In this episode, Emily addresses a prevalent problem in Morocco and around the world: street harassment. Emily unpacks and breaks down some of the common reasons given for street harassment, from orientalist misunderstandings of Arab men as over-sexualized to misguided associations of street harassment with Islam, from unemployment and boredom to the litany of victim-blaming reasons given by men for why they do it.  As usual, she cuts to the heart of the matter to understand rape culture and the power struggle at the heart of this epidemic problem and issues a revolutionary call for change that starts with YOU. #fierce #boyswillbeheldaccountable #womenwillbefierce #riseup #slay

For other episodes in this series, click here.

Letters to Our Brothers can be found here.

In this episode, Emily explores her evolution in understanding about why Muslim women wear the hijab – what it means, how they feel when they wear it and how it stands in opposition to consumer capitalist culture. She also talks about her own personal expression of womanhood in light of these realizations and how these have changed from caring about the male-gaze to feeling confident and body-positive with herself, irrespective of what everyone else is thinking or doing.

While the problem of Islamophobia might seem like a relatively recent media buzzword, it actually describes a phenomenon that goes back to the beginning of revelation and one that has been dealt with by each of Allah’s prophets in different ways from Adam (a.s.) to Muhammad (saw). In times of increasing insecurity about our positions as Muslims in the West and the world at large, as well as increasing instances of divisive political rhetoric and verbal and physical assault against Muslims, members of our Ummah are uncertain about the most appropriate course of action when dealing with discrimination. Many feel angry, fearful or helpless. What better example do we have for dealing with these difficulties than the last messenger of Allah himself, Muhammad (saw), and the one who endured the worst abuses hurled at himself, at Islam and at Muslims in the history of our Deen?

Firstly, Muhammad (saw) was commanded personally and along with all other Muslims, to be patient with the abusers and forgive them. Allah tells us, “You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allah – indeed that is of the matters [worthy] of determination.” (Qur’an 3:186) Further, among many other instances, Allah adds, “And do not obey the disbelievers and the hypocrites; and disregard their hurt and put your trust in Allah; and sufficient is Allah as a Disposer of Affairs.” (33:48)

Further, by being exemplary practitioners of the Deen and refusing to respond to provocations in a manner that is ignorant, we are also embodying the methods of the Prophet (saw) in enduring and rising above abuse. He sought refuge in Allah as he was commanded to and, in doing so, gained the respect of his perpetrators, caring for them even in the face of their abuse. One excellent example of this as recorded in Sahih Bukhari and Muslim recounts an incident that occurred when the Prophet (saw) travelled to a neighbouring town of Taif. Contained within is a beautiful supplication that creates peace in the heart when recited in emulation of him.

In Taif, the elders of the town planned an organized campaign to ridicule the Prophet (saw). To escalate their disapproval of the Prophet and prevent him from preaching Islam, they set a group of children and vagabonds behind him who then pestered and threw stones at him. Tired, forsaken and wounded, he sought refuge in a nearby garden which belonged to Atabah and Shaibah, two wealthy chiefs of the Quraish. They were both there when Prophet Muhammad entered and sat under a distant tree. The Prophet raised his face towards heaven and prayed:

“O Almighty! I raise unto you my complaint for my weakness, my helplessness, and for the ridicule to which I have been subjected. O Merciful! You are the Master of all oppressed people, You are my God! So to whom would You consign me? To the strangers who would ill-treat me, or to the enemies who have an upper hand over me? If whatever has befallen me is not because of Your wrath, then I fear not. No doubt, the field of Your security and care is wide enough for me. I seek refuge in Your light which illuminates darkness and straightens the affairs of this world and hereafter, that Your displeasure and wrath may not descend upon me. For the sake of Your pleasure, I remain pleased and resigned to my fate. No change in this world occurs without Your Will.”

Atabah and Shaibah were watching. They sent for their servant named Adaas and gave him a plate full of grapes. “Take this to that man under the tree,” they ordered, which he did. As the Prophet (saw) picked the grapes he said: “In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate”. Adaas had never heard this before and was impressed by it, because the Prophet was invoking mercy and compassion of Almighty in spite of all his hardship.

“Who are you?” Adaas asked. Muhammad replied, “I am the Prophet of God. Where do you come from?” The servant said: “I am Adaas, a Christian. I come from Nainava.”

