Bra Photo Forces Muslim Woman into Hiding

This is a story about Muslim intolerance. It’s also a story about how dangerous it is for Muslim women to step out of line. Sooraya Graham wasn’t targeted by her parents or her brothers. Unlike Malala, she wasn’t living in a dangerous part of the world. Instead all this took place at a Canadian university.

Sooraya Graham wasn’t trying to criticize Islam. She was trying to criticize Western perceptions of how Muslim women live. And the behavior of Muslims proved those perceptions were right all along.

Unfamiliar pill bottles have become all too familiar to Sooraya Graham. Anti-depressants and anxiety medication have found a home in her life where they were previously unwelcome and unneeded.

Graham sits at home, wondering what she ever did to deserve such a fate.

Kamloops, the city she once called home, is now just a memory. While Graham wishes it were a more distant one, this memory remains very much at the forefront of her life. Living more than 800 kilometres from Kamloops is enough to remind her on a daily basis. Citing safety reasons, Graham requested her specific location not be revealed.

Apart from being uprooted and reliant on medications just to get by, Graham is also slowly giving up her religion, that until the past year, was an integral part of her.

All of this is a direct result of one innocent but provocative piece of artwork.

In March 2012¸Graham went through one of the most trying experiences any budding artist can experience.

Graham — a Canadian Muslim — was, at the time, a fourth-year fine arts student at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).

After composing a breath-taking photograph intended to foster a societal discussion about women — particularly Muslim women and the niqab, or face veil — Graham put her artwork on display as part of a class project for TRU fine arts professor Ernie Kroeger.

“I was trying to create a discussion point for Muslim women, for veiled women and to kind of just show light of how we are just normal women,” Graham said in a March 2012 interview in The Omega.

The reaction that followed was beyond anything she had ever imagined.

According to Graham, her artwork was stripped down from its display and taken away by then TRU World international student advisor, Sahar Alnakeb.

“They weren’t willing to give it to me if I was going to put it back on the wall,” Graham said in March 2012. “They were holding it hostage, I guess you could say.

“We’re  always told that our voice is important and that we can say something with our art. It is shocking when someone tries to silence that.”

Alnakeb, also a female Muslim, left her business card on the wall in place of Graham’s work. She would eventually return the work to Graham, after which it would was put back on display. TRU also compensated Graham for damage to the piece.

Alnakeb would issue an apology to Graham via email.

“As an International Student Advisor I do apologize for removing your picture, at that time I was aiming to support my female Muslim students who have found it offensive [to] students but now I see it was a mistake. Sorry for the inconvenience,” was all that Alnakeb wrote to Graham on Wednesday, April 11, 2012.

That last part is very important. The offensiveness here did not come from Terry Jones. It came from a Muslim woman. The entire scam of Islamophobia is there to restrain criticism of Islam from both inside and outside Islam.

That is the most important thing to understand. Islamophobia and the constant claims of offensiveness are there to censor not only criticism of a religion but any behavior by members of that religion deemed offensive by Islamists.

“You know, that 15 minutes of fame, I wanted it to be literally 15 minutes and done,” Graham said. “I wanted the injustice to be solved because when Sahar did that, she pushed so many boundaries.”

After the story quieted down within the media, things did not follow suit in Graham’s life. She received death threats via email, hate messages were stuck on her car windshield and the front door to her home, the tail light on her car was broken and she was followed around campus by other Muslim students who disapproved of her art. She wasn’t comfortable going to, from or within school without travelling in a group.

“I didn’t feel safe on campus. I went to a counsellor and told her about it and I was stressed,” Graham said. “I tried to express it. But at the same time, I had no proof. They just said, ‘Oh, you’re just being paranoid.’”

Would the college have dismissed Graham as being paranoid if she were being threatened by Canadian conservatives? Unlikely. She would have had 24 hour protection.

Eventually, Graham’s parents would convince her to pick up and leave TRU and Kamloops. Not only was she leaving behind her city and her university, she was leaving behind four years of studies towards her fine arts degree, which she has still been unable to complete. Now she doesn’t even know if she wants to finish her degree and has come to the conclusion that she certainly does not want to pursue a career as an artist, as she once did.

As a direct result of the incident, Graham has found herself slowly losing touch with her religion, something that was once so important to her. She is no longer allowed to travel to places in the Muslim world like Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Dubai due to the danger she faces after her artwork and story circulated the international Muslim community.

“As a Muslim, what do I do about Mecca?  That’s gone for me now. Permanently,” Graham said. “It’s an R.E.M. song. I’m losing my religion. It’s changed me. At this time, maybe it’s a good thing.”

Left unsaid in the story is how big that controversy became and the Mecca connection and the Saudi presence on campus.

The Saudi Education Centre in Kamloops, which is funded by the Saudi Arabian government and provides support to Saudi students and their families, is taking issue with the photo.

