Author: Alia Hogben
Source: Whig Column
The recent passing of the Quebec Bill 62 into law has affected Muslims, especially Canadian Muslim women who wear the niqab or full face covering. Amongst other restrictions, they will receive no public services or be allowed to use public transportation.
The Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) has been flooded with media calls to respond to how this will affect the daily lives of those Canadian Muslim women who wear the niqab.
Generally niqabi women do not like public attention though they are often the subjects of interest. As none of us in CCMW wear the niqab, I was pleased that I found one young woman willing to share her thoughts on life under the niqab.
Ann, a pseudonym, is about 19 years old, married for one year, a student at a local college. She was impressed by her Muslim friends who relied on Islam “as a rock” and she wanted to gain the same peace that she felt they had. She learnt about Islam through a student group and converted about three years ago. She has taken courses in Islam from a teacher at the i3 Institute in Toronto.
Her parents are against her conversion and her new way of life, but she is happy with her Muslim husband whose family is accepting of her niqab even though they don’t wear it themselves.
Before her conversion, she thought of the hijab (head covering) and the niqab (face covering) as oppressive, but soon found it “beautiful” and sees it as part of Islam.
Ann explained that she believes that the hijab is mandatory but the niqab is not. She decided to wear the niqab as she fully believes that the wives of the Prophet Mohamad covered their faces and that the various schools of jurisprudence all teach that the niqab is a good practice. She feels that the niqab has “enhanced my religion” and she wants people to accept her as she is, including her niqab.
In response to the question of how people treat her, she said that in classes most of her fellow students accept her as she is, but outside the classroom she has been harassed. People make rude remarks and once she was told to leave a store because the storekeeper did not want to serve her.
She has volunteered with the Students Commission of Canada, in the area of Youth Justice. She works mostly on the internet and has not physically met other students.
About physical activities: Since she donned the niqab, she exercises at a women-only class at Good Life Fitness Centre.
She strongly believes that the niqab is part of the practice of her faith and she just asks that others accept her as she is and not demand of her what she is not demanding of them. She asks why the insistence of others that they want to see her face? She is uncomfortable showing her face so why do people insist on making her uncomfortable?
She knows that other Muslims may not agree with her about the niqab.
I asked her why she believes that Islam demands the face covering. She thinks it is related to “protection of the woman” and it is part of her identity as a Muslim.
She added that it is her own responsibility to practise Islam and that includes how she dresses and how she behaves. She believes that the Canadian Charter gives her rights including how she wants to dress.
She understands that she is projecting a specific interpretation of Islam. She strongly denies that she is covering so that men are not “tempted” nor is she taking on the responsibility of protecting men’s sexuality.
In response to a question about the importance of integration, she says, “I challenge anyone to tell me a definition of what a Canadian society is outside of diversity, freedom and acceptance. Canada is not a melting pot where we all become one and forget where we come from. Canada is a mosaic where we all flourish and are unique.
No immigrant should be required to give up anything of their identity, culture or religion to fit what others deem appropriate. The first immigrants to Canadian land did not integrate with the Indigenous; rather they butchered and committed cultural genocide against the Indigenous people.”
When I told her that a recent survey indicates that over 60 per cent of Canadians agree with the banning of the niqab, she responded that means almost 40 per cent would agree with her.
She said that if she lived in Quebec, where her way of dressing was banned, she would have to seriously consider moving from there because she is not willing to change her religious beliefs to suit the state.
I think it is important that I not comment here on her beliefs and practices because this is our opportunity to learn about how she views the world. For someone so young, Ann has chosen a lifestyle which is not easy and which isolates her in many ways. She has thought through her own questions and is committed to her perspective of Islam. A strong woman!