Professors Rabiat Akande and Faisal Bhabha and adjunct faculty member Naseem Mithoowani have contributed to a new book on systemic Islamopobia in Canada that they hope will shed light on the enduring problem and provide insight into potential policy and legal solutions.
Systemic Islamophobia in Canada: A Research Agenda was published in April by University of Toronto Press. It was edited by Anver Emon, a professor of law and history in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto.
“Islamophobia remains a pervasive problem globally and here in Canada,” said Akande, “and the book is an attempt to grapple with that phenomenon, utilizing a variety of interdisciplinary approaches that take nothing for granted, including the term Islamophobia itself.”
Akande is the author of a chapter titled Centring the Black Muslimah: Interrogating Gendered, Anti-Black Islamophobia, which argues that the effects of Islamophobia are not evenly distributed among Muslims and that those marginalized experiences should be centred within the Muslim community, particularly those at the intersection of gender and blackness.
“Personally,” she added, “I wanted to contribute to the book because I felt that so much continues to be elided in current policy discourse and advocacy efforts, particularly as it concerns the intersection of blackness and gender.”
Bhabha, who authored a chapter titled Fighting Antisemitism by Propagating Islamophobia: The Palestine Trope, said the book is the first he knows of to bring together current Canadian scholars to examine the issue of systemic Islamophobia in contemporary society – locally, nationally and globally.
“Most academic study of Islamophobia to date has been focused on theory and definitions and everyday occurrences, from hate crimes to microaggressions, in which the state is either absent or acting as referee,” he said. “However, this study shows how government and large institutions like universities, banks, public schools, etc. are not neutral but rather complicit in the propagation and perpetuation of Islamophobia through systems and institutions.”
Bhabha said his chapter deals with the case of a Toronto imam who was fired from his position as a part-time teaching assistant and exam invigilator at Toronto Metropolitan University in 2017 after a little- known online publication incorrectly reported that he had openly prayed in a prominent Toronto mosque for the killing of Jews.
“My chapter shows how the information the university relied upon was biased and a product of far-right networks,” he said. “The chapter asks what meaning the university’s affirmation of equity, diversity and inclusion can have when the university actively promotes one form of discrimination in the name of combatting another.”
Mithoowani, a Toronto immigration lawyer who authored a chapter titled Immigration and Systemic Islamophobia, said she was drawn to contribute to the book because it is one of the first serious studies of the subtle ways that our societal systems function to perpetuate bias against Muslims or those perceived as Muslims – even if it is largely done without ill intent or motive.
“This book begins that exploration,” she said. “If we are ever going to truly confront Islamophobia, this is a necessary step.”
She said her chapter explores the subtle ways that Muslims are shut out of immigration to Canada, including the uneven application of inadmissibility provisions related to national security and Canada’s disproportionate rejection of study or tourist visa applications from Muslim-majority countries.
“Given the importance of immigration to our society,” she noted, “this is a topic that I think deserves close attention.”
Bhabha said the book does not attempt to offer solutions to systemic Islamophobia but lays the groundwork for future research that may include prescriptive elements.
Akande said the challenge of finding solutions to systemic Islamophobia is addressed by the book’s authors in a variety of ways.
“In my chapter, I argue that a good beginning is to ‘listen’ to unmediated accounts of the experience of Islamophobia,” she noted. “I think this is particularly crucial to understanding voices that remain inadequately represented in policy and legal debates on Islamophobia.”