Saima Hussain’s \'The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth\'

Sunday 05/02/2017
The cover of The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women by Saima Hussain.

The perception of the hijab as a symbol of extremism creates a challenge for many Muslim women in the West. Struggling with a double identity — being a Western woman while holding on to traditional back-home values — causes some Muslim women to question whether they are maintaining a balance or moving towards an extreme.

In The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth, Saima Hussain documents the lives of Canadian Muslim women who challenge behaviours and stereotypes. Hussain said the idea for the book came after a friend said, despite her living in Mississauga, the sixth most popu­lated city in Canada near Toronto, a metropolitan area with a large Muslim population, she was the only Muslim she knew.

Hussain gathered stories from the religious and not-so-religious professionals and housewives, Westernised and traditional, women in jeans, hijab or niqab and even gay Muslim women. They are all Canadians but their roots are all over the world.

A few of the women complained about extremism in their mosque and said they were careful not to take extremism home. Others said, rather than being a place of worship and community-building, their mosques focused too much on trivialities, such the woman’s place and bodies and uncovered hair.

One woman described how in the late 1960s, a few Indian and Pakistani families were lucky to find each other in Winnipeg and did not care whether others were Sunni or Shia. She wrote: “No one knew of Muslims or Islam and, since we children didn’t either, there was remarkably little ten­sion in our daily lives. Our parents and the few families we knew harboured no resentment of this. In fact, they seemed untroubled by the absence of Islam from the national conversation.”

A gay woman complained that many of her fellow Muslims place sharia, hadith and fatwas in the same category as the Quran. The Quran is the word of God; the others are not, she told Hussain. “Reducing Islam to a monolithic entity is con­firming orientalist construc­tions of Islam and Muslims and erases its diversity and plurality. [Edward] Said’s work on Orientalism warns us against reducing Islam to any one thing. Islam is dynamic and it is practised in many ways,” the gay woman said.

A physically handi­capped Muslim woman spoke of the difficulty of sharia being imple­mented throughout the world. “Some Mus­lims believe we should have sharia law but I don’t believe we should,” she told Hussain. “I think we should adhere to the laws of whatever country we live in… No legal structure is perfect, of course, since they’re implemented by human beings, and none of us is perfect.”

Some stories in The Muslimah Who Fell To Earth focus more on how Muslim immi­grants got to Canada than on theological issues of Islam and each story offers something new. One particularly moving tale describes an educated woman who has an understanding father and who wears the niqab.

The book offers a nice introduction to the differ­ent sects of Islam such as Sufism, Wahhabism, Is­mailism and the Ahmadiyya community, all of which are represented among Canadian Muslims.

Hussain is also author of the award-winning children’s book The Arab World Thought of It: Inventions, Innovations and Amaz­ing Facts.