Challenging Stereotypes: Part I

Challenging Stereotypes: Part I February 17, 2014

This post was originally published at wood turtle.

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.

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.


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.

I don’t want my daughters growing up unguided through a media discourse that removes women’s agency and objectifies their struggles. But I also don’t want them unprepared to challenge a status quo that could prevent them from participating in the community and claiming their Islamic rights.

So I started writing and found an emerging Muslim blogosphere where I was welcome to promote women producing their own readings of the Qur’an, explore women-led-prayer, call for more child and family-friendly mosque spaces, and communicate with other mothers on the challenges of raising Muslim children.

Over the past few years this blogosphere has exploded with fantastic resources that are helpful in the construction of positive conceptions of Muslim women.

Muslimah Media Watch helps deconstruct media stereotypes by critiquing how images of Muslim women appear in media and popular culture. This group blog offers cutting analysis on misogyny, sexism, patriarchy, Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia as they affect Muslim women — with authors often relating posts back to their own lived experience.

Tumblrs such as Badass MuslimahsI am OppressedCounterstorytellingSide Entrance and Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things share images, positive commentaries, videos, opinions, poetry and news stories about Muslim women and their spaces across the globe.

Much different from a bag of garbage, this Afghani girl attends a skateboarding school where 40% of its students are female.

Within the Muslim blogosphere, these photos go viral and are often accompanied with snarky, mocking commentary, such as:

Khadija Mohammed is too oppressed to dead-lift a 200 pound man.

And sometimes, the pictures are left to speak for themselves.

A participant in the counter-protest Muslimah Pride Day holds up a sign responding to FEMEN’s International Topless Jihad Day.
Liza Garza, a Mexican-American Muslim and Emmy award nominated poet and vocalist, redefines the image of motherhood in this fabulous rendering of the Mother Mary.

We’ve also seen an incredible amount of stereotype-challenging videos, such as the recent Mipsterz debate and the uncompromising Yuna. An amazing vocal artist who wears hijab but is defined by her unique sound and not for what’s on her head.

Within the blogosphere as well, there are several popular social media personalities who are re-framing the image of the Muslim mother.

I first saw this image of Shireen Ahmed on Tumblr — but she’s more than a viral picture.

She’s a fierce footballer, social activist, and blogs her experiences as a hijabi player at Tales from a Hijabi Footballer.

According to a recent article in Best Health Magazine, this Canadian-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants is used to the attention her hijab brings to competitive soccer.

A sport she plays for good cardio but also for the benefit of her four children:

I want them to see me play, to see that I’ve got a scarf and that it doesn’t impede. Sometimes crashing assumptions is a good thing. And I’m doing that.

I wanted to learn more about how Shireen is challenging stereotypes and promoting positive images of Muslim women, so I was fortunate to have an amazing interview with her. Over chai and the most delicious Persian ice cream, she shared with me that she’s already started having conversations with her four children about privilege, media biases and bigotry within media.

They understand that media is what you make of it and that you CAN make it and there can be objective influences and participants in that area. Writing, art, anything can help to propagate positive ideas and debunk stereotypes of Muslims.

More importantly, my kids understand that people make choices that differ from others. And that’s OK. They are kids and often things seem black and white and right and wrong. But that is a growth process and journey that they must experience.

I always tell them that “Don’t think out of the box. Live like there is no box.”

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