- Beyond Accommodation: Everyday Narratives of Muslim Canadians by Jennifer Selby, Amélie Barras, and Lori G. Beaman
Jennifer Selby (Memorial University), Amélie Barras (York University), and Lori Beaman (University of Ottawa) approach this study of Muslim Canadians from backgrounds in anthropology, law, political science, religious studies, and sociology. Arguing that the traditional scholarly literature on Muslims in Western nations tends to focus on problems of integration and requests for accommodation, they posit that, instead, Muslim Canadians often successfully navigate and negotiate their religiosity informally. As such, scholars and policy makers must eschew reasonable accommodation, which implicitly privileges Christianity, and instead contemplate a process-oriented approach that privileges respect and sensitivity to better capture "how individuals work out their religious needs in their everyday lives" (7). The analysis is based largely on interviews with ninety self-identified Muslims from Montreal, Quebec and St. John's, Newfoundland. Their sample includes mostly Sunnis, a half-dozen Shi'ias and about 15 percent cultural Muslims. Research for the study was conducted using a snowball technique between 2012-2013, when Quebec was debating Bill 60, popularly called the Charter of Secularism, and Bill 62 forbidding face coverings.
Divided into five chapters, the first examines stereotypes such as "the Terrorist, the Imperiled Muslim Woman, the Enlightened Muslim Man, the Foreigner, and the Pious Muslim," which inform policies and heighten religious difference through their reproduction "not only at the levels of the local and relational, but also through social institutions such as the media, law, policy, and education" (27). Chapter 2 then provides a historical overview of immigration and settlement, chronicling established patterns of the early Middle Eastern immigration of mostly rural peasants and post-Second World War immigration of middle-class professionals. Narrating the stories of a Lebanese family in Alberta in the 1920s and a Moroccan family in Montreal in the 1990s helps to personalize and texture that history. Having set the background, Chapter 3 is a fascinating look at secularism in Canada. Informed by anthropologies of religion penned by Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, and others, the authors extend critiques that have long challenged Orientalist binaries of the sectarian Middle East and the secular (read progressive) West to expose how secular projects [End Page 165] inscribe religious difference in social life. For their interlocutors, Christmas parties, prayer in public spaces, and physical interactions reveal that "they live within a country they recognize as intrinsically Christian" (18).
Chapter 4 is the thrust of their argument and succeeds in exposing the myriad ways in which Muslim Canadians navigate social situations where their faith and observance is simultaneously challenged and worked out through negotiation replete with unequal power relations. Focusing on "how Islam is lived and practiced" by coworkers, friends, roommates, and others in daycares, schools, and sports facilities, we read stories that are vividly shared and delicately woven throughout (125-126). Finally, Chapter 5 offers examples of respectful interactions that are process-oriented rather than outcome-based and necessitate that the reader contemplate a more positive and rewarding future where flexibility, generosity, fragility, and trust become the bases for social interaction, as opposed to perceived antagonistic demands for reasonable accommodations.
A well-written book, the critique of reasonable accommodations is necessary and the challenge to scholarly emphasis on confrontation and antagonistic events is warranted. However, Beyond Accommodations falters in its execution. First, the authors uphold the importance of everyday social interactions at the same time as they seemingly devalue the memories of interlocutors with terminology such as "non-event," "unremarkable," and "forgettable." I agree with one commentator referenced in their introduction, who says: "there is no such thing as a 'non-event' for Muslims" (5). Indeed, for any minority. Such a contradiction displays a lack of confidence in their own challenge to take everyday life seriously. Second, the authors insist on privileging religious identity above ethnic and national particularities, thereby homogenizing the experiences of diverse peoples. While any single volume on "Muslim Canadians" will have its limitations, the authors repeatedly challenge past scholars who...