________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 7 . . . . December 1, 2000

cover Under One Sky: Arab Women in North America Talk About the Hijab.

Jennifer Kawaja (Director). Ginny Stikeman, Margaret Wong, Andree Lachapelle & Nicole Hubert (Production Team).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1999.
40 min., 30 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9199 052.

Subject Headings:
Muslim women-Canada.
Women in Islam.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**** /4

The hijab, or head scarf, worn by Islamic women is the subject of this excellent documentary by Jennifer Kawaja. The film documents the prejudice Muslim women experience in North America because they choose to cover their heads according to Arabic custom. Islamic women who observe this custom have been the brunt of discrimination, especially since the Gulf War which demonized Arabic culture. Women have experienced taunts, ostracism, physical attacks and have even been officially banned from wearing the hijab in schools in some locations.
    Under One Sky presents the viewpoints of women who wear the hajib and those who do not. While each has her reason for dressing the way she does, most generally see the hijab as an expression of fidelity to Arab culture, to Islam, and as a statement against imperialism and colonialism. They view it as a matter of choice and refuse to be buttonholed as a certain type of person. The film shows young women wearing the hijab participating in pro-abortion and feminist activities. They are opposed to violence against women who are veiled in North America and also violence against women in Algeria for women who choose not wear it. But they refuse to back down and dress "neutrally" (like a typical North American) because of the pressures exerted by society.
    The film discusses the background for the Western perception of the veil. Old Hollywood film footage depicts enslaved mystical sexual beings in harems who needed to be liberated by the British or American superhero. History became even more complicated as the Arabic upper classes took off the hijab as their countries "modernized" (Westernized) and the veil was identified with the poor and lower classes. Generally, Western attitudes held that women who wore the veil were inferior and less intelligent, and the backlash created by people who want to refute the arrogance of Western "liberation" and regain their cultural identity led to a resurgence of interest in Islam and Islamic traditions.
    Non-veiled women discuss their views and observe that, in order to act against racism and imperialism, it becomes necessary for them to defend the right of women to wear something they believe is oppressive. The actions and views of the different groups in the film show the changing world in which Muslim women live. Veiled young women in Montreal are seen challenging traditions by conducting their own prayer service, a traditionally male domain. And, at the end of the film, one of the young women who donned the hijab before moving to Canada is now seen without it, saying she now feels more herself. Her friends are not critical but defend their personal need to wear the hijab.
    This 43-minute documentary would be a useful catalyst for discussion among junior high and high school students. The young women interviewed are articulate, intelligent and analytical. They are excellent role models for girls and anyone who feels negative pressure from their peer group. Teachers can generate discussion about accepting differences in dress and beliefs. Support from teachers can relieve a great deal of anxiety for Islamic teens who wear the hijab, for anyone who is perceived to be "different."

Highly recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364