'People see me through a lens': Muslim woman tackles media misrepresentation and stereotypes

Aisha Amijee remembers vividly the moment she knew she had to do something to combat stereotypes about Muslim women.

Voices of Muslim Women organization brings together stories and experiences for first event

The first event hosted by Voices of Muslim Women is bringing together different women from the community to share their stories and experiences on Saturday evening. (Alia Youssef Photography)

Aisha Amijee remembers vividly the moment she knew she had to do something to combat stereotypes about Muslim women.

The Surrey-based woman was sitting at a McDonalds with her two children, eating a Filet-O-Fish, when she overheard a group of high school students from her neighbourhood talking about Muslims.

"They are just bashing Muslim girls, just saying really rude, negative things," she told CBC host of The Early Edition Rick Cluff. "You can't tell that we are Muslim and they were just very open about it."

Amijee glanced at her young daughter, who also overheard the comments.

"I was just looking at her face, heartbroken and confused and angry all at the same time," she said. "I don't want her to go through life thinking that this is what people think of her identity."

Aisha Amijee started Voices of Muslim Women this year. (Alia Youssef Photography)

Shifting perceptions 

When she was growing up, Amijee said, her religion didn't have a significant impact on her interactions with others. That changed after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when Amijee was a high schooler living in Surrey.

"All of a sudden, after 9/11, there was a negative connotation around being Muslim," she said. "I started to realize that people see me through a lens."

That lens, clouded by misrepresentation in the media and the propagation of stereotypes, is damaging.

"Media misrepresentation does matter and the portrayal of Muslim women is often submissive, oppressive and definitely just incorrect," she said. "We need to work together to solve this."

To help shatter stereotypes, Amijee launched the Voices of Muslim Women non-profit organization earlier this year.

For their first event,to be held this weekend, she is bringing together women from the community to share their experiences.  

"The best way to solve misrepresentation is to add more counter-narratives, actual narratives of Muslim women to the media and to the storyline," Amijee said.

The Ring Leaders Panel is being held at the HiVE in downtown Vancouver on Saturday, Dec.16 from 7 to 10 p.m.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

Aisha Amijee remembers vividly the moment she knew she had to do something to combat stereotypes about Muslim women. 6:39

With files from The Early Edition