women


We're all superheroes!

We can all be superheroes!

When I first heard the news that a Muslim woman was the new face of Ms. Marvel, I was beyond excited. For the first time in years, I finally had a great excuse to walk into a comic book store, breathe in the ink and paper, and look at more than just the Doctor Who action figures. Finally, a comic about self discovery, super powers and fighting injustice that not only deal with issues of religion, race and identity — but celebrated the first Muslim heroine to headline her own major series!

What’s not to love?

The first issue opens with Kamala Khan, a teenage Pakistani-Muslim American, complaining about how everyone else around her gets to be “normal” — which in Kamala’s mind means being able to go to parties, be free from dietary restrictions, cultural expectations, and traditional gender roles.

Like many teens (and adults!), the poor girl doesn’t know who she wants to be, or how to become that person — and soon realizes that rejecting her morals and being something she’s not is horribly exhausting.

Kamala’s story is similar to many superhero narratives where an unpopular kid is suddenly granted an empowering and amazing transformative ability — literally. After disobeying her parents in order to attend a party, she’s exposed to a strange and mystical fog that grants her the power to change her body into anything she wants.

She wakes from the experience to find that she’s transformed into a stereotypical, blond bombshell superhero — complete with a revealing, sexy spandex costume. And while she painfully fluctuates between her true self and the stereotype, she wonders why she still doesn’t feel strong or beautiful — even though she’s become exactly what she thinks is strong and beautiful.

When her intimidating popular classmates show up, she feels incredibly uncomfortable – like she has to become someone else to be accepted by those around her. And to escape the feeling that she’s now trapped in a body that she doesn’t identify with, she shrinks to the size of an insect. Then, when a classmate is in danger of drowning, she embraces her new powers and saves the day.

Kamala quickly learns that looking the way female super heroes are normally portrayed in comic books and in movies (with epic wedgie-inducing leotards), doesn’t actually make her more confident. What’s meaningful to her and her sense of Self is having the ability to rush to someone’s aid. It’s not the costume that makes someone a hero, but the desire to help others: To save one life is to save all humanity.

In the second issue, Kamala embraces more of her internal superhero without compromising her morals (cue modest costume). But what I really love about the writing and issues of representation, exclusion and identity, is that it’s not coming off as inauthentic. This iteration of Ms. Marvel is creating characters that move beyond the overrepresented, negative stereotypes of Muslim women in a new and exciting way.

Kamala is geeky. She loves the Avengers. She’s short. She’s so much more than a Muslim stereotype.

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And in the third issue, when she’s not taking on super villains, she’s taking challenging barriers.

The fact that she’s dealing with issues like Muslim-American identity, mosque inclusion, and struggling with her faith is important – and not because Muslims should be airing their dirty laundry for mainstream community discussion. But because when it comes to representation, we’re frequently told that Muslim women are oppressed.

Kamala Khan shows us otherwise — and by doing so, sets the scene that there is no reason Ms. Marvel can’t be Pakistani or Muslim (or short and geeky too).


THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

Winners to be announced shortly.

Thank you to everyone for participating.

It took me WEEKS to find a comic store who’s still ordering the first issue. And I’m happy to say that for this giveaway we’ll have two lucky winners!

All you have to do is leave a comment on this post with a valid email address (either in the comment itself or in the email field when you fill out the comment form).

The two winners will receive one copy of the first issue (third printing) for FREE!

I’ll announce the winners picked at random after the contest closes.

You have until midnight GMT on Friday June 6, 2014 to enter.

Good Luck!

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”?

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There’s a half eaten bag of halal marshmallows sitting next to me, and if I have to eat the rest of it to get this edition of the roundup out to you, then so be it.

Despite a few amazing weeks with Muslim musings on the permissibility of performing Hajj using a Robot double, creeping sharia’ masquerading as a fashionable medical mask, a fatwa against a one-way ticket to Mars, a UK Tory councillor expelled from his party after comparing Muslim women to garbage bags, International Muslimah Fashion Week cancelled amid claims of fraud, and the opening of a German Halal Fry Haus in Toronto while FEMEN tried to *yawn* get Muslim women in Berlin to strip naked for freedom — basically only two items consumed the hearts, minds and social media activities of the entire Islamosphere.

