M.A. Journalism (University of Karachi), M.Ed. Sociology (OISE, University of Toronto), Ph.D. Sociology (OISE, University of Toronto)
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Before becoming a sociologist, you had a career as a journalist. What inspired you to pursue a career in sociology?
Like many other immigrants, I found that my credentials and experience as a journalist became valueless once I landed in Canada, so I was pushed towards community-based advocacy and activism. That in turn motivated me to go back to school for a second M.A. degree and sciology at OISE seemed like the most fertile site for discussion of the kinds of feminist, anti-racist and postcolonial issues that had become salient for me post-migration.
In 2013 you published a new book, Jamaat-e-Islami Women in Pakistan Vanguard of a New Modernity? Please tell us about this new book!
This book draws scholarly attention towards the feminization of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a major movement for Islamic renewal and reform in South Asia. It is an ethnographic and textual study of Jamaat women elected to local, provincial and national bodies in Pakistan from 2002 to 2008. This first study in English of Jamaat-e-Islami women in Pakistan situates Jamaat women within Islamic modernism, nation-state formation and development, without reifying them as either pious agents reacting to state-imposed modernization or gendered citizens who use Islam for class-based instrumental ends.
My book makes a significant contribution to feminist theory and politics since it emphasizes the entangled nature of feminism, Islamism and modernities rather than approaching Muslim women’s religious and secular activism in exclusionary terms. Furthermore, my research on South Asian ‘Islamist’ women expands and nuances the existing feminist analyses of Muslim women that tend to focus mostly on Middle Eastern contexts.
Last fall, you were an invited guest speaker at an event put on by the South Asia Studies Council at Yale University. Can you tell us more about the importance of your research on transnational feminisms and Muslim women?
This is a SSHRC-funded study titled In and against the Islam/secular dichotomy: South Asian Muslim women's struggles and transnational feminist practices (2010-2014). In this study I bring together a theoretical concern about the secular bias in contemporary feminist scholarship on Muslim women and the sociological imperative to map the challenges to liberal foundations of democratic institutions due to both increased Islamophobia and religion-invoking extremism. More specifically I investigate the personal struggles underlying the constructions of Muslim women as ‘secular’ or ‘religious’ and analyze the implications of the secular/religious binary for Muslim women in South Asia and Canada.
My talk at Yale brought these ideas together in looking at the issue of honor/shame related violence against Muslim women in Canada and Pakistan. I argue that discussions of “honor-killing” are often framed such that either “the (secular) state” or “the (religious) community” are privileged for possibilities of Muslim women’s subjectivity. In this paper I draw attention to the agency of the sexually transgressive Muslim woman who is also a pious subject. I propose the notion of “transgressive piety” as a first step towards dismantling the binary of secular society and pious community that elides the experiences of Muslim women violated in the name of honor. This talk has culminated in a paper that is forthcoming in Signs: the Journal of Women in Society and Culture in 2015.
What do you like most about teaching and researching at Ryerson University?
I feel very privileged to teach at Ryerson most of all because of the racial, cultural, gender and class-based diversity of students that I get to meet in my required courses, liberal studies and graduate courses. When you have such a group in a classroom it shifts and expands the terrain of discussion in extremely enriching and productive ways. Ryerson is also in other ways a vibrant downtown space that is certainly stimulating- socially, culturally and intellectually.