“The artist didn’t approach the artwork let’s say in a very professional way that can state and can clarify the information and clarify the idea behind the picture,” said centre president Trad Bahabri.

The question is how deep the Saudi presence at Thompson Rivers University goes and how much that connection influenced the treatment of Soraya Graham.

A year ago Soraya Graham was talking about Niqabi rights.

Graham wears the niqab as a personal choice.

She believes that some people in Canada have the misconception that women who wear the niqab are somehow oppressed or forced into doing so. That is a part of what motivates her art.

“In a lot of Western media, you often see the veiled woman as oppressed, or as a fundamentalist, or this pacifistic woman,” Graham said. “And that’s not the case. I think it’s something that needs to be broken as a stereotype.”

But now Graham has discovered that there is no personal choice in Islam.

  • Rita

    "…Graham wears the niqab as a personal choice.__She believes that some people in Canada have the misconception that women who wear the niqab are somehow oppressed or forced into doing so. That is a part of what motivates her art.__“In a lot of Western media, you often see the veiled woman as oppressed, or as a fundamentalist, or this pacifistic woman,” Graham said. “And that’s not the case. I think it’s something that needs to be broken as a stereotype.”…_

    Sorry, after reading this ^^^, I restrain myself from saying "serves her right", but I certainly do not feel any pity for her.

    • Ang

      Oh so I guess you also think women who wear skirts deserve to be raped and you have no pity for them.. after all they dressed sexy with easy access so "it served them right". Not all muslims condone violence and those , like this lady, that don't are trying to create a bridge of understanding. She is not asking anyone else to wear the hijab.. it is HER choice. and she should not fear for her life for either expressing her womanhood as a muslim woman or for wearing the hijab.

      • Daniel Greenfield

        She was wearing a Niqab. And what she experienced is a reminder that in the Muslim world, it is not optional.

      • Mary Sue

        the WHOLE POINT of the niqab is the attitude among muslim MEN that 'women in miniskirts deserve to be raped'

        • Just someone

          Actually, it isn't just miniskirts, it's anything that shows almost any part of the female anatomy. And no one would cover themselves up night and day by choice. Whether they are coerced into it or tricked into by religious teachings, they do it because they don't have a choice. If the men feel that the sight of a naked female body part is gong to drive them into a sexual frenzy, then it is the men that have to do something about themselves. For example, they could wear a chastity belt that only their wives or mothers could unlock or they could choose to control themselves and act like responsible adults. But this is about the oppression of women, nothing less, so men don't have to take responsibility for themselves.

      • defcon 4

        Can't rebut someone's point of view eh? Ever hear of a strawman argument? Well, congratulations your just used one. Of course fallacies of argumentation and lies are all you really have when defending islam?

        What do you say about what Muhammad did to the Jews who USED to live in Saudi Arabia? Do you condemn the genocidal antisemitism found in the hadith of islam?

  • AdinaK

    I am hardly a Muslim…but I know about Muslim intolerance!! I am sure that many in the alternative media, who dare criticize Islam, have experienced some sort of harassment.
    To be sure, if I ceased and desisted, every time I received missives to "cease and desist", well, I would be living in a bunker. And if a Muslim woman steps out of line, then the rage of Allah-driven madness takes over.
    It is more than likely that the threats against her are generated from the MSA, or one of its derivatives. And I have to say that I know their tactics well, as related to Muslims and "infidels". To be sure, there is NO room for tolerance within Islam, none at all. A reformation is the only answer <a href="http://-” target=”_blank”>-

    As to the MSA/MSU and its tentacles –

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

    • defcon 4

      The MSA (or was it the MSU?) at the University of Southern California had, at one point, on its university hosted homepage, the text of an "authentic" hadith in Islam that calls for the worldwide extermination of Jews. I don't remember a SINGLE muslime, ANYWHERE, condemning this.

  • Mary Sue

    KAMLOOPS?! FREAKING KAMLOOPS? Hello Premier Clark, we have a PROBLEM here. A SERIOUS problem.

    Kamloops used to be such a nice place, ugh, now it's infiltrated by Jihadis? Mother of f***…

  • @markjuliansmith

    It may be time for the psychology fraternity to step up and research whether or not the determination women are less in any cultural foundation text is a training ground for terror against Other.

    If you can oppress your dearest and nearest with such vigor what hope is there for Other?


    Islamophobia simply does not exist for rational fear is not a phobia.

    To say Islamophobia exists is irrational.

    • defcon 4

      Islamophobia is an Orwellian construct.

  • Ali Mossa

    The Muslim women who took the option to fall into the extreme of unrealistic laws where they are forced to wear the burkha. My perception would be for the women to ditch the unnatural and allow the natural life. Do Not Allow Hijab. Burkha, and any other restrictions. If you don't wear the these costumes doesn't mean Allah will come and punish you. Womens right should apply to all women alike and not the religious intervention.
    Lets make a change and challenge those who are in the position to protect their position.