Eesa-gate and Alice in Arabia.

So grab some hot chocolate before the marshmallows run out, and enjoy!


Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 11.51.33 PM1) Do you remember “Not Without my Daughter“? You MUST remember “Not Without my Daughter.” Even if you have never seen the movie, you might have a vague sense of its plot line because it is so ingrained in American pop-cultural stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs.

It doesn’t really matter that this movie was made in 1991 (NOT in the early 80’s folks. Big hair continued for a very long time). Or that it was met with intense criticism and, by all accounts, was a box-office flop, or that Sally Field won the Razzie Award for Worst Actress for her role as a white-woman-surviving-life-behind-the-veil. “Not Without my Daughter” was one of nearly 350 films created in the span of 30 years that depicted Arabs and Muslims as evil terrorists, rich oil sheikhs, belly dancers or oppressed movie props.

What matters is that this movie represents a standard plot outline for the inclusion of Muslim characters in film and television — limiting this inclusion to the irate, angry terrorist and the voiceless Muslim woman.

Last week, ABC Family proposed AND canceled Alice in Arabia — a “high stakes drama” about a rebellious “good” Muslim American teenage girl kidnapped by her extended royal Saudi Arabian family and forced to live with them survive life in, under, through, beneath, surrounded by, within, astern, on the other side of, yonder, backside, lost to, intra-, behind the veil.

But thanks to the combined awesome power of Muslims, Arabs, allies, and concerned interest groups online, ABC fell to the immense pressure from negative responses and got the message that it just wasn’t cool to rely on tired stereotypes to win ratings. So they did the honourable thing and blamed everyone:

The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project.

What were they expecting? Confetti and a ticker-tape parade with FEMEN floats?

Now, was this show intended to bridge gaps, educate younger viewers on American Muslim Interfaith Dialogue, or perhaps just have a snappy, alliterative title? No, according to the show’s creator, it was “meant to give Arabs and Muslims a voice on American TV.” Awww. Precious. Because outside of token characters on Community and Degrassi Junior High, there are no positive Arab or Muslim voices available for television. Right?

Wrong. From the fantastically brilliant star, Miss Sara Yasin:

There’s an entire generation of creative Arab-American itching to tell stories that fall outside of the usual narrative. There’s Rola Nashef, who wrote Detroit Unleaded, a romantic comedy about two first generation Lebanese-Americans who fall in love. There’s also Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, whose documentary about Egypt’s 2011 revolution, The Square, earned her an Academy Award nomination this year. There are performers like Maysoon Zayid, a Palestinian-American comedian with cerebral palsy. Or Dean Obeidallah, another Palestinian-American comedian and filmmaker, who has dedicated his career to flipping the narrative around Muslims and Arabs in the United States. And the list goes on and on.

Alice in Arabia never saw the light of day, but I’m certain it’ll be revamped in some fashion for another episode of Law and Order, Homeland, or maybe, if we’re really, really lucky, networks will figure out the importance of having authentic voices as a part of the planning process to create a nuanced and engaging show.

Or, you know, just schedule re-runs of Little Mosque.

womenhateeachother12) From the writers who created your favourite sitcom “Shaykh Yerbouti” and the award winning cooking show “Shaykh and Bake,” comes a new mini-drama guaranteed to ignite community passions: Shaykhdown.

Here’s a brief summary: Abu Eesa, a popular Islamic teacher from the Al-Maghrib Institute made incendiary and violent misogynistic, anti-feminist, and racist comments to ridicule the occasion of International Women’s Day over several Social Media channels.

One post was so horrific, people claimed it should have come with a trigger warning.

Naturally, when the online response was less than positive, the “scholar” used some passive aggressive male privilege to sort-of apologize and say it was all just a joke that feminist and secular-types are just not going to understand.

After the initial shock with a lot of people (myself included) asking, “who IS this guy?” an incredible outpouring flooded Facebook and Twitter. There are “millions of people like Abu Eesa out there who find it funny to demean, mock, and belittle women’s struggles.” Sick of hearing “jokes” made at the expense of marginalized voices in memes and from the minbar, Eesa-gate was a perfect opportunity for people to discuss issues of leadership accountability and rape culture.

