misconceptions


Finally, here’s the fourth post in my series on the media stereotyping of Muslim women. It was an absolute joy to speak to these phenomenal women and it was so exciting to pick their brains. If I had the power, I would have invited everyone for a massive party.

As I’ve pointed out throughout this series, these blogs and social media personalities are resource-mining and community-building. They are story telling with authentic voices and encouraging the creation of positive narratives. They are disassembling popular media stereotypes and creating discursive spaces to grapple with the current reality of growing up Muslim in an era of Islamophobia.

As a mother trying to make sure my two daughters grow up surrounded by images of strong, empowered, diverse Muslim women — these positive narratives are invaluable. They combat the internalization of negative portrayals by providing alternatives, by creating a positive popular culture of Muslim women, and by reframing the image of the Muslim mother.

This is only a sampling of the phenomenal voices out there — so if you know of someone, or ARE someone that is making positive impacts, drop a link in the comments below!

Hope you enjoyed this series as much as I enjoyed presenting it.


ananda

Blogger extraordinaire Amanda Quraishi is a mother, American Muslim Progressive, Liberal, Feminist, Generation-X Humorist, and Geek. She uses her blog Muslimahmerican to write about the American Muslim experience as well as liberal politics — sharing her opinions with over 15,000 followers.

On the question of mothering positive images of Muslim identity and combating stereotypes, she says she is committed to the idea that individual Muslims should represent all of our unique traits and fascinating human variations:

And this is the best way to combat stereotypes. No one Muslim woman can speak for all of us, but we can all represent ourselves authentically and in doing so, we let people see us as we are: a multitude of Muslim identities instead of a single, monolithic community.

The piece to read: Enough with the “Veiled” References

zainab.fw
Fellow Canadian and steampunk enthusiast Zainab bint Younus, aka The Salafi Feminist, has been writing for as long as she can remember. After pouring everything into journals, she started blogging as a frustrated teenager with too many frustrations about the Muslim community to keep to herself — and has since evolved, recognizing there are ways to empower Muslims to seek nuanced, intelligent avenues to create positive change.

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This is the second post in my series on the media stereotyping of Muslim women.

While some media argue that (identifiable) Muslim women are more likely to suffer Islamophobic attacks than men, I also recognize that Muslim men and non-Muslim men are also recipients of racial and anti-Muslim violence.

This post looks specifically at Gendered Islamophobia as targeted toward mothers and their families.


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Before she was even old enough to speak, I heard many well-intentioned but offensive comments from complete strangers, asking if I would ever force the hijab onto my daughters. As if it’s a given assumption that Muslim mothers and families routinely oppress their daughters into adopting a style of religious dress.

When it is not a piece of cloth that oppresses women, but discrimination, exploitation, inequality, domestic violence, and religiously justified misogyny.

Issues that many people face, not just Muslim women alone.

But when demonized images of Muslim women and mothers are conflated with negative media stereotypes and politicized symbols associated with the veil, it further encourages a climate of Gendered Islamophobia: Where because women in headscarves are immediately identifiable as representing Islam, they may experience deliberate gender-based violence, harassment or prejudice.

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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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In Oma's arms.

In Oma’s arms.

Play houses and train sets. Dress up clothes and books. Basket after basket of squeaking, rattling, sparkling, colourful baby toys line the walls of the weekly play group — begging to be claimed by tiny hands.

Several toddlers play with a box filled with dinosaurs and wooden blocks. An older boy runs around with a fireman’s helmet over his eyes and is quickly asked to sit down quietly for a circle time story, after he almost runs over a newly crawling baby.

Ivy swoops down the plastic slide for the eighth time. She smiles in quiet delight and claps proudly before climbing up again. Soon she points to the room set aside for snacks and gets ready for a water and Cheerio break.

Holding tight to her hand is Oma. An amazing woman who stresses over how much Ivy eats, who dutifully makes sure Ivy is warmly dressed, who beams with pride at how easily Ivy goes down for her afternoon nap. Oma. The wonderful non-Muslim grandparent who cooks halal food and mentions Allah’s name before Ivy takes a bite.

A superhero to both of my girls who makes sure they have a full week of fun activities and learning opportunities while I’m off at work. She loves them unconditionally, and claims she’s a better parent to them, than she was to me.

Suddenly, a hand reaches out and taps Oma on the shoulder.

“Where are you from?”

