Islamophobic ‘feminism’ doesn’t help Muslim women

By multiple authors

The Ottawa Citizen | October 3, 2016


Time and tired time again, we have seen how the claim of standing up for Muslim women has served as a pretext for singling out Islam and Muslims for excoriation. This was the case in the recent furor over Toronto’s Valley Park Middle School providing space for Muslim students to pray (in which girls and boys sat separately), and in the previous federal government’s efforts to prohibit women in niqabs from becoming Canadian citizens.

The castigation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for attending an Ottawa mosque on Eid ul-Adha is the latest in this string of manufactured controversies. Trudeau’s recent visit to the mosque, where men and women pray in separate areas (but are mixed during other events), has been condemned as a betrayal of “feminism” and collusion with patriarchy.

Never mind that some of Canada’s most élite educational institutions also practise the apparently cardinal sin of gender separation, in the form of single-sex schools. And never mind that former prime minister Stephen Harper also visited religious spaces where men and women are separated, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2014.

It is high time we saw through the pretence that these campaigns against Muslim “misogyny” have anything to do with the well-being of Muslim women.

If they did, one would expect them to be more concerned with accuracy than with sensationalism. For example, one commentator’s assertion that a female prime minister would not have been allowed to address the Ottawa mosque from the front is contradicted by the fact that several women, including Ottawa West-Nepean MP Anita Vandenbeld and Islamic Studies Prof. Ingrid Mattson, have done precisely that.
And one would expect them to pay some attention to the actual voices, experiences and perspectives of the women whose rights and interests are at stake, instead of completely ignoring most except for the few who represent Islam as the entire cause of Muslim women’s suffering.

This is not solidarity with Muslim women, but racism thinly veiled in the language of “feminism.”

While the demonization of Islam and Muslims as exceptionally oppressive certainly advances the cause of racist stereotyping, it does little to benefit the women in whose interests these sometime champions for equality claim to speak. On the contrary, Muslim women bear a heavy part of the burden of violence and hatred generated by these stereotypes.

According to Statistics Canada, “from 2010 to 2013, Muslim populations had the highest percentage of hate crime victims who were female (47 per cent).” Women wearing the hijab and the niqab have been physically attacked in cities across Canada and the United States. A few weeks ago, two Muslim women were assaulted while strolling their babies in Brooklyn; their assailant punched one of the women in the face, tried to rip off their headscarves, and yelled “Get the f— out of America, b—–s.” In June, a Muslim woman was punched, spat on and had her hijab pulled while shopping with her four-month-old son in London, Ont.

The critics who are so incensed by the subjugation of Muslim women tend to be conspicuously silent when the agents of violence are non-Muslims, motivated by the Islamophobic narratives that they have helped perpetuate. So much for a principled stand against gendered violence and inequality.

In Canada, Muslim women have been at the forefront of vital struggles for justice, equality, and freedom: Monia Mazigh, who advocated for the liberation of her husband, Maher Arar, when he was secretly imprisoned and tortured in Syria with Canadian complicity; Zunera Ishaq, who successfully challenged the government’s discriminatory ban on face-veils at citizenship ceremonies; Yusra Khogali, who is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Toronto; Rania El-Alloul, who is asking the Quebec government to assure Quebecers they have a right to wear their religious clothing in the province’s courtrooms; and far too many others to list them all by name.

We are fighting the struggles that need to be fought on several fronts: against sexism, against racism, against Islamophobia. We do not need to be told what to wear on our faces and on our heads and on our bodies, or where to sit when we pray. And we definitely do not need to be “saved” by ideologues who are only interested in Islam to prove its supposed inferiority, or as a proxy for attacking a political party. It is an insult to Muslim women’s agency and intelligence to be rendered silent puppets in a stale supremacist script.

This column was submitted by 20 prominent Muslim-Canadian women:

Shireen Ahmed: Writer

Natasha Bakht: Associate Professor of Law, University of Ottawa

Rima Berns-McGown, PhD: Lecturer, University of Toronto

Katherine Bullock, PhD: Writer and Lecturer

Amira Elghawaby: Communications Director, National Council of Canadian Muslims

Idil Issa: Writer

Samira Kanji: President, Noor Cultural Centre

Azeezah Kanji: Writer

Sheema Khan: Writer

Rabia Khedr: Activist; Trainer and Consultant, diversityworX

Ingrid Mattson, PhD: London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies, Huron University College

Minelle Mahtani, PhD: Associate Professor, University of Toronto

Monia Mazigh, PhD: Academic, Author, and Human Rights Activist

Zarqa Nawaz: Creator, Little Mosque on the Prairie; Director, Me and the Mosque

Idrisa Pandit, PhD: Director and Associate Professor, Studies in Islam, Renison University College

Nevin Reda, PhD: Assistant Professor of Muslim Studies, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Shahina Siddiqui: President, Islamic Social Services Association

Itrath Syed: PhD Candidate, Simon Fraser University

Sunera Thobani, PhD: Associate Professor, University of British Columbia

Jasmin Zine, PhD: Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University

*Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.