From the Oppressed to the Terrorist: Muslim American Women Caught in the Crosshairs of Intersectionality

72 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2012 Last revised: 12 Aug 2012

Date Written: January 8, 2012


In the post-9/11 era, Muslim women donning a headscarf in America find themselves trapped at the intersection of bias against Islam, the racialized Muslim, and women. In contrast to their male counterparts, Muslim women face unique forms of discrimination not adequately addressed by Muslim civil rights advocacy organizations, women’s rights organizations, or civil liberties advocates.

The paper argues that the Muslim woman is a casualty of the post-9/11 “war on terror” in ways different from Muslim men. Not only are her religious freedoms under attack in ways different from men because the headscarf is unique to women, but she is objectified in ideological and corporal domestic conflicts that profoundly affect her life. Perhaps worse than the gender rights debates of the 1990s when Muslim women were talked about rather than talked to, their experiences post-9/11 are completely neglected by Western feminists or used by Muslim male spokespersons to implement a civil rights agenda tailored to the Muslim male experience. Consequently, Muslim women are trapped in the crosshairs of national security conflicts that profoundly affect their lives but not yet adequately addressed by advocacy groups focused solely on defending Muslims, women’s rights, or civil liberties post-9/11.

Section I of this paper prefaces the paper’s thesis by highlighting Islam’s transition from obscurity to notoriety in the American public’s psyche as a result of the September 11th attacks. Section II highlights how the recasting of Islam from a bona fide religion to a political ideology is a necessary precursor for accepting otherwise discriminatory acts as legitimate national security practices. The reclassification is most glaring in the nationwide campaigns opposing mosque constructions because of the public’s fixation on mosques as hotbeds of extremism. Likewise, as Islam becomes defined as an expression of politics instead of religion, demands for religious accommodation by Muslims are deemed stealth Islamic imperialism not protected by law. Against this backdrop, Section III demonstrates how the meaning of the Muslim headscarf has transformed from a symbol of female subjugation to a symbol of terror(ism). Through an analysis of employment discrimination, racial violence, political marginalization, and exclusion from the courthouse, this article demonstrates how the transition in meaning of the headscarf has resulted in palpable and widespread discrimination against Muslim women donning the headscarf. Yet, discourse on civil liberties in the national security context are woefully lacking due to the glaring absence of the Muslim woman’s voice. Section IV calls for a prescriptive rethinking of strategies aimed at redressing anti-Muslim bias and civil liberties infringements that take into account the gender component of post-9/11 discrimination.

By developing a more accurate and in-depth analysis of their complicated circumstances post-9/11, this article aims to include “headscarved Muslim women” in the relevant debates among legal theorists.

Keywords: Muslim, muslim women, post-9/11, post 9-11, intersectionality, critical race theory, veil, headscarf, islam, discrimination, racial violence, race, gender

Suggested Citation

Aziz, Sahar F., From the Oppressed to the Terrorist: Muslim American Women Caught in the Crosshairs of Intersectionality (January 8, 2012). Hastings Race & Poverty Law Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 2012, Available at SSRN:

Sahar F. Aziz (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States


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