THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MODESTY, A NIQAB IN CANADA IS A POLITICAL STATEMENT. IT IS A MUSLIM TELLING CANADA TO GET READY, ALL THE WOMEN WILL BE EXPECTED TO WEAR THIS BLACK FABRIC CASKET.
AFTER ALL, ISLAM CONSIDERS UNCOVERED WOMEN TO BE PIECES OF MEAT, DESERVING OF RAPE. (Sheikh Al-Hilaly) A MOST RESPECTED SCHOLAR ACCORDING TO THE MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN. THIS 7TH CENTURY MENTALITY MUST BE CLEARLY REJECTED AND EJECTED FROM CANADA.
Veiled threat: Niqab ban has some fearing a less tolerant Canada
When Minna Ella walks through the department store, she’s one of the few women who don’t get pestered by clerks trying to dole out free makeup and perfume samples.
“They just look right through me,” says the 35-year-old.
The reason seems clear.
Whenever the mother of four leaves her house in Waterloo, Ont., she covers herself with a niqab, a Muslim veil that covers her from head to toe, leaving a slit for her eyes.
She is one of an estimated 300 women across Canada living their public lives under the cover of this veil.
Ella, who was born and raised in Ontario, says in the past few years, she has noticed a sense of growing anger and fear from Canadians.
She says that’s particularly true since Quebec introduced Bill 94 in 2010. The bill, still working its way through the legislature, would require public employees, education and health workers, and anyone seeking government services, to have their faces uncovered at all times.
The debate spread across the country and was the first in a series of moves Ella says have changed her experience of Canada.
This week, Jason Kenney, the minister of immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism, announced that women will now be required to remove their face coverings during citizenship swearing-in ceremonies.
Survey results from Forum Research showed widespread support for the move, with 81 per cent of respondents saying they agreed with it. In fact, a majority of the survey’s 1,160 respondents in every major category — sex, age, region and political persuasion — agreed.
Still, some have been angered and point to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects religious freedoms and freedom of expression, saying this rule will set Canada back, and flies in the face of our multicultural society.
“We have never locked into a notion of what it means to be Canadian,” says Bev Baines, professor of public and constitutional law at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“So, if we want to have a debate about our identity, we should have it being conscious of the fact that almost a third of Canadians now are not the old-line francophone or anglophone folks that we used to be.”
Rania Lawendy, who is on the board of the Muslim Association of Canada, agrees.
“People left Europe to come to Canada because they wanted religious freedom,” she says. “At the time, they were Christians, but that’s been the spirit of Canada. It would be a dark day if we started banning religious expressions on this continent.”
The veil has become a highly political garment, both here and abroad, with Canadians, both Muslim and non-Muslim, on both sides of the debate.
France and Belgium were the first to ban the face covering in all public spaces, and the issue often makes headlines in the Netherlands and Denmark, with supporters calling the niqab a “medieval relic” that oppresses women and promotes sex discrimination.
Lawendy and Ella say they worry that, with this move, the Conservative government has put Canada on the same track.
“It wasn’t like this, even a couple of years ago,” says Ella. “We were treated properly. We were treated as Canadians. Then, all of a sudden, Bill 94 came to Quebec, there was a big fuss, and ever since that time, (the issue is coming up) frequently.”
In the past session of Parliament, Conservative MP Steve Blaney introduced a bill that would force women to show their faces at the polling booth — it was not passed, but the government has said it will re-introduce a similar bill in the new year.
Naima Bouteldja, a French researcher who interviewed 32 niqabi women in that country for an April 2011 report, and who is in the process of doing the same in the United Kingdom, says there is a disproportionate response from politicians to what they see as the “problem of the niqab.”
Bouteldja herself wears the hijab, the Muslim garment that covers her hair but leaves her face revealed.
“It’s a clear political manipulation, which they use to divert attention from economic problems,” says Bouteldja, who says she personally has not met any women forced to wear the niqab.
In fact, she says some have been thrown into family conflict because they choose to cover against the wishes of their parents. “But, none of this is addressed by an outright ban,” she says.
Ella says that under her niqab she wears makeup and follows the latest fashion trends.
“If you were to visit me at home, I would be wearing whatever I want to wear — I have skinny jeans and nice tops, I have everything that everyone else wears, but I only show them inside my home, with my family and friends, or outside with only women.
“In our book, the Qur’an, there are verses that God has sent to us that explain how we’re supposed to dress,” says Ella, when asked why she decided, at age 17, to cover herself for the sake of modesty.
“In these verses the hijab (or head scarf) is mandatory and that’s what we all have to wear. Some scholars have made further interpretations that, if you cover your face, that would be better in the eyes of God.
