Discourses of Shari‘a Law and Muslim Women: A Critical Reflection on Sharia in Canada
Abstract

Abstract:

In 2005, the National Film Board of Canada released the documentary Sharia in Canada, which had been produced in the midst of the massive legal and public discussions following Ontario’s Islamic Institute of Civil Justice’s announcement that, under the Ontario Arbitration Act, Muslims could resolve their family disputes through faith-based arbitration. The documentary offers a remarkable case study in the intersections of imperialist and sexist discourses, in its characterizations of arranged marriages, intolerance of homosexuality, lapidation for adultery, domestic violence, and the practice of the hijab to the identity politics of multiculturalism. This article unpacks these intersections by focusing on critics of faith-based arbitration as featured in the documentary—critics who overwhelmingly self-identified as Muslims or as descendents of Muslims. Their arguments divide women into two categories: enlightened subjects, who can make informed decisions, and oppressed subjects, who need to be rescued. While such representations feed into longstanding Orientalist discourses, they also indicate a shift in those same tropes—for now it is brown women and brown men who shall save brown women from brown men. From this perspective, the article underscores the ways insiders participate in the colonial narrative and afford a powerful voice to Islamophobic and civilizational projects.