It’s clear from her varied and numerous commitments — academic, volunteer, writer, spouse, mom — that Sobia Shaikh has the willingness to give time to others in Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly if it’s for a cause or people she cares about.
An assistant professor at Memorial University’s school of social work, Shaikh prides herself on being community-minded. At the university, she serves as co-lead of the Addressing Islamophobia in NL project, and she’s also co-president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women-NL and co-chairs the Anti-Racism Coalition NL.
“The very foundation of our society (in Canada) is based on racist ideas that Indigenous people are somehow not full peoples. These are things that are troubling for me and they need to be talked about, they need to be looked at in the face and they need to be unravelled.”
While studying for a science degree at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., Shaikh found herself volunteering with women’s organizations, working closely with people on matters related to immigrants and racialized women.
“Social work felt very practical, but also something which I was drawn to because of the work I had been doing in the community,” explained Shaikh, who completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at McMaster before doing her PhD in sociology and equity studies in education at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
She cares deeply about addressing inequalities and the lack of action from those in power when it comes to the environment, racism, disability and a host of other social justice causes, and has found opportunities to uniquely dissect these matters through creative writing. Shaikh is a founding member of The Quilted Collective of Racialized NL Writers and The Creators’ Collective NL: Indigenous, Racialized and Migrant Artists and Arts Workers.
She completed a short monologue that Artistic Fraud NL produced for its “City of Stories” series and is keen to eventually write full plays.
Shaikh has short stories included in a pair of collections from Breakwater Books — “Us, Now: Stories from The Quilted Collective” and “Hard Ticket.” Both of those collections were edited by acclaimed St. John’s author Lisa Moore.
1 . What is your full name?
Sobia Shaheen Shaikh.
2 . Where were you born?
I was born in Lahore, Pakistan, but I was raised in southern Ontario.
3 . Where do you live today?
I definitely live in St. John’s now — I’ve been here since 2010.
4 . Who do you follow on social media?
A lot of groups who are doing social justice work in the province. Individually, I follow a lot of local folks doing some really great work here. People from the Social Justice Co-op (NL), from the Anti-Racism Coalition. I follow folks like (writer and activist) Harsha Walia and (poet, professor and activist) El Jones. I follow (Downtown Comics owner and activist) Kerri Neil locally. … I follow people who I learned from. … I follow some journalists like Leila Beaudoin, Rafsan Jugol.
5 . What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’ve been doing a lot of creative writing these days. I’m aspiring to write a couple of plays with support from the racialized artists creators community. (Laughs.) I think people would be surprised to know that I watch a lot of Marvel movies.
6 . What has been your favourite year and why?
I have so many favourite years. The birth of my daughter, the birth of my son — those are notable years. … I think every period of my life, there’s been so much learning, so much growing. … I want to say the year I am in always, because I find even in difficult times, I find so much joy. I’m really hopeful for right now. It’s been difficult for the last couple of years, but it’s also been good years.
7 . What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
I think moving to St. John’s from someplace where I’d been for 40 years, leaving my extended family — my immediate family came with me — I think that was the hardest thing. Not having had to move where I couldn’t see my mom, my sisters and brother and my cousins, that was really hard at first.
8 . Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
I think having cancer really changed my life. The disability after, that really changed my life. I think that the changes weren’t great at first, but I think they definitely have taught me a lot. Living with disability, living with the actual everyday minutia of changing your life, that’s changed me probably the most. But it’s also really opened me up to really being more aware of who I am and really loving more and looking for joy more. I think that’s been a positive. It’s been hard, but it’s also been really positive.
9 . What is your greatest indulgence?
I would say watching Marvel movies, watching videos with my child. That’s been really fun for me. That would be one of my bigger indulgences, just allowing myself to enjoy things that are not real.
10 . What is your favourite movie or book?
I have so many favourite books. I used to love, or I don’t know if I still love, but Jane Austen was a big part of my landscape. Lawrence Hill’s “The Book of Negroes.” I would say Anita Rau Badami, any of her books. I love reading, so I have lots of books.
11 . What do you like to listen to?
Music, I like anything soul and R&B. Tracy Chapman is probably one of (my favourites). I like listening to all sorts of music. Indian classical.
12 . How do you like to relax?
Just listening to music and just being by myself or with family — just with my daughter mostly, or with my spouse. But the other mode of relaxation is with friends. Just sitting and having a chat.
13 . What are you reading or watching right now?
Right now, I’m reading (Indigenous writer and academic) Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and also (writer and Black Lives Matter co-founder) Patrisse Cullors. And what I’m watching right now is “Ms. Marvel,” again, and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.”
14 . What is your greatest fear?
That the world won’t change for the better — to be more fair and to be kinder. That would be probably my biggest fear.
15 . How would you describe your personal fashion sense?
I guess business casual with a whimsical style of shawls and earrings.
16 . If you had to perform karaoke, which song would you choose and why?
“Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman. I think it’s so soulful, it’s so joyful, it’s so action-oriented — I like that.
17 . What is your most treasured possession?
I guess some old pictures of my family, my mother. Also just pictures in general I think of my children when they were younger. Fun times. … We don’t have a lot of them (physically) in the contemporary world, in the modern phone world. (Laughs.)
18 . Which physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
Well, I guess my hair, even though it drives me crazy. My father in particular has very curly hair and very thick hair. Personality traits, I would say from my mom I get some bad ones, too, but I think her real commitment to making things right. Not in a justice way, social justice, but just making things right. Something’s wrong, she’ll just work really hard to make it right. And from my dad, actually, my love of education and learning.
19 . Where is your favourite place in the world?
I think wherever I feel loved. I love my homes, wherever my homes are. I feel comfortable at home. But I also feel comfortable outside by the ocean. I think wherever there’s love, that’s my favourite places.
20 . Which three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
I would say Harsha Walia, El Jones and probably Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Those are just people that I’m admiring right now with the kind of work that they’re doing in the community, and their writing as well.