“Nainava? You come from a place where my brother Yunus bin Mati (Jonah son of Mati) lived,” the Prophet said. Adaas was surprised to hear the name. “What do you know of Yunus? Here no one seems to know him. Even in Nainava there were hardly ten people who knew his father’s name.” The Prophet said: “Yes, I know him because just like me, he was a Prophet of Almighty God.” Adaas fell on his knees before the Prophet, kissed his hand and embraced him.

It is further reported that after the Prophet took refuge from the stone throwing mob, Angel Jibreel came to the Prophet and asked him if he so wished Jibreel would give the command to bury the city between two mountains. Although the Prophet had suffered a great deal at the hands of these people, he replied that he did not wish destruction for the people of Taif because maybe their offspring would proclaim the religion of truth. Even in his moment of earthly suffering, he still maintained righteous behaviour and compassion – an example we can all benefit from witnessing through our learning.

This article was originally written for Islam 101, a monthly publication in Edmonton, Alberta.

Last week, I spoke about Reconciliation to a room full of white people. I was invited by a local holistic health clinic to come speak before their keynote lecturer because a friend of mine that works there had let them know I am raising money in support of the Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership Cree cultural camp at the University of Alberta. I have done many talks for a variety of different audiences before, but this was the first time, in a very long time, that I was only one of four people in the room who belong to a visible minority. And I was certainly the only apparent Muslim in the room.

You can imagine my trepidation at suddenly realizing what I was about to do: I was about to stand in front of these people from a dominant socio-economic and racial strata of society, and I was going to talk to them about being on Treaty 6 territory, about our responsibility as settlers and refugees on Indigenous and First Nations land, about why adopting the language of reconciliation is important but why putting that language into action is even more critical to moving forward. About why this was their responsibility. About why someone like me –an ally – should not be ignored. This is difficult enough for anyone to do, never mind me as a Muslim.

I think the latter point is where my nerves kicked in: would this group of people see me – a veiled, Muslim woman – as an ally of the process of reconciliation and Indigenous peoples? Would I be harming the cause by appearing in front of such a group when so many view me and my Islam as a social adversary already?

Of course, I am not speaking to anxieties about this group of people in particular, but systemic uncertainties that made me think twice before talking to them – anxieties I hadn’t really had in over a year as a public speaker. The actual people in the room were friendly and inviting, and when I started speaking, I could see heads nodding as I acknowledged Treaty 6 and touched on points about our duties as people sharing this space with regards to how we could support the creation of safe spaces for young Cree women “to just be free to be Cree.”

After I spoke, the keynote was introduced and the main lecture began. I had to take off but I left an envelope on the side that people could put donations in, reminding myself not to be too disappointed if it came back empty. Yes, heads had been nodding, but no one clapped when I was done talking. And maybe my veil was just too much of a barrier for people to get past, even if they agreed with the words coming out of my mouth.

In the end, people did donate – enough, in fact, to cover all of the costs of food and crafting supplies for one young girl attending the camp for its two-week duration. But even if they hadn’t, I came to realize how powerful the whole experience was socially, if not monetarily. Rather than being anxious about talking to white people about reconciliation as a Muslim woman, I should have viewed it as an incredible opportunity to challenge what it means to stand in solidarity with one another.

I stood there as a Muslim woman calling for sisterhood, regardless of where our sisters come from, how they look and the culture they practice – a sisterhood that celebrates those origins and appearances and cultural elements. I stood there as a Muslim woman, enjoining people to what is just and compassionate behaviour – to contemplate their social position and what responsibilities it entails to others around them. I stood there as a Muslim woman imploring people to learn about one another and help create spaces for Indigenous people to learn about themselves. I didn’t do this in spite of my Islam, as I belatedly realized: I did this because of my Islam. Because respect, protecting the freedom to worship, enjoining what is just and kind, and seeking knowledge are all cornerstones of my way of life. In standing before a group of white people, talking to them about reconciliation, I was unintentionally dispelling misconceptions about my own people. And any chance we have to share with one another and explore intersections of knowledge to come to greater mutual understanding should never be taken lightly.

For some, what happened last week may have only been a ten minute fundraising speech to garner funds for social change. To me, it was the change itself that we are all looking for.

In solidarity,

Nakita

To donate to my campaign in support of the YIWCL’s Cree Women’s Cultural Camp, please visit: www.gofundme.com/creewomenscamp. Our next group run is on December 4th – pledge a runner today.

Image Credit: “Over Time We Come Together 2015″ by Cassie Leatham”


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

 

Dear Non-Muslim Allies,

We are living in a time of great unrest. While there are many causes worthy of our attention, today I need to talk to you about something very important: Islamophobia.

You might think this subject does not have much to do with you other than outraging you every time you hear about xenophobes spinning gravel at me with their pick-up truck wheels or some intolerant old man at the mall telling me to go back where I came from. You might think that your outrage is enough.

It is critical to realize that Islamophobia is not just about hijabi women being called out in the street or even violently attacked. It is not just about people calling us sand n*ggers. It is not just about the implicit bias we are up against daily, every time we apply for schools, for jobs, for positions we are overqualified for and rejected from because we are named after our beloved Prophets (peace be upon them) or their companions. Islamophobia is also about mass Muslim death going unnoticed and uncared for. About unspoken genocides, about massacres of Muslim children, about destroying our right to self-determination and life, about artificial famines that starve our people, about 1.2 million Iraqis dead without an apology, without the world batting an eyelash never mind shedding a tear.

In The Other America, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.”

Islamophobia might not be the “new” racism to some but it follows a similar distorted logic. It is not only about the micro and macroaggressions Muslims face daily. It is about the end logic of what those aggressions mean– that the people who hate us ultimately believe we do not deserve to exist. That we are collateral damage on their way to homogenizing the world as they see fit. Can you imagine this being your daily reality? That someone hates you enough to think you don’t deserve another breath of air on this earth?

I, for one, try not to live in fear, but at the same time, I cannot dismiss what I know to be truer than most: Islamophobia exists in its most subtle and most violent forms. It is pervasive and it is far more common than people realize (or want to realize). Dear ally, step one is to recognize this. Don’t dismiss this. Don’t tell me it is all in my head. Don’t tell me I am being overly cautious. Or dramatic.

Step two is to reject Islamophobia with all your heart. Recognize that, despite your best efforts at acceptance and understanding, you are immersed in a culture that creates negative associations with me and my religion at every possible opportunity. Even Muslims suffer from the internalization of these oft-repeated and relentless messages. Many of us have come to stereotype ourselves and even reject our religion for the lies told about it. Recognize that you likely have implicit bias. Recognize it when it rears its ugly head: when something I do “pleasantly” surprises you, when you have to overcome your shock at seeing my hair for the first time, when you find yourself wondering just what I keep under that headscarf, when you think of our men and women as over-sexualized, when you think of Islam as a monolith and fail to see our incredible diversity, when you don’t think of me as a capable resource first, or second, or ever. De-bias yourself consciously, daily, feverishly.

Step three is action. No, dear ally, outrage is not enough. Returning to your life after glimpsing our reality is simply not enough. Waiting for Muslims to liberate themselves, to demand their freedom, to take their rightful space back is not enough. Waiting for us to explain ourselves, to educate the ignorant masses, to change the minds of non-Muslim non-allies is not enough. We are doing everything we can but we need your cooperation. You occupy a unique space of privilege. You exist in a space where audiences will listen to what you have to say about Islam because they perceive you as having no vested interests in the outcome of your teaching. You exist in a space where people will listen. I know, because I used to exist there too, before I converted.

Some of the greatest allies have not been those people who occupy the highest levels of privilege. The greatest non-Muslim allies have typically been those who too experience prejudice: people of colour, Sikhs, Jews, LGBTQ people and women. The minorities who also get spit on, who get discriminated against, who are abused, who are killed are often the first to stand with us. And it does not go unnoticed. We see you standing there with us. We thank you.

But if you occupy a socio-economic space of dominance, your outrage is not enough. Your introspection is not enough. Your personal de-biasing is not enough. You need to create spaces to centralize our voices. You need to #makeitawkward wherever you can. You need to speak out against injustice and celebrate our difference. You need to check out all the things you can do right now to combat Islamophobia. You need to initiate projects and plans that do these things. You need to be at the forefront of education on these subjects, engaging as stakeholders. You have something at stake here, in all of this: how you choose to stand up for a people marginalized, your integrity.

Does this seem like too much of a burden to bear? Am I asking too much from you? Are other marginalized peoples calling on you too? Are you tired? I understand your concern. I feel it when I am called on to stand up for others too. I feel exhausted by the weight of my own circumstance combined with the need to alleviate the suffering of others.

But I take solace in the collective. Take solace in knowing that you might not be able to save the world but you can join forces with other people who are trying to repair it, in their corners of this crazy place with the tools and talents they have their disposal. No small effort in the way of compassion is ever wasted.

Anas Ibn Malik narrated that the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said “If the Hour (of the End of Time) were established upon one of you while he had in his hand a tree sapling, then let him plant it.”*

In solidarity,

Nakita

*(Musnad Imam Ahmad 12491)


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.