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Sameena Eidoo

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Graduate Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto © Copyright by Sameena Eidoo (2012) “WHEN YOU WITNESS AN EVIL ACT,




Doctor of Philosophy 2012 Sameena Eidoo Graduate Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning University of Toronto Abstract This thesis is about being young, Muslim and politically engaged in contemporary Toronto, Canada. Young Muslims attempting to come to terms with the complex and contradictory promises of Canadian citizenship must confront what it means to “be Canadian”—a national identity marked by historical legacies of oppressions, and shaped by ideals of western liberal democracy. Post-9/11 Canada is marked by intensified suspicion and repression of Muslims and those who “look like” Muslims. This thesis examines how 18 young people, ages16 to 29, who self-identity as “Muslim” and “activist” learned “to reflect and act upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire, 1970).

Through life history interview methods, this study attempts to capture how the participants had come to their political activism, critical experiences of learning inside and outside of schools that they understood as influential in shaping their political subjectivities and practices, the range of issues of injustice that concerned them, and the various actions they took to address those issues.

The young Muslims expressed concern for and acted on access to quality affordable housing, police brutality, gender-based violence, Islamophobia and other forms of hate, and the question of Palestine. Their actions included creating safe spaces, (dis-) engaging formal systems of governance and public authority, providing public education, producing cultural narratives, and ii engaging in various forms of direct action. Their voices and stories maintain centrality throughout this work.

This thesis is based on a broad definition of “education” that encompasses formal and nonformal education and informal learning. It is also based on the premise that “all education is citizenship education.” It demonstrates how the young Muslims’ multiple learning experiences in families, neighborhoods, communities, youth subcultures, social movements and school-embedded in histories of war and migration—enable them to name and to take action to transform the concrete situations of oppression that impact them and their communities.

Particularly important for the young Muslims were the cultural and political spaces in which they were able to critically and collectively explore and question their lived experiences, identities, and binding solidarities.

–  –  –

First and foremost, I thank the One for sustaining me in an often arduous but rewarding doctoral journey. As I continued along the journey, the list of people who offered support and encouragement along the way grew longer.

I am indebted to Aamanee, Abdul-Haq, Aisha, Amina, Asmara, Bilal, Jamila, Karim, Khadijeh, Layaal, Maha, Maliha, Mustafa, Nabila, Salsabil, Talib, Zayn, and Zaynab—you know who you are. Your words brought this thesis to life, and transformed me as they drifted through my heart and mind. I hope that I have done justice to your jihads.

To Dr. Karen Mundy, my thesis supervisor: Karen, thank you for being present when I needed your support and guidance, and for helping me realize my vision for this thesis. I admire the focus and commitment to excellence with which you approach your own scholarship. To committee member Dr. Sarfaroz Niyozov: Sarfaroz, thank you for asking thoughtful and provocative questions in response to my work. Based on my previous experience working with you in the classroom, I would not have expected otherwise! I appreciate the intellectual curiosity

and enthusiasm you bring to your work with students. To committee member Dr. Kari Dehli:

Kari, thank you for extending emotional support to me from wherever you were in the world-Australia, England, India, New Zealand, and Norway! I admire your courage, integrity and compassion, and I am grateful to have you as a mentor and an ally.

To Dr. Ali Abdi, my external examiner: Ali, thank you for your thoughtful appraisal of my thesis; it has given me a renewed energy and commitment, and a valuable new perspective on my work. Special thanks go to Dr. Lance McCready and Dr. Mark Evans, who took the time to read and respond to my thesis, and who have supported me in other ways. Lance, I admire you and what you stand for, and I trust you as a colleague and a friend. You helped me find my

–  –  –

examination. Mark, you have generously shared your time and resources with me over the years, and you have been someone I could always turn to for guidance.

I want to thank my other teachers at OISE. Dr. Rubén Gaztembide-Fernández, thank you for keeping it real. Dr. Ruth Hayhoe and Dr. Vandra Masemann, thank you for your care and encouragement. Dr. Jim Cummins and Dr. Antoinette Gagné, your support in my early years of graduate studies gave me the confidence to carry on.

Many remarkable women within and beyond OISE have offered crucial support and encouragement along the way. To Farahnaz Faez, Mira Gambhir and Clea Schmidt, with whom I shared a tiny closet of an office on the 10th floor of OISE many years ago: I am thankful for your enduring friendship. For reaching back when I reached out, special thanks go to Leila Angod, Zahra Bhanji, Salima Bhimani, Soma Chatterjee, Chandni Desai, Mona Ghali, Leigh-Anne Ingram, Kara Janigan, Angela MacDonald, Caroline Manion, Francine Menashy, Karen Pashby, Michelle Pon, Dominique Riviere, Tiisetso Russell, Malini Sivasubramaniam-Davis, Saskia Stille, Helen Tewolde, and Nadya Weber. To dear friends beyond, especially Aida Fahoum, Jolanta Garus, Stacey Hyde, Cisca McInnis, Ekua Quansah, and Stephanie Sodero: thank you for memories that take me as far back as high school and as far across the world as Kazakhstan, and for all the moments in between.

I close my acknowledgements with the people who have always been there for me: my family. Heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to my brother, Khalid, to my father, Aslam, and to my extended Azmi-Rehmani family in India. Finally, to my first teacher Shama: Mom, thank you for believing in me from the very beginning.

