Since the turn of the millennium there has been increased attention towards religion in the Canadian media, as well as much of the western world due to the perceived “clash of civilizations”. This is obvious from events that occurred throughout the 2000’s beginning with the attacks of 9-11 by the radical Islamist terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, followed by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Domestically, the Canadian Muslim population saw an increased focus on aspects of their culture perceived to be akin to the radical Islam practiced in different parts of the world.
Lost in much of the discussions during this period was the diversity of the Muslim religion itself, specifically in the practice of Shari’a law. The debate about such the law arose in 2003 when Muslim communities requested the right to apply it in cases of faith-based arbitration, a privilege extended to the Christian and
Jewish communities of Ontario in 1991. However, the request caused uproar and the government of Ontario eventually removed any right to religious based arbitration in 2005. The fear was over the certain aspects of Shari’a law such as honour killings and requirement by some versions for women to wear burkas or veils.
Muslim groups defended their right to practice their religion while many also pointed out that Shari’a law was interpretable and was applied differently in most Muslim countries that practiced it. Regardless the portrayal of Muslims increasingly became centered on their ‘otherness’, most pictures featured in articles showed women wearing their burkas or veils, and many men wore beards and traditional clothing. In time this became the image associated with Canada’s Muslim population despite many sects of Islam not having clothing laws or requirements. The population was thus portrayed as a homogenous group, despite its diversity.
Furthermore, Muslim women suffered most from the misrepresentation. Not only we’re they portrayed as identical to their counterparts in Muslim countries but they were also depicted as victims of the discrimination of Shari’a law, some even being described as extremist because their adherence to certain aspects such as the burka. In this way images such as the veiled Muslim women came to represent oppression, and were consistently portrayed as weak and without agency. In most articles covering the debate they were assumed to be uneducated, subservient and dependent on their families. A study by Ashifa Kassam showed they remained relatively quiet in many articles with white women be quote as much or more on the subject of human rights.