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Monia Mazigh challenges stereotypes about Muslim women in Mirrors and Mirages

05/10/2015 07:33 EDT | Updated 05/10/2016 05:59 EDT
To Canadians outside of the faith, Muslim women may all appear the same, or their traditional garb may invoke fear or an association with the exotic.

Those are the prejudices that Canadian author Monia Mazigh tries to shatter in her latest novel, Mirrors and Mirages.

Mazigh, who is in Vancouver on Monday to promote her work, was first catapulted into public life in 2002. Her husband Maher Arar was deported by the U.S. government to Syria, where he was tortured and held without charge on suspicions of terrorist affiliations.

Mazigh launched a tireless campaign for his release, and her first book Hope and Despair is a memoir that details her family's struggle.

Mirrors and Mirages, however, centres around a group of intelligent Muslim women, each coming from different walks of life and whose lives converge in Ottawa.

"This book is not about telling who the Muslim women are, but maybe [about giving] the reader some sense of more questions and more curiosity, and then also at the same time, bring that humanity among this group of people," Mazigh told The Early Edition.

Prejudices stem from ignorance and fear

Whether a woman decides to cover her hair and face, or her entire body, has become something of a political football in Canada, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisting that women not wear a niqab during the oath of citizenship, and saying that the niqab is "rooted in a culture that is anti-women."

A judge in Quebec also sparked controversy in February, when she refused to hear a woman's case because the woman was wearing a headscarf, or a hijab.

Mazigh says that when she first arrived in Canada in the 1990s, preconceived notions about Muslim women mostly stemmed from ignorance of the religion.

"People really didn't know how to talk to me, how to approach women who are dressing differently and having a different faith," she said.

"Now it's more fear because we really are scared of what this religion is about. It's the idea of linking Muslim women with oppression."

Monia Mazigh speaks about her novel,  Mirrors and Mirages at 7 p.m. PT on Monday at the Vancouver Public Library.

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