Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Face of Islam

WoodTurtle is a Canadian Muslim feminist currently using her extended maternity leave to explore developments of Islamic feminism in the Western and Muslim world.  As a woman who wears the hijab (owns several abayas and a niqab monogrammed with her initials in pink, sparkly sequins), she writes frequently on genderized Islamophobia. She also works toward dispelling myths and stereotypes about women in Islam for both Muslims and non.  

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.

 Canada needs to protect its citizens from people like me by closing down mosques and Islamic schools, and to ensure that my daughter is not brainwashed and indoctrinated into an ideology of hate and violence. My hijab keeps me dependent upon my husband – I will never be employable or have friends. I may call myself a moderate Muslim, but a true moderate is someone who rejects Islam completely. As a convert, not only have I betrayed my European heritage for a backward Arabian worldview, but I’ve increased the Muslim lobby in the West – which supports the establishment of shariah and threatens Canada's fragile democracy. The Hubby should completely assimilate by purging himself of his Arab and South Asian cultures, wear plaid and drink beer when he's at the curling club. To make things easier on everyone, followers of Islam should just go back to where they came from.

At least, that’s what the notoriously anti-Islam Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, said in Toronto last week.
“If (Muslims) want to have Islamic culture, (they should) stay in the country where (they) came from,” said Wilders, who is doing his first-ever speaking tour of Canada. “There is no moderate Islam...There is no good part of the Qur’an.” (source)
Despite the fact that Wilders was invited by Canadian supporters, his trip to Ontario was largely ignored by mainstream media sources -- only finding mention in the more conservative and tabloid newspapers. And while it might be sad to think that only about 20 people showed up to protest, many more had absolutely no idea he was here, or what he was here to do: namely, to incite hatred against Islam and promote racist anti-immigration policies.

Wilders has said that he fears Europe is turning into 'Eurabia' and that Europe and North America will soon fall to a violent and oppressive Islamic regime unless countries world wide adopt strict assimilation policies for immigrants, and curtail immigration from Muslim countries. These arguments rely on the preconception that Muslims only come from Arabia or "Arabian influenced" countries. They are ignorant, backwards, inferior, oppressed, exotic, hidden, and are potentially dangerous. Extremists are exactly the same -- but they also veil, grow long beards and wear "ethnic" clothing.

Accordingly, it doesn't matter that Arabs only make up about 20% of the world's Muslim population. It doesn't matter that the largest demographic of the Muslim population is African American. It really doesn't matter that 99% of Muslims reject extremism. And I guess it doesn't matter that one of the strengths of the Muslim community is in its diversity -- from culture to political views, or sexuality to religious interpretation.

To say that Muslims in North America feel isolated is a gross understatement. Politicians like Wilders succeed in fear mongering by playing up the stereotype of the extremist Islamist terrorist and by arguing that because the root of extremism is found within the religion itself, all Muslims should be suspect. Islamohobia of this kind is not only grounded in complete ignorance and a refusal to consult real, live Muslims on the actual nature and understanding of their faith, but is absolutely based upon a racist preconception of what Muslims look like and who we are.

This construction of Muslims as scary foreign men who hate the West, or as oppressed women in need of saving, is nothing new. But I think it's important to continue having this discussion -- especially since it's being carried on without Muslims anyway.

As I said in a recent post, there's an irrational fear that foreign-based, extremist interpretations of Islam are creeping into America and a number of states are trying to ban Islamic religious law in response to this fear. The face of Islam is being constructed and interpreted by outside forces and this in turn is adding extra pressure on the Muslim community to respond by defining ourselves in opposition to this construction: "this is what I am not" instead of, "this is who I am."

Image credit: Ridwan Adhami