“I’ve read both sides and I made this decision on my own — not because I’m hiding from anyone or because I’m oppressed, but because that’s how I feel comfortable and it makes me feel closer to my creator.”
Still, in countries, such as Canada and France, where women have fought for equality, where an increasingly secular society has seen religious belief on a steady decline, and where many young women take every excuse to flaunt what Mother Nature gave them, the idea that any woman would choose to keep her body out of sight can seem alien.
“It’s hard for many Canadians to understand,” says University of Montreal researcher Patrice Brodeur.
When confronted with a woman in a niqab, there’s a certain level of discomfort because we don’t know how to behave, he says.
Without being able to see her body language, how can we know her intentions?
But banning certain types of dress has never been the answer, he says.
“We must, instead, learn to see the person behind the veil and not to put our own expectations onto them.”
Brodeur was speaking from Qatar, where he was attending a UN conference called the Alliance of Civilizations. He says the Canadian government’s approach “creates an ‘us versus them’ dichotomy, stereotypes Muslim women, and scapegoats the minuscule percentage of the population that chooses to cover themselves.”
The government’s move has earned it praise from some quarters.
Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress, applauded Kenney’s announcement.
“He has done in one stroke what any other Canadian politician has not had the courage to do. It sends a clear message that this attire is not welcome in Canada.”
Fatah, whose organization has been called right-wing by members of other Muslim organizations in this country, called the niqab “monstrous” and accused women who wear it of being agents of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood who hate Canada.
He says the veil allows them to avoid pledging allegiance to the Queen which, he says, is against their “extremist views.”
Brodeur counters that it’s foolish to assume all women who wear one piece of traditional clothing think or believe the same thing.
Critics of the Tory government’s recent policy change have pointed out it was done with little public consultation with the community.
Furthermore, Brodeur says, the niqab simply isn’t that prevalent in Canadian society.
There are not more than 50 women in the Greater Montreal Area who wear the niqab, he says.
Perhaps 100 around Toronto, and fewer in Vancouver — maybe 300 all across the country, at most, estimated Brodeur.
Those numbers could grow.
The population of Muslims in Canada is expected to nearly triplein the next 20 years, from about 940,000 in 2010 to nearly 2.7 million in 2030, according to a Pew Forum survey on The Future of the Global Muslim Population.
Muslims are expected to make up 6.6 per cent of Canada’s total population in 2030, up from 2.8 per cent today.
As the number of Muslims in Canada increases, government must resist excluding these women from participating in society, and encourage people on both sides of the debate to create a Canadian-made approach, Brodeur says.
The minister of multiculturalism said he had received complaints that it was difficult to tell if women who wear the veil are actually reciting the oath, as required by Canadian law.
“The citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act. It is a public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly,” Kenney said Monday as he made his announcement.
For her part, Ella says that rather than scapegoating the small minority of women who wear the niqab, the government could ensure that they are, in fact, pledging their allegiance to the Maple Leaf in a more culturally sensitive way.
Someone could stand beside the woman, Ella suggests. Or she could hold a microphone, say the oath in front of a female judge, or remove the niqab for the brief time she is reciting the oath — not for the whole ceremony.
“It’s frustrating because we are not a threat,” says Ella.
“They are making us seem like a threat, they are making up stories and making people scared of us.”
Weighing in on the debate over the niqab isn’t usually how Ella spends her energy.
She works as an administrator at the Al Huda School in Kitchener, Ont., which teaches young students the tenets of Islam. It is one of a handful of weekend-only schools sponsored by the Muslim Association of Canada.
When she’s not at the school, out for a sushi lunch with friends, or shopping for groceries or clothing for her kids, she’s busy in the job of bringing up her children to be respectful, caring Muslim-Canadians, something that keeps her on her toes.
“I put so much energy into teaching them how to be responsible citizens. I’m involved in their school and their education . . . that’s how I contribute to Canadian society.”
Ella, whose voice lights up when she talks about her children, says her daughter, Sohayla, 13, is excelling at kung fu and swimming, while her oldest son, Ahmad, 11, has just started water polo: “He’s getting very strong and he loves it.”
She’s the first in line to cheer on Abdurahman, her seven-year-old, as he runs on the soccer field, or swims laps in the community pool.
And the newest member of her family, her three-month old son, is a joy, she says.
When asked if she will guide her daughter to cover herself, Ella says, no, it’s a personal matter between a believer and her creator. “No one else can make that decision for her.”
But she is worried.
“I was shopping once and a lady came up very close to me. She stared into my eyes and said ‘You’re in Canada, now.'”
Most people tell her to “go home” or give her dirty looks, but Ella says she just keeps silent when this happens.
“It makes me feel sad because I would like to reach out and say ‘I’m just like you, and I dress like this because it’s a religious thing, but it doesn’t make me less human than you.’