Un-learning Islamophobia with Dr. Anver Emon

Seminar discusses understanding and countering harmful Muslim sterotypes

Dr. Anver Emon is seen sitting on stage with Dr. Amyn Sajoo. The two are engaged in conversation as people sit in the audience listening. Behind the stage are paintings and lights.
Dr. Emon is a professor of law and history at University of Toronto. Image courtesy of Nabila Hussein

By: Karissa Ketter, News Editor

The second installment of SFU’s Onstage Speaker 2022 series was hosted on May 14. Dr. Anver Emon, University of Toronto law and history professor, looked at some harmful Muslim sterotypes in Canada and spoke about Islamic law in his discussion. The conversation was led by SFU professor of International Studies Dr. Amyn Sajoo.

SFU’s vice-president academic and provost, Catherine Dauvergne opened the event by noting, “The conversation around Islamophobia is one of the most important conversations for western societies to enter into.

“The inability or unwillingness of western decision makers and law makers to begin to deeply understand Islam — and therefore be able to confront and truly address Islamophobia — is one of the most serious and important issues we face in the law.” 

According to Emon, in Canada, Islamic law — sharia — is “treated as a foreign, as threatening, as an ‘other.’ Not unlike an immigrant from the Global South, sharia as a legal system is treated as an existential threat.

“Every state regulates religion — it’s just an issue of degree,” said Emon. He explained it’s difficult to know what states do in the name of religion. For example, in Saudi Arabia, life insurance is not considered halal — or compatible with sharia law. Emon explains this is because insurance is “payments now for an eventuality down the road,” otherwise known as gambling or speculation. 

However, the central bank in Saudi Arabia does sell commercial insurance to corporations. Meaning the state is not regulating the sales of insurance despite its violation of sharia.

Sajoo asked Emon about the western narratives of dhimmi rules. Sajoo noted the western interpretation of dhimmi rules is that there is “inherent inferiority” of non-Muslims, which “makes them permanent outsiders.” He suggested this is a misconception.

Emon added, “We’re not really talking about religion or religious freedom. What we’re talking about is the management and regulation of a permanent ‘other’ in our domestic sphere.”

Similarily to the discussion of minorities is the understanding and status of women in Islam. Sajoo said, “The dominant portrayal of women is that women are second class citizens, and they are oppressed.

“The Quran has an entire chapter dedicated to the status of women. It proclaims the moral equality of women very explicitly,” said Sajoo. He added, the gender divide cannot be directly attributed to Islamic theology, but rather social practice.

Emon pointed to a common link between laws around the world. “When we think about the historical tradition of Islamic law, we have to recognize it’s got a lot of patriarchy in it,” he said. “But, we can also say a lot of legal traditions around the world are super patriarchal. 

“Patriarchy, like racism and bigotry, are embedded in our legal systems.”

The event was co-hosted by SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and Ismaili Centres Canada.

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