And while some lamented that people on both sides of the debate should have taken the discussion offline instead of starting a petition to fire him, others claimed that Abu Eesa should have stopped while he was ahead instead of going for an “abashed articulation of male supremacy.”

Regardless, the entire affair became a great conversation starter on the the importance of responsibility and how we can understand and define feminism of the western and Muslim-type.

The Islamic Monthly had a brief history of Feminism and stressed that community leaders have a responsibility to not make cheap comments. Naheed Mustafa of CBC/Radio-Canada wrote an impassioned open letter on how Abu Eesa is making brown men look like clowns through his casual misogyny. Hind Makki wrote that rape, physical assault and female genital mutilation are topics that should be beyond the scope of acceptable “jokes” within the context of Islamic educational institutions. Many stressed the obvious: women’s rights are human rights and that women deserve respect.

Obvious, right? But this is why we need Feminism AND basic Islamicquette. Because the obvious doesn’t come easy when the norm to ridicule and belittle is supported by an entire patriarchal “joke” system. Or when *soft patriarchy* attempts to make things right by claiming women are actually really awesome when men help them achieve their potential (really? gee thanks guys).

Which is why throughout all of this, so many people stressed: “Speak that which is good or remain silent.”

**”soft patriarchy”™ Laury Silvers 2014.

3) And finally, after the dust settled, people got back to the Islamosphere’s other favourite stereotype-bashing pastime: belly dance.

Check out Why I can’t stand white belly dancers, I STILL can’t stand white belly dancers, and Muslimah Media Watch’s fantastic roundtable on the time belly dance broke the Internet.

And here’s a little 90’s Eurodance cultural appropriation to start your week off right:

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

There are amazing media makers in the Muslim blogosphere and this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the fabulous people out there challenging stereotypes. In fact, I’ve had to split this post into two in order to include everyone. Stay tuned for Part II.

If you have a favourite example that’s not represented here, please share it in the comments below!   


Muslim women and mothers are creating online spaces to challenge popular, negative stereotypes and to celebrate their empowerment. Intentionally or not, they’re propagating dialogue with authentic voices — encouraging the creation of positive narratives of Muslim women, for themselves and their families.

My own work in this area began three years ago — when I was inspired to start this blog on Muslim feminism and motherhood after breastfeeding Eryn at the mosque.

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A two year old Eryn looking over the barrier at the ISNA mosque.

My first daughter was born with a very persistent, demanding nursing attitude. From day one, she would hit my breast, cough and sputter, screech and complain until the flow was to her liking. Needless to say, struggling with her kept me from nursing in public for months.

Until the day we needed to take a pit stop at a local mosque.

Men and women traditionally pray separately in a shared prayer hall — but over the past 30 years, barrier use across North America has increased dramatically, with 72% of Canadian mosques erecting some kind of partition — or relegating the women’s prayer space to a separate room, like a balcony or basement.

The reasons are complicated, ranging from cultural expectations, personal preference, to religious conservatism.

Connected to the rise of the barrier, unfortunately, is the gradual exclusion of women from the mosque and the creation of hostile spaces.

So there I was, the only woman in attendance during the afternoon prayer, sitting behind a thick curtain with a room full of men on the other side. The mosque was so silent you could hear a pin drop — and that’s when my daughter wanted to nurse.

Loudly.

And while she coughed, and sputtered — slurped and gurgled for everyone to hear, I simultaneously got over my fear of nursing in public, and embraced the moment as a feminist act. I may have been excluded and segregated from the main prayer hall — but oh yes, my presence was impossible to ignore.

I felt it was important to take issues like this online to create and join spaces to discuss misogyny and patriarchy found in some of our communities. To share experiences and address ambiguities regarding women’s roles in Islam from within and without.

Because yes, while the media loves to paint a picture of the oppressed, covered Muslim woman, it is over-simplified. Muslim women are not defined — or oppressed — by what they wear on their head. The hijab is not the source of women’s oppression.

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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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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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