Unveiled sentiments: Gendered Islamophobia and
Experiences of Veiling among Muslim Girls in a
Canadian Islamic School
AU: Jasmin Zine
• Focuses on dual oppression of racism and Islamophobia in society at large
and patriarchal oppression and sexism from w/in their communities.
o Ethnographic accounts of veiling among Muslim girls who attended a
gendered-segregated Islamic school in Toronto, allows understanding of
gendered religious identities are constructed in the schooling experiences
of these Muslim youth.
• Islamophobia defined as “a fear or hatred of Islam and its adherents that
translates into individual, ideological and systemic forms of oppression and
• These Muslim girls construct their identities in opposition to the stereotypes
they encounter in the media. In their public school experiences that portray
them as “oppressed”, backward and uneducated.
• W/in the troubling socio-political context, Islamic schools continue to be safe
for these girls’ b/c they find freedom from radicalized and Islamophobic
• The author examines how the multiple identities (intersectionality) that they
inhabit as social actors based on race, ethnicity, religion and gendered
position them in marginalized sites w/in the racialized borders of diaspora
Context of Islamic Schools in Ontario
• According to Ontario Ministry of Education reported in 1999, 2,240 children
attended Islamic schools but Muslim community estimated that as many as
4,000 students were enrolled. Some Islamic schools have waiting lists of 650
students or more.
• 18 full-time schools in Toronto and a total of 35 Islamic schools are situated
across the province of Ontario.
• One school belongs to the Shia tradition. (another form of Muslims with
different set of beliefs different from Sunni Muslims)
• The schools are gender segregated from grade 4 and high schools have
separate section of the building designated for girls and boys. After children
reach their puberty religious codes for modesty in dress, manner and social
distance b/w members of the opposite sex become instituted.
• Gendered Islamophobia is central to the analysis of Muslim women and
girls in western diasporas is the notion referred to as gendered Islamophobia.
o This can be understood as specific forms of ethno-religious and racialized
discrimination against Muslim women that leads from the historically
contextualized negative stereotypes that inform individual and systematic
forms of oppression. o Various forms of oppression are supported through both individual and
• The nature of gendered Islamophobia as it operates socially, politically and
discursively to deny material advantages to Muslim women.
Banning Hijab in Public Schools: Case Studies from France and Quebec
• L’affair du foulard also known as “affair of the scarf” refers to the French
controversy started when 3 Muslim adolescent girls were denied access to
public school because they wore the hijab. This is an act that defies a 1937
French law prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in
government run schools. It debated over nationalism and perceived threat of
growing ethno-racial and religious diversity.
• Xenophobia fear or dislike of strangers or the unknown, often used to
describe nationalistic political beliefs and movements
• The reason showed in defence of the law was that it did so under the grounds
that “the veil is a sign of imprisonment that considers women to be sub-
humans under the law of Islam”.
• Many feminists resonated with this notion and supported that hijab is a
symbol of gender inequality.
• L’affair du foulard stimulated troubling discourses of fear, aversion, otherness
and even sub-humanness in relation to Muslim girls and the veil that
overshadowed the fundamental issue of religious freedom as a human right.
• The case of Emily, 12 yr old, French Canadian convert to Islam, was expelled
from school for wearing hijab.
o B/c hijab or neo-Nazi symbols could polarize the aggressiveness of
students, therefore equating the hijab with facism and invoking a
discourse of fear and repression.
o In the political context, the hijab was not only a way of constructing the
Islamic other as a threat to liberal civic value but it also polarized French
nationalism with Anglophone federalism.
o Author argues that Emilie’s Islamization was viewed as racial
transgression.... b/c she is a white convert. As a result she became
racialized as she didn’t confirm to the normative cultural standards
o Author also says that it threatened the French nationalist goal of
developing a “distinct society” with a French character.
o Lenk pointed that media excluded the point of view of Emilie and failed to
include voices of other Muslim women in the debates. This unequal
representation was evident by the fact that Muslim women’s voice was
excluded from the media and public discourse but on the other hand it
becomes an issue when a white woman decides to put hijab on and write
about her experience.
• Quebec’s human rights commission ruled that public schools can’t forbid the
wearing of religious headscarves.
The Politics of Veiling
• Patriarchal standards to bodily acceptability drive women to self-denied and
cosmetic augmentations through the “violence of narcissism” that results as
new cultural change of the female body that she describes as slender or
starving body, the tattooed body. • Muslims women’s bodies are gender coded and form a “cultural text” for the
expression of social, political and religious meanings.
Corporal Inscriptions: Muslim Meanings of Veiling
• Corporeal inscriptions communicate social and political messages through
specific forms and styles of dress. Through this process meanings are
mapped onto the body as if is presented and packaged for public
consumption and spectacle.
• The bodies of veiled women operate as cultural signifiers of social difference
and social threat and represents fidelity to a patriarchal order, which is a
danger to women’s autonomy.
• The notion of Orientalism origins where depictions of veiled women in the
colonial imagery ranged from oppressed and subjugated women to the highly
sexualized and erotic imagery of the sensual yet inaccessible, harem girl.
Veiled Muslim women are constructed as an object of fear and desire at the
• The veil has been used as a form of political protest and class-based
signification, it’s a means of maintaining the body as a space of “sacred
The Veil in religious Paradigms: the Hermeneutics of Dress
• The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated that at the age of puberty women
should cover all but their hands and face.
o Given the complexities of interpretation and divergence b/w scholars who
invoke literal vs. historically contextualized readings, there is no
consensus among the scholars as to the areas of the body to be covered.
• Some argued that hijab was historically specific form of dress that was used
during the 7 century as a means to visibly mark Muslim women so that they
could be identified as being under the protection of the Muslim clan and avoid
being molested or harassed.
• The veil was also the marker of a free woman vs. a slave or concubine. To
distinguish different social and class based categories of women.
• Feminist scholars