Toronto Metropolitan University's Independent Student Newspaper Since 1967

All Communities

Muslim women tackle social justice issues through recognizing resistance and story telling

By: Nicole Brumley and Tianna Reno

During the summer before university, social justice activist Gilary Massa found herself having to decide whether she would go back to school being “full on Muslim” or “full on non-Muslim.”

“The pressure is suffocating sometimes. It comes from a fear and a pressure to always be so publicly Muslim and so publicly accountable to that identity,” said Massa, an Advocacy Coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

Massa and fellow panellists Fathima Cader, Naseem Mithoowani, Yusra Khogali and Thamina Jaferi enlightened attendees at the panel Racialized Muslim Women: Recognizing Resistance, Valuing Stories, hosted by Policy Studies PhD student, Binish Ahmed at Ryerson on Jan. 19.

Stand-up poetry performances by Rimshah Ahmed and Shadiya Aidid, left audience members snapping their fingers in poetic agreement as they set the tone to tackle issues of misrepresentation, discrimination and government surveillance of mosques in Muslim communities.

Cader, a civil and human rights litigator in Toronto said the countering-violent extremism (CVE) programs enforced by the RCMP, are forms of “mass surveillance” frequently affecting Somali communities and is “deeply racialized” and “targeted”.

CVE programs are used to address domestic and international terrorist threats by engaging with communities to spot root causes of terrorism.

Cader said a community member told her about children as young as six-years-old, being recruited as police informants to report violence in their neighbourhoods.

Amina Warsame, a third-year student at University of Toronto and panel attendee, said police surveillance that affects Black Muslim communities is “something we see but no one talks about.”

Mithoowani, a lawyer specializing in immigration and refugee law, addressed the misrepresentation of Muslim women in the media.

She said they are often portrayed as exotic or submissive, without actually involving their opinions in stories.

Mithoowani said this misrepresentation impacts Muslim women because they are “a part of public scrutiny without being a part of the conversation.”

In speaking to issues about discrimination, Massa said the bodies of racialized Muslim people have always been the “target.”

She said the fight for inclusion is ongoing as Muslim women have always been othered.

Massa said she often finds herself asking, “Will I be safe, will we be safe?” as she faces issues of white supremacy, sexism and Islamophobia.

In a call to action, Massa encouraged equity seeking groups and allies to “speak truth to power” when confronting systems of oppression.



  1. Ruba al-Hassani

    ‘During the summer before university, social justice activist Gilary Massa found herself having to decide whether she would go back to school being “full on Muslim” or “full on non-Muslim.”‘

    What the heck does that even mean? Why are people so apologetic? Why can’t people just be unapologetically Muslim? Why do some people still care what others think? We should anyone consider compromising God’s will over humans’ will?

    Never in my 20+ years in Canada did I stop and think, “what will they think of my hijab?” Instead, it has always been, “this is me. I can see you don’t like my hijab, but I don’t care. You don’t see me commenting about your clothes. The only way this will work is if we both respect each other.”

    We need to empower Muslim women away from this apologetic rhetoric, and we need to stop putting this out there as a “story”, because I know that there are many other women out there who are just like me – unapologetic about their faith or hijab.

  2. Not apologetic, honest!

    She wasn’t apologetic. She was being honest about a thought that crosses a Muslim woman’s mind at a point in her life, in her struggle. She unpacked this thought in her talk. You need to see the full talk to appreciate the context of why she raised this, rather than attack her.

Leave a Reply