–  –  –



Chapter One: Being Young, Muslim, And Politically Engaged In Toronto, Canada

Conceptualizing Muslim Youth Citizenship

Design of the Thesis

Landscape of the Thesis

Structure of the Thesis

Chapter Two: Conceptualizing and Situating Muslim Youth Citizenship

Part 1: Conceptual Framework

Cultural Citizenship

Education for Liberation and Transformation



Summary: Conceptualizing Muslim Youth Citizenship

Part 2: Situating Muslim Youth Citizenship

Citizenship Education and Learning in Schools

Citizenship Education and Learning in Homes and Neighborhoods

Identity and Belonging

Agency and Active Citizenship

Summary: Situating Muslim Youth Citizenship

Chapter Three: The Political Participation of Muslims in Canada: A Brief History

Can the Other Imagine “Canada”?

Mid-20th Century to the Turn of the 20th Century

Early to Mid-20th Century




Chapter Four: Telling and Re-Telling Resistance: Research Design and Methodology.............. 90   A Qualitative Approach

Life History Research: “A story is told, a history is made.”

vi Data Collection

Data Analysis

Participant Selection, Recruitment, and Descriptions

Researcher Position and Ethical Considerations


Chapter Five: Citizenship as Crossing Symbolic, Physical, and Socioeconomic Borders of Social Housing

Bilal: “You can take the right path or the wrong path.”

Karim: “High school was rough.”

Zayn: “I was the Hip Hop head.”

Citizenship Learning and Engagement in Housing: “You want for your neighbors what you want for yourself.”

Citizenship Learning in Housing Communities

Negotiating Identities: “There is a stigma attached to living in housing.”

Navigating Health and Safety Risks: “There were a lot of killings in our neighborhood.” 128   Receiving Social Support: “Some of us made it and some of us fell by the way-side.”.... 129   Summary

Chapter Six: Citizenship as Resistance to State Repression and Criminalization

Aisha and the Campaign Against Police Brutality

Aisha: “I thought his death was a wake-up call.”

The Campaign Against Police Brutality: “We started with education.”

Abdul-Haq, Layaal, and the Know Your Rights Campaign

Abdul-Haq: “Music sparked my thinking.”

Layaal: “My parents made it our religious duty. If a fellow Muslim is being oppressed, then we must speak out against it.”

The “Know Your Rights” Campaign: “I just realized how much fear there is in Muslim communities.”

Three Encounters with Police

Policing on the Streets: “I was riding my bike around the area and four or five cop cars came out of nowhere.”

Policing at Public Protests: “I’m just a girl! Don’t hit me!”

Policing at Borders: “My body says one thing. My passport says something else.”.......... 153   Summary

Chapter Seven: Citizenship as (Re)-Construction of Gendered Discourses and Practices......... 158   vii Nabila and the After-School Drop-in Program for Muslim Girls

Nabila: “I was a raised by a male. I think he did a pretty good job.”

The After-School Drop-In Program for Muslim Girls: “I wanted the girls to learn how to advocate for their rights.”

Amina, Asmara, Salsabil, and the Young Somali Women’s Group

Amina: “So, I’m not black?”

Asmara: “I am black, female, and Muslim. I call this the ‘unholy trinity.’”

Salsabil: “I was always connected to God.”

The Young Somali Women’s Group: “What’s going on with Somali girls?”

Jamila, Khadijeh, Zaynab, and the Young Muslim Women’s Collective

Jamila: “I always felt like I couldn’t be Palestinian.”

Khadijeh: “I’m Palestinian.”

Zaynab: “I was an activist kid in school since I was little.”

The Young Muslim Women’s Collective: “We just wanted a space for young Muslim women.”

Gender and Islam: “When you educate a woman you educate a nation.”


Chapter Eight: Citizenship as Critique and Resistance in Spoken Word Poetry and Hip Hop.. 203   Maha: “Okay, let them read about my religion and I will defend it.”

Mustafa: “I have to teach myself.”

Talib: “Some of my earliest memories are of rallies.”

Knowledge and Community Building through Poetry: “I thought about my struggles and started typing.”

Hip Hop Foundations of Muslim Youth Citizenship

Khadijeh: “Why was I drawn to Malcolm X? From Grade 5 and onwards I was heavily into Hip Hop.”


Chapter Nine: Citizenship as Transnational Commitments and Engagements: The Question of Palestine

Aamanee, Maliha, and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement

Aamanee: “People were acting, speaking out.”

Maliha: “I wanted to be like my mom.”

The Campus-Based Palestinian Solidarity Movement

Transnational Commitments and The Question of Palestine

viii Gendered Complexities of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement: “Liberate yourself, you liberate the land”

Religion and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: “Palestine. It’s not a Muslim issue.”.......... 244   Connecting Liberation Struggles from Canada to Palestine: “Too Close to Home.”......... 246   Summary

Chapter Ten: Transforming Social Spaces, and Ways of Thinking and Acting: Insights From Muslim Youth Citizenship

Part One: New Insights and Contributions

Insights from Young Muslims’ Citizenship Learning

Families and Homes


Schools and Classrooms

Oppressive student-teacher interactions

Curricular silences and counter-stories

Teacher support

Peer support

Encounters with Police

Hip Hop Culture

Islamic Education

Insights from Young Muslims’ Acts of Citizenship

Advocating for Youth Tenants in Social Housing

Resisting State Repression and Criminalization

Creating Safe Spaces for Young Muslim Women

Telling Counter-Stories through Spoken Word Poetry

Advocating for Palestinian Self-Determination on University Campuses

Summary of Contributions

Part Two: Implications and Avenues for Future Research

Implications for Educators

Inquiring about young people’s identities

Inquiring about young people’s lived culture

Inquiring about young people’s home and neighborhood communities

Inquiring about young people’s interactions with the state

Building school-home-community partnerships

Avenues for Future Research

ix Concluding Remarks


–  –  –

When you witness an evil act you must stop it with your hand. If you cannot, then, at least, speak out against it with your tongue. If you cannot, then, at least, hate it with all of your heart. And, that is the weakest of faith.

–  –  –

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