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In 2002, The Globe and Mail asked columnist Sheema Khan to share her personal insights on Islam and Muslim life in the wake of 9/11. Of Hockey and Hijab, a compilation of these essays, is provocative, intelligent, and – given the thorny nature of the issues explored – surprisingly accessible. Each concise piece looks at a political, religious, or social issue, and succeeds in bringing both wisdom and humour to subjects the average newspaper reader might shy away from.
The collection covers a wide variety of topics, ranging from the Maher Arar affair to a woman’s right to wear a hijab while playing soccer. Khan fearlessly confronts Islamophobia head on, advising readers not to make damaging generalizations while expressing her disdain for the rise of terror and fanaticism. The final section of the book, “The Rights of Women,” dissects some of the more controversial and misunderstood issues around religious patriarchy and sexism.
Khan has a knack for exposing the hypocrisy of public perception and media interpretation. In “What Close-minded Liberals Can Learn from a Rape Victim,” she calls out liberals and progressives who fail to see that their so-called “open-mindedness” is actually limited to those who share similar world-views. She eviscerates the popular belief that devout Muslim women are “poor ill-informed souls” who have no ability to think for themselves. For many, she argues, a secular outlook can be dissatisfying, and she points out that denying someone’s choice to seek out spiritual fulfillment is the furthest thing from progressive.
There are readers who might find Kahn a bundle of contradictions: a modern liberal scholar, a hockey and soccer mom, and a practising Muslim. For that very reason, hers is a voice rarely heard in mainstream media, and her contribution to our ongoing cultural conversation is a valuable one. As Khan herself puts it, without taking the time to recognize the multifaceted nature of the issues at hand, we are in danger of becoming “casual observers who assume so much and know so little.”