Future Now

I'm queer, tattooed and Muslim. Canada needs to get used to that.

In the West, the "Muslimwoman" has one face, one color, one look: subservience. Not so for writer Fariha Roisin.

In the West, the "Muslimwoman" has one face, one color, one look: subservience.

"I had to accept myself for all my nuances, the person who felt deeply religious, and intensely connected to Islam, but also the girl who needed to define her own boundaries." Fariha Roisin

Who among us is living like a person ahead of their time? And what might Canada need to do to catch up with them? Future Now is a new series featuring individuals who are living their version of the Canadian future… today. First off, Montreal writer Fariha Roisin.


I have a stockpile of memories of those who have told me I can't be Muslim, I don't look Muslim, I'm not Muslim enough — nope, not me, I don't have that Muslim aura, the certain Muslim je ne sais quoi.

It's odd that so many of us have fallen into the trap of judging a Muslim by what they wear, a bait taken by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, which has only been a disservice to us as individuals.

To me, there's no doubt in mind that if Canada really wants to be a leader in global change, it's time to confront the raging Islamophobia that long existed before six Muslim men were shot down in a mosque in Quebec by a white shooter in late January. This means we have to let go of ideas about what a Muslim is and what they look like and to say goodbye to the boring and over-simplified ideas of who we are. It's deeply problematic that a faith of over 1.5 billion people has been marred and defined by less than one per cent of the supposed population.

In the West, the "Muslimwoman" has one face, one color, one look: subservience. For me, this has been taxing; it's been limiting. This is why I feel a yearning, a call, to purposely allow myself, as a Muslim woman, to declare that I am many things at once — and Canada needs to follow suit. 

It's deeply problematic that a faith of over 1.5 billion people has been marred and defined by less than one per cent of the supposed population.- Fariha Roisin

I am a queer woman. I have tattoos. There have been years where I presented more masculine, when I felt butch. Times when I didn't shave, anywhere. In Muslim societies "women" are supposed to stay kempt, shaving their armpits and pubic hair to remain chaste under the eyes of Allah. It's like wudu, a form of purification, a form of absolution, to be clean when you come directly in front of the creator. Yes, I am cis-gendered, and as a relatively light-skinned Muslimwoman I've had privileges navigating the spectrum of physicality. Yet, I've had my fair share of encounters that have affected me.

Exploring the masculine side was a severely difficult time for me. I was terrified that exploring my queerness would mean that I would have to exist in a linear identity and that I couldn't be fluid even within something so open. That to be queer was again a label I had to abide by.

Truth is, in general, women are never allowed to be a construct of our own making. If we are, we have to demand it, and we have to ignore all the naysayers that dismiss us of all our complexities when they see our intersections as gratuitous, or how we define ourselves as unnecessary. But we're not like men. We don't have a right to just inherently exist.

The idea of the "Muslimwoman" is tied to a very specific narrative. It's very difficult to fit into a mould when it wasn't constructed for you, when your very physical body is unable to fit into its confines of what's been dictated for you. So, when everything about you pushes against those narrow views, what do you do?

I, personally, had to start from scratch.

I am a person of my own making. I had to accept myself for all my nuances: a person who felt deeply religious and intensely connected to Islam, but also the girl who needed to define her own boundaries, who needed to explore the world and see it without limitations imposed onto her by virtue of her gender. It's a continuous conversation, however. The fluidity of being human means you're constantly finding out new parts of yourself. I think that there's something profoundly spiritual about that.

It's very difficult to fit into a mould when it wasn't constructed for you.- Fariha Roisin

Canada lauds its trademark political kindness, the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grin of democracy. Yet, some of the most heinous, anti-Muslim comments I've ever heard have been on the streets of Montreal, where I live. People don't know Muslims, but they have a lot of ideas about what it means to be us. Maybe it's the limiting language, always defined by non-Muslims, explaining to us what it means to be us.

To move forward, we need to see people as more dynamic than the religious and spiritual garb that they wear. Canada needs to do what I did: start from scratch and forget all the narrow notions of what it means to be a Canadian and what it means to be Muslim.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.