Chester Ronning Centre postdoctoral fellow looks to shed light on Islamophobia as structural form of racism

Sharmin Sadequee, PhD, will host the 2021 International Fellows Conference entitled “Islamophobia and/in Post-Secular States: Religion, Race, Science and Law” this November at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus.

Tia Lalani - 30 June 2021

Last year, the Chester Ronning Centre at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus welcomed Sharmin Sadequee as their newest postdoctoral fellow. A cultural anthropologist who specializes in the study of Islam and Muslim communities and their relationship both to and in American law, religion, secularism and the civil society social movement, Sadequee will bring this knowledge to the campus and Camrose communities. 

Sadequee felt an early connection to the study of anthropology and religion because it helped her to contextualize her experience at university.

“Undergrad is the time when you’re learning about your identity,” she explained. “Anthropology helped me—being an immigrant in a US context and having all of these cultural issues that young people go through—to understand a lot of that. As for religion—there are many different ways to understand the world around us, and religion and culture are other perspectives through which we can see and explain people’s lives and social phenomenons.”

While Sadequee was in graduate school, a personal experience led her to focus more locally on Islam and Muslim communities in the USA. In 2006, a family member—Sadequee’s brother—was targeted, profiled and imprisoned in Georgia as part of the USA’s “War on Terror”. Immediately, Sadequee and her family were placed in another world, culture and language: one of law and activists and work that she was drawn to, was passionate about and would pursue for the next decade.

“I began travelling, trying to seek assistance, learning, connecting with different organizations and institutions, trying to get help for my brother,” she explained. “I became very active with the grassroots work around these kinds of issues—constitutional rights violations—trying to educate myself and others and engaging in various activist communities.”

Sadequee went to work with several local and national civil and human rights organizations in the US, and began to focus on the interaction between Islam and modern US law.

“I’m interested in how Islam is managed and regulated both inside and through different social, cultural and legal spaces,” Sadequee explained, “including criminal disputes, litigation, civil disputes and even in civil society which I see as a legal space because we are protesting, campaigning and asking for rights which have to come about through the law.”

While spending time in these organizations, Sadequee also had the opportunity to put together national conferences about Muslim experiences with security laws, and related to Islamophobia. Now, she’s bringing that work to Camrose. 

“A lot of people understand Islamophobia as an individualized, personal prejudice,” Sadequee explained. “But it’s important to discuss Islamophobia as a structural form of racism and look at the way it regulates the boundaries of secular and nonsecular.”

As part of the Chester Ronning Centre’s International Fellows Conference, Saquedee hopes to gather lawyers, activists, scholars, community members and organization and religious leaders to discuss Islamophobia and raise awareness of its impact.

As if organizing an international conference and writing a manuscript—focused on cultural studies of American security laws and the governance, management and regulation of Islam and Muslims in American secularism—isn’t enough, Sadequee has also enjoyed teaching world religion to Augustana students. In the Winter of 2022, Sadequee is looking forward to teaching a course entitled "Constructing Islam and Muslims". 

“It’s exciting to teach undergraduates because it’s this time when you’re learning about different cultures, religions and perspectives but also learning so much about yourself,” Sadequee said. “It can be transformational.”

Sadequee’s research—and life—experience will undoubtedly aid in that process for the Augustana community.