bans on kick-ass hijabis. But we’ve got an entire beachfront full of pious sexy athletic wear and an initiative aiming to turn the tide.

Enjoy!

1) Worried that the mosque down the street might be a hotbed of religious extremism? Is it becoming increasingly difficult for you to figure out the “good Muslims” from the “bad Muslims?”  Have no fear, Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques is here!

100 mosques were observed in order to give you this handy-dandy guide to determining if your mosque is a place where “violent jihad may take root.” Co-authored by the man behind much of the anti-shari’a legislation in the States, the survey determined that mosques which promoted “violence-positive” material through speeches or publications appeared to also have greater adherence to shari’a — which for the purpose of the survey means:

  • women in “proper” hijab — not this Spanish-wrap, dupatta, piratey hijab nonsense
  • men in hats — preferably ethnic ones from scary Muslim nations
  • imams with beards according to the “sunna” — no monkey tail beards
  • maintaining straight prayer lines — bring out your tape measure
  • non-Western garb — no cultural diversity for you!
  • imams wearing watches on their right wrist — sorry lefties!

*cough* Do I really have to say anything? It’s so nice having someone else define my Islam for me.

2) Do you ever wonder if what you’re eating is really halal? Hundreds of parents in Toronto, Ottawa and surrounding suburbs, were shocked to discover that the halal, kosher and organic catering at their children’s Montessori and child care centres were, in fact, none of these things.

And at times, undercooked.

3) Sports Hijab. Be Yourself. Unveil Your Performance.

The Guardian is reporting on the latest HAWT, sleek, super awesome and pious sexy sports hijab from ResportOn.

Iranian-born French-Canadian (go Habs!) designer Elham Javad came up with the idea to create sleek and secure sports hijabs when five Muslim girls were banned from competing in tae kwon do tournaments in Montreal. The ban was set in place after officials determined that the hijabs were a health and safety risk. So Javad decided to make things easier for women to participate in sports.

She was even pegged to design the hijab tops for the Iranian Women’s Olympic Football team — until FIFA decided to ban headscarves earlier this week.

The Iranian Women’s team had their athletic dreams destroyed when FIFA disqualified them from an important qualifying match with Jordan — citing that the hijabs were a safety concern and did not conform to the uniform rules: “Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.”

But you know, male footballers sure as hell can do whatever they want with their hair. Yeah. Nothing personal.

4) And in another case of men deciding what women can or cannot wear, CAIR, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group, is calling on the United States Olympic Committee to intervene in the case of an AMAZING Muslim weightlifter.

Kulsoom Abdullah of Atlanta is being banned from tournaments because she wishes to compete wearing hijab.

Honestly, why would you want to mess with her? This kick-ass hijabi can pick you up and throw you into next week.

According to the report, “Abdullah, who competes in the 48kg and 53kg weight class in the women’s senior division, reported to CAIR that USA Weightlifting prevented her from participating in the American Open in December 2010 due to her desire to wear modest Islamic attire covering her hair and body with the exception of her face, hands and feet.”

Check out awesome pictures and videos of Kulsoom in action at her personal website: LiftingCovered and read more on the story over at CNN.

(hat-tip to the inspiring Asiah @ DreaminArabic)

5) Finally, are all of these anti-Muslim stories getting you down? Are you worried that people think you may represent the less than 1% of Muslim who are extremists because of what you wear or how you practice your Islam? Have no fear, My Fellow American is here!

An amazing online film and social media project by the non-profit organization, Unity Productions Foundation, My Fellow American “seeks to change the narrative of Muslims as other,” by asking people to share real life stories about the Muslim friends, neighbours, or colleagues they admire. What I love about this initiative is how raw, open and honest these voices are. It’s a wonderful platform for people to come together to help support the American Muslim community.

I get teary every time I see this trailer. And I think it’s because I know that Eryn is growing up in a world that may fear and hate her. Which is why initiatives like this are so important.

This article was originally posted at Womanist Musings, where the amazing Renee allows me to share my thoughts from time to time.


After a morning shower, I get dressed and put on my hijab — quickly praying before dashing out the door to catch my bus. I eat a packed peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, get caught up on email, and call my mom, thanking her for dealing with the baby’s chronic cough with a home remedy. In the afternoon, I take a break to pray in the “quiet room” – a work diversity and religious inclusiveness  initiative. On the way back to my desk, I chat up a colleague about Doctor Who and congratulate him on his recent engagement — gushing over the ring. After work, when the Hubby and baby come home, we teach her how to sing the Muppet’s “Mahna-mahna” song over a halal chicken dinner. Later, when we’ve said our evening prayers, she says “ameen” and goes to bed. Finally, with some time to ourselves, the Hubby and I research a local Islamic Montessori school while catching up on the third season of True Blood.

There are some pretty telling things about this tiny snapshot of my day: it’s the privileged life of a middle class, heterosexual, able bodied, multi-lingual, extended Canadian family. It’s also pretty upbeat, a little revealing about things I like and seems fairly innocuous that we live in accordance to certain Islamic rules and guidelines.

But for some, this snapshot illustrates the threat that my family poses to Western freedom. The “quiet room” at my place of employment is solid proof that multiculturalism in Canada has failed by “tolerating the intolerant Muslim.” The Qur’an is nothing but a collection of hate-filled lies that’s no better than Mein Kampf and it should be banned along with the hijab. Any community work I’m involved with is just a ruse to slowly turn Canada into an Islamic state.

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