“Germany”

“Yes, you look like a German”

“And what exactly, is a German supposed to look like?” She asks sharply with fire and ice — in her German, sarcastic way.

“Oh. Haha. I suppose like you. Tall. Are you the babysitter?”

“No. I’m the grandmother.”

“What is her name?”

“Ivy.”

“Isn’t that a Muslim name?”

“Yes….”

“Is she Muslim?”

“She and her sister, my daughter, and son-in-law are all Muslim.”

“How do you feel about that?”

How do I feel? I LOVE my daughter and my son-in-law. They have beautiful and wonderful children. I LOVE my grandchildren is how I feel about that.”

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Have you seen the movie “Gravity“?

Model Hajer Naili in "Somewhere in America."

Model Hajer Naili in “Somewhere in America.”

It took me a second to picture Sandra Bullock as an astronaut — terrified, frantic, staring out at the black void of space while drifting untethered, away from the Earth. I admitted that I hadn’t yet seen the film, but read wonderful things and it was now on my “must see” list of new movies.

Curious, I waited to hear what the terrors of space had to do with my hijab.

On the subway everyone was minding their own business — reading, playing with their mobiles, or zoned into their headphones. One woman pulled out some knitting and a toddler made intermittent squeals further down the car. It was rush hour, so I stood near one of the inactive doors, daydreaming while watching commuters as they got on and off.

A man stood next to me. After a couple of stops he leaned over, and in a friendly tone said, “I like how you tie your scarf.”

He then made wide, circular gestures with his finger at the top of his head — much like a helicopter, as if to make sure the compliment went to my head, and not to the knitted, winter mess around my neck.

I was wearing one of my favourite hijabs — an electric blue animal print scarf that often receives positive attention. So I said thank you, and then offered a little more information since he focused on the way it was tied and not on the fabulous colour:
“This turban wrap is from an urban fashion trend in my religious community — so I though I’d try it out.”

He asked which religious community and when I said “Muslim,” he smiled.

That’s what I love about Toronto. You get to meet all sorts of people. Diversity is wonderful. Have you seen the movie “Gravity”? There’s this one scene of the Earth. It looks so majestic and beautiful and it made me wonder why we cause so much war and suffering when the Earth itself is so peaceful and awe-inspiring.”

Over the past couple of weeks, you may have seen this video EVERYWHERE:

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Heather Matthews, with daughters Ellah, 5, and Halle, 2 — via the Daily Mail.

There seems to be nothing more exciting for tabloids than publishing pictures of white women in hijab. Well, unless it’s publishing pictures of white women converts in their racy, hedonistic, pre-Islamic days.

Last month Amy Sall and Heather Matthews told their conversion stories to the tabloid press. And instead of using the stories to dispel myths about Muslims, educate the public about Islam, or even come up with something remotely newsworthy, both news sources emphasized their incredible transformation from “former party girls” to, well … plain old Muslim.

But with fabulously shocking headlines!

The Sun‘s “I’m a blue-eyed, blonde Brit but when I wear hijab in the street I get spat at and abused: Meet the party girl who became a Muslim convert,” focuses on the verbal abuse Amy Sall experiences whenever she wears hijab in public, and the cultural clash she feels exists between the more conservative members of her community and her practice of Islam:

“After all, I’m blonde, blue-eyed, love a drink and have tattoos — hardly your average Muslim woman… I’m still trying to understand the role of women in Muslim society, and I don’t know if I will ever properly fit in. It is like living between two worlds.”

Amy’s conversion story of meeting her current husband while dancing at a nightclub, as well as her new and sincere dedication to practicing Islam, is overwhelmingly overshadowed with anecdotes of her struggles with hijab and drinking alcohol. The article is paired up paired with images of Amy with and without hijab — and drunk, in a pre-Islam night out with her girlfriends.

Despite the fact that she fully admits to not being the best Muslim she could be, she does respect the religion, admires her husband’s piety and plans on raising their three children as Muslim. But the message readers are left with is that she just needs the occasional drink night out, to “reassure myself I am still me.”

Because, you know, this article isn’t really about her conversion, highlighting convert family struggles or celebrating a love story — but about emphasizing that scary, foreign Muslim men are converting white women to a religion that erases their sense of self.

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Recently, (mommy) blogger and activist extraordinaire Safiyyah, turned me on to a particularly condescending and patronizing post on Muslim Matters called “My Dear Ramadan Stay-at-Home Mom, I Salute You.”

