Zabeen Khamisa, religion and culture lecturer

PROFile: Threads of Diversity

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Zabeen Khamisa, a lecturer in the Department of Religion and Culture at the University of Winnipeg, moved to Winnipeg last July, eager to embark on a new chapter in her academic career.

She is originally from the Greater Toronto Area, and her childhood was marked by a love for mathematics, fueled by a fascination with a math rap cassette tape.

“I had this cassette tape of math rap. It would do multiplications and sums,” she says. “I would dance to it for my family, and I used to wear a top hat, a Beatles T-shirt and a skinny black tie with a black vest.”

However, it wasn’t until high school that Khamisa’s interests began to diversify. Exposed to the rich diversity of religious beliefs within her community and inspired by her family’s craftsmanship, she says she found herself drawn to fashion.

“My family emphasized sewing and making our clothes,” she says. “I took a fashion course in high school and became interested in the politics of fashion, especially in the context of immigration and cultural textiles.”

She later applied to fashion school but realized it wasn’t the right fit. “I wanted to study the relationship between religion, immigration and textiles,” Khamisa says. “That’s when I discovered a new Muslim-studies program at Wilfrid Laurier University.”

With a new focus on religion and culture, she embarked on a path that eventually led her to pursue a PhD in religious diversity in North America. Now settled in Winnipeg, Khamisa is passionate about sharing her insights with her students.

“For many young people, religion is still a source of understanding and inspiration for social change,” she says. Through her research, she aims to highlight the significant role of communities like Sikhs in Canadian public life, urging others to appreciate diverse expressions of faith and tradition.

Outside of her academic pursuits, Khamisa says she finds joy in composting, gardening and exploring Winnipeg’s cultural scene. “I really enjoy learning about the things that people are doing in the city to make a difference,” she says. “I love Winnipeg.”

What’s something you’d tell your younger self?

“Trust what I value and what I think is important will carry me forward. It’s okay to love what I love and take an interest in the things that I’m interested in. You’ll make friends who really care about you someday.”

What was your worst grade in university?

“I think I had a D at one point. I can’t remember the classes, but I had a low grade, and it was because I was in my first or second year. I was still learning how to balance everything, because I also was working at the same time.”

If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

“Ramen, definitely ramen.”

What was your favorite toy growing up?

“It’s a tie between a sewing machine and this stuffed cat that would purr.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 29, 2024)

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