Canadian medical journal to retract letter calling hijabs 'an instrument of oppression'

The interim editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Thursday vowed to retract a letter the publication ran about hijabs that many have slammed as Islamophobic.

Letter from pediatric surgeon in Canadian Medical Association Journal drew immediate pushback

A letter in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, responding to this photo that the CMAJ had previously used, will be retracted, according to the publication's interim editor-in-chief. The letter called the hijab, worn by one of the girls in the photo, an 'instrument of oppression' and was slammed by many as Islamophobic. (@CMAJ/Twitter)

The interim editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Thursday said the publication is formally retracting a letter it ran about hijabs that many have slammed as Islamophobic.

Kirsten Patrick's announcement comes days after she posted on Twitter, apologizing for the letter, which called the religious head scarf "an instrument of oppression."

"I sincerely apologize on behalf of the CMAJ for my error in publishing the letter," Patrick said in a statement on Thursday. "I take full responsibility for the inadequacy of editorial process."

The letter in question, written by pediatric surgeon Dr. Sherif Emil and published on Monday, argued that a recent CMAJ cover that featured a young girl in a hijab was misguided, and that it perpetuated an often traumatic and harmful practice.

"Many of my trainees, colleagues and patients' parents (and some adolescent patients) wear the hijab … I respect each woman I interact with, as well as any woman's choice to express her identity as she desires," wrote Emil. 

"But respect does not alter the fact that the hijab, the niqab and the burka are also instruments of oppression for millions of girls and women around the world who are not allowed to make a choice."

Emil goes on to cite the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and their many reported abuses toward women and girls as examples.

"So many women have been traumatized by such an upbringing, which, I believe, frankly borders on child abuse."

'Harmful stereotypes'

The letter drew immediate pushback, with many, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), calling the letter Islamophobic.

"This article falls short of the Canadian Medical Association's Code of Ethics and Professionalism standards and contributes to dangerously harmful stereotypes about a demographic that has been targeted by some of the most violent forms of Islamophobia in this country," said the NCCM.

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Huda Idrees, founder of Dot Health, also said on Twitter that the letter fell short of the CMAJ's standards.

"It's one thing for people to have dangerous xenophobic views that equate women's clothing to extremism. It's another for a publication like @CMAJ to run it," said Idrees.

In earlier tweets, Patrick acknowledged the Islamophobia concerns and the publication's editorial failings.

"Islamophobia is a serious health issue. It kills," she tweeted,

"The letter's title suggests that the hijab is unequivocally an instrument of oppression; that is wrong, hurtful & offensive. I take full responsibility for the headline. As an editor I know the power of words & that is my error."