No doubt there are moms who will find comfort in some of the suggestions this male author decided to make for women in his terrible attempt to understand what it means to be a mother during Ramadan. I however, really couldn’t connect with his assertions that I long for the days before my girls were born; attending the mosque is a responsibility for men only, so I just shouldn’t worry about it; every woman who stays at home makes it by choice; I use my mensus as an opportunity to slack off; and that it’s simply impossible for a woman with children to attend the mosque.

Newsflash: it’s not impossible, especially if fathers and husbands work with moms and wives to help make it happen. So here’s my response, written in a similar style.


My dear Ramadan feminist dad,

I know how much pain it causes you to leave your wife behind at home, taking care of your children, while you and everybody else enjoys their taraweeh prayers at the mosque. I know how much you miss your family, and yearn for the day you can all grow in the deen together by enjoying the warmth and identity that comes with worshiping as a family in an inclusive mosque.

But I also know how embarrassing it is for you to bring your wife and children to the mosque, with the great hope that they will be welcomed — only to hear about the indignity they suffered after being forced to pray in a small, cramped room with other women and children. That while you enjoyed the gorgeous chandeliers, domed windows, and gold calligraphy in a large, air-conditioned room with other men, your wife had wet Cheerios flicked onto her hijab by an unruly 3-year-old, your young daughter sweated and cried for fresh air and your son ran around with other children screaming and disrupting any semblance of peace and tranquility that is always destroyed when women and children are hidden behind barriers and forgotten in basements.

I know how much you want your wife to enjoy just an hour of peaceful worship during this blessed month of Ramadan and that worship for her is crucial to her self-worth and identity as a Muslim, as well as her relationship with God.

For all the times you help her achieve this and more, my dear Ramadan feminist dad, I salute you, and may Allah reward you.

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Men teach that a woman’s entire body is a part of the definition of nakedness — and thus, “for the sake of the Muslim Ummah and for her own good,” she should cover her entire body. Even her voice should not be beautified, lest it attract the poor, unsuspecting, pious male into entering sin. (source)

And this is why we need more public recitation, supplication and chanting by women. Because they are indeed, beautiful.

 

Hat tip to Hijabman for finding this awesome piece.

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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What makes an “honour killing” an honour killing? When the people involved are Muslim? Sikh? Arab? South Asian? North African?

When does murder due to ego, male pride, jealousy, a violent response to a partner’s infidelity get compartmentalised as domestic homicide?

In the wake of the Shafia murder-trial verdict, with the Canadian Justice Minister saying honour killings are “barbaric with no place in Canada” — Gerald Caplan for the Globe and Mail questions the posturing of honour killings as only a “THEM” phenomena.

And brilliantly argues all domestic violence resulting in murder is an honour killing.

I’ve added emphasis and reproduced much of the article — but you should really read the whole thing.

For some reason, the term honour killings seems to be reserved for murders committed by male family members against daughters or sisters in South Asian or Middle Eastern communities. These unimaginable crimes have been receiving much high-profile notoriety in the Canadian media, as they surely deserve.[…]

But I’m confident that not one in a million is aware that in Ontario alone, from 2002 until only 2007 (the latest data), 212 women have been killed by their partners. That’s 42 every year, compared with 12 so-called honour killings in all of Canada in the past eight years. Women killed by partners are known as domestic homicides, and, unless especially gruesome, are barely worth a mention in the media. Maybe there’s just too many of them to be newsworthy.[…]

What accounts for the high profile of these relatively small number of murders in Canada? Why do we know little or nothing about the larger epidemic of women killed, almost routinely it sometimes seems, by boyfriends or husbands? Is it less terrible to be strangled to death or shot or have your throat slit by them than by family members? Is it just too commonplace to bother paying attention to? Do we still harbour that sneaking suspicion that women murdered by partners have somehow brought it on themselves?

Yet both kinds of murders have a common root. Both are honour killings, reflecting a twisted, pathological male sense of honour. Both are executed by men who feel they haven’t received their due deference, men who consider “their” women, whether daughter or partner, to be their chattel, to do with as they choose. Have we smug white Canadians forgotten that you don’t have to be a Muslim or South Asian to regard women this way? […]

No nation, religion, class or ethnic group has the monopoly on misogyny. Honour killings should be seen not as uniquely evil but as the most extreme and perverse proof of this truth.

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