By Paul Gessell
The photograph shows an athletic, young woman, sporting goalie pads and standing at a hockey net, ready to block a shot. We are told her first name is Louise and that she is an anthropology student at the University of Toronto. The only other thing we know about her is that she is Muslim.
If asked to guess her religion, most people would probably not state “Muslim.” She looks far too “Canadian” for that. To most Canadians, the image of a Muslim woman is a woman swathed in hajibs, chadors, or burkas. They are not women wearing goalie pads.
Louise definitely confounds stereotypes. And that is why the picture of this Muslim female hockey player is part of a photo exhibition by Ottawa’s Asif Rehman at Centrepointe Theatre. Each of the photos shows a Canadian Muslim doing some activity or following a career we do not normally associate with Muslims. There’s Troy, the punk music recording artist; Farrah, the social worker; Mombasa, the hajib-wearing female boxer; Ali, the comedian; and Yasir, the mainstream politician. (That’s Yasir Naqvi, the MPP for Ottawa-Centre and the provincial labour minister.)
The exhibition is called Muslim?! #4. Note the question mark following the word “Muslim.” Each photo in the show is meant to challenge stereotypes. We ask ourselves: “Can that person really be Muslim?” When that question is answered, the question mark becomes an exclamation mark of surprise. The “#4” refers to the fact that this is the fourth version of this ever evolving body of work Rehman has shown.
“The objective of my photography is to build bridges, to help people see how much they have in common, even if some aspects of them are different, to break down stereotypes,” Rehman said in an interview. “What surprised me is that I originally had non-Muslims in mind as my target audience. As I engaged with more people, took more photographs, I realized that Muslims had just as much baggage, had just as much to learn. This is due to the fact of how diverse the Muslim communities are.”
Rehman cites a visit he made to a supermarket to purchase food for the opening of a Toronto exhibition of many of these photos. The clerk at the store was wearing a name tag that suggested he was Muslim. Upon learning the subject matter of Rehman’s photographs, the clerk congratulated the photographer: “Thanks man; we need that.”
Rehman also recalls walking a friend through one of his exhibitions. “These people are the exception, right?” the friend asked. That question, in Rehman’s mind, reinforced the need for such an exhibition. “So, there is still a lot of work to be done,” says Rehman.
Until Jan. 8. Centrepointe Theatre, 101 Centrepointe Dr. Free.