Unveiling Shi’i Religious Identities: Case Studies of Hijab in Culturally Homogeneous Canadian Schools
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This qualitative case study explored 10 young female Shi’i Muslim Arabic-Canadian students’ experiences associated with wearing the Hijab (headscarf) within their home, community, and predominantly White Canadian public elementary school environments. The study integrated several bodies of scholarly theories in order to examine the data under a set of comprehensive lenses that more fully articulates and theorizes on the diversity of female Shi’i Muslim Canadian students’ experiences. These theories are: identity theories with a focus on religious identity and negative stereotypes associated with Muslims; feminism and the Hijab discourses; research pertaining to Muslims in school settings; and critical race theory. In order to readdress the dearth of information about Shi’is’ experiences in schools, this study provides an in-depth case study analysis in which the methodology strategies included 10 semi-structured in-depth interviews, 2 focus-group meetings, and the incorporation of the researcher’s fieldnotes. Data analysis revealed the following themes corresponding to participants’ experiences and values in their social worlds of home, community, and schools: (a) martyrdom and self-sacrifice as a means for social justice; (b) transformational meaning of the Hijab; (c) intersectionality between culture, religion, and gender; and (d) effects of visits “back home” on participants’ religious identities. Additional themes related to participants’ school experiences included: (a) “us versus them” mentality; (b) religious and complex secular dialogues; (c) absence of Muslim representations in monocultural schools; (d) discrimination; (e) remaining silent versus speaking out; and (f) participants’ strategies for preserving their identities. Recommendations are made to integrate Shi’i Muslim females’ identity within the context of Islam and the West, most notably in relation to: (a) the role of Muslim community in nondiverse settings as a space that advances and nurtures Shi’i Muslim identity; and (b) holistic and culturally responsive teaching that fosters respect of others’ religiosity and spirituality. This study makes new inroads into feminist theorizing by drawing conceptual links between these previously unknown connections such as the impact of the historical female exemplary role model and the ritual stories on the experiences of Muslim females wearing the Hijab.