Iraqi Women, Identity, and Islam in Toronto: Reflections on a New Diaspora

By Lewis, Nadia | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Iraqi Women, Identity, and Islam in Toronto: Reflections on a New Diaspora


Lewis, Nadia, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


Abstract

This article examines the intersections of religion and nation in the diasporic imagination of Iraqi Sunni women, and the extent to which these shape their lives and experiences in Toronto. Migrating without the support of their husbands, these women negotiate the boundaries of imagined past and exiled present. Unlike other Muslim immigrants who find support and strength in local communities of Arab Muslims, Iraqi women in Toronto retain strong class and national ties. This study of Iraqi Sunni immigrant women argues that their affiliation to the Iraqi nation-state overshadows their ties to communities of Muslims and Arab groups in Toronto.

Resume

Dans cet article nous etudions comment religion et nation s'articulent dans I'imaginaire des femmes sunnites de la diaspora irakienne, et jusqu'a quel point leur vie et leurs experiences a Toronto en sont marquees. Ayant emigre sans I'appui de leurs maris, ces femmes cherchent a faire la part d'un passe reconstruit et d'un present en exil. A la difference des autres immigres musuimans qui trouvent soutien et force aupres des communautes Iocales d'Arabes musulmans, ces femmes irakiennes de Toronto maintiennent avec leurs compatriotes de forts liens de classe. Cette etude montre que leur lien a I'Etat-nation iraquien prend le pas sur celui avec les groupes communautaires arabes et musulmans a Toronto.

INTRODUCTION

Hind, a dentist and Muslim mother of four, lives in Mississauga with three of her children. Originally from Iraq, Hind and her family have crossed numerous borders, from the Middle East to Europe to North America. Her life began in Baghdad where Hind's father held a prestigious position in the National Bank of Iraq, which forced him to relocate bis family every four years. At four, Hind moved with her family to Syria and then to Bahrain four year later. After finishing her education in Abu Dhabi, Hind returned to Baghdad to complete a degree in dentistry at the University of Baghdad. During this period, she met her husband and moved with him to Wales. where he was in graduate school. In her absence, her parents left for Abu Dhabi, and then finally settled in Nova Scotia. In 1998, Hind and her husband left Baghdad for Yemen, where she remained until her son finished his degree in dentistry. Following a brief return to Iraq in 2000, Hind moved to Abu Dhabi to be with her husband, who was by then the dean of Bachman University. Hind's brothers and sisters are also scattered around the globe--in England, Kuwait, Canada, and the United Arab Emigrates. A remarkable story, her life represents the ongoing contribution to the global diaspora of Iraqi migrants and exiles. Her family, like many thousands of other Iraqis, forms an intricate web of movement to and from the Iraqi homeland. (1)

Women such as Hind are examples of the complex nature of the Iraqi diaspora, and the way in which it links communities in Canada with Iraqi communities all over the world through family networks. Transnational movements of Muslim diasporas in North America are a relatively new, but increasingly complex, phenomenon, and this is especially true of Canada. In terms of nationality, there has been an expansion in geographical and national distribution over the past fifty years, with new immigrants coming mostly from Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen. Although studies of Muslim groups in Canada are relatively new, these typically draw from the more established body of work on Arab-American and Arab-Canadian identity. Understanding this broader discourse on "Arabs" is an important precursor to discussing Iraqi Muslims in Canada, since most groups within the "Arab" designation share a common bond--the Arabic language. The designation "Arab" is thus more than a simple geographic determinant; it involves a common language, often a common religion and culture, as well as a similar racial designation, both nationally and in the host-country (Abu-Laban 1980). …

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