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

Hussain documents lives of Canadian Muslim women who challenge behaviours and stereotypes.

The cover of The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women by Saima Hussain.

2017/02/05 Issue: 92 Page: 23

The Arab Weekly
Dunia El-Zobaidi

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.

Dunia El-Zobaidi is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor

Subscription & Advertising:

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved