This is something I want to revisit – it being a dull, gnawing, growing sort of a pain. Wait…I don’t know if I can call it a pain because pain really bothers you and this doesn’t so much except when I happen to find it in my face.

Imagine you’re at a party and you know someone’s seen you (you glimpsed them catch a glimpse of you or maybe more than a glimpse of you – maybe a full-blown stare?) and then they pretend you’re not there. You’re off their radar. Supposedly.

That’s what it feels like to me when I read or view things that totally ignore Islam or Muslims. Now you might be going, what?? The topic of Islam and Muslims are always on the radar these days!!

Sure, there’s no lack of attention on “Islam” and “Muslims”. But context is the key here.

I’m talking about the cheery, apple-pie times – when people need to throw in a place of worship or an adherent of a religion or a religious custom to fill in a sentence, story etc. I think I first started noticing this ignoring of my identity in high school. I walked into Calculus class and saw the history of mathematics posters pasted all over with almost every civilization/religion/country covered except Arabs and Muslims. In English, I would be reading an offering from the modern canon and it would say something like: “he couldn’t find one church, temple, synagogue or gurdwara in town”. I shrugged back then about the lack of references to Islam thinking that Muslims were small in number.

However, now Muslims are not really small in number. According to census figures, Islam is the second largest religion in Canada.

So the omission in many cases cannot be attributed to the size of the Muslim community. It could be because, as a friend pointed out, people are unsure of how anything referring to Muslims would be taken by the Muslim community. She recalled that when she worked for a Muslim rights group, some Muslims had the oddest complaints – even when Muslims were included in “apple-pie” ways. They were sometimes unduly suspicious – the smell of warm pie couldn’t even entice them out their post 911 shell shock.

It could be because of a lack of general information about Islam and Muslims – besides politics and dogma. I was awakened to this insight again just recently as I was doing a puppet show with a friend – another teacher – for a student assembly. She was telling me something in a low voice in between our speaking parts and I had to ask her several times to repeat. I was wearing a particularly thick hijab that day (brrr…Canadian winter, anyone?) and I plainly told her my hijab was making it hard to hear her. She asked me what about when you use the phone. I said that the hijab served as an excellent hands-free device when I was driving and using my cell phone – a tuck-in is all it took. In between stifled laughter, she asked me what about at home, how does the hijab fare there? It hit me – this friend – who is very enlightened, open-minded, who knows me – didn’t know I don’t wear hijab at home. (That’s why I think one of the best parts of Little Mosque on the Prairie is when Rayan, the young hijabi, has her hijab off at home and grabs it just as she’s about to head out).

And it could be because some people just don’t want to include Islam and Muslims in apple-pie references. Perhaps it wouldn’t suit certain views that they have and wish to maintain about the religion and its adherents.

This whole topic also brings up the point about other groups who are also routinely off the page. Do we just limit the page to groups that are large in numbers? Or loud in voices? Or rich in resources? That doesn’t seem very inclusive.

As a Muslim, there are two people – two pretty dissimilar people – I want to laud for being consistently inclusive. One is not very surprising and the other may raise eyebrows. I’m sure there are many others – and I would love to hear what others have to say about this – but my picks are Oprah (!!) and Leah McLaren (??). I don’t think/know (if) it’s Oprah herself who guides her magazine ( O) to feature stories which have included Muslim women just being women (fancy the idea) amongst other women but I find that pretty commendable. I was particularly struck by this one story that was all about time-management. They profiled a few women and their lives – one of whom happened to be a Muslim who was into health, bikes to work and wanted more time to volunteer at the local mosque. Bam, with a reference like that, she was stitched into the American quilt.

Leah McLaren. How does she fit in? First, I’ll state that I actually look forward to reading her every Saturday in the Globe. It used to be her and Heather Mallick but now that Heather’s gone, it’s only Leah (although Margaret Wente and Jan Wong are also witty writers – Wente I read with a scowl and Wong with a smile and one raised eyebrow).

So why does Leah McLaren get lauded? For making a few references to Islam and Muslims in an outright apple pie way. The most recent one was when she threw in “mosque” in a list of places of worship (nestled, I think between church and temple) that an average Canadian may visit. I believe Leah does this so easily because her sister’s boyfriend happens to be Muslim (as of the last reference to her sis’s love life).

The power of choice while writing, producing and creating cannot be undermined. Who you choose to highlight, leave on the page, on the margins or erase out of the book can have an impact on the way communities who feel like they’re under scrutiny integrate with (or seperate from) the larger populace.

7654656_c3710e4d3f_o.jpgmclarenphoto.jpg UPDATE: Via e-mail, Leah McLaren graciously accepted her apple pie. She’s also going to be sending me her fabled column on hijab – which she wore for a day – that I had missed reading.

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