God, Islam, Rasuls, Prophets, Angels, Muslims, Mankind

The niqab takes us back to where Muslim women should not be going


Let me be extremely clear. I am not in favour of Quebec’s religious neutrality law. As many have observed, Bill 62 contradicts the very idea of neutrality, breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the political machinations of the legislation are all too obvious.

The signs clearly point toward niqab as the legislation’s prime target. Past cases such as the Quebec religious symbols ban and the attempt to uncover women for the citizenship oath corroborate this.

For Muslim women who do not agree with the religious philosophy behind the niqab (or the hijab for that matter), but do believe in freedom of thought and expression for all women, this is a conflicting issue.

I arrived in Canada many years ago, from a Muslim country that was fast becoming religiously and socially oppressive, particularly towards women, intent on hiding them behind veils and head coverings.

Here, I felt I could finally escape that. Little did I know that this would follow me to Canada, under the guise of religious freedom and free will.

As a Muslim who has never believed in the hijab, let alone the niqab, it has been difficult to watch its popularity steadily rising.

I have witnessed the visual fabric of my country of birth change radically, with more and more head-covered women and girls, who’ve lost any sort of distinction as women, as the hijab literally and figuratively gains a chokehold around their necks and the niqab renders them faceless.

Seeing that in Canada is even harder.

As women in Muslim countries fight for equality, extolling the hijab or niqab as a symbol of religious freedom only adds layers of obscurity to this excruciating struggle.

Instead of opening up to the world, this covers us up even more, relegating our identity to a “something” that lies underneath or behind a veil. Yet, it is becoming the most starkly visible symbol of Muslim female identity globally.

The matter of personal choice becomes even more humiliating an argument when I see Muslim women defending their choice to wear the hijab or niqab in the name of religion, when it does nothing to stop the unending cycle of relentless violence, subjugation and male domination that Muslim women go through every day. Even in Canada.

The argument of personal choice to don the hijab or the niqab – which is about masculine subjugation of the female body and not a personal choice, no matter how much women may insist it is – loses its credibility when it follows on the heels of burgeoning religiosity.

No doubt, wearing the hijab, or the niqab, isn’t a barrier to being a successful woman. I have personally experienced the professionalism of such women – scholars, scientists, doctors, politicians – and never doubted them.

But where Muslim women should be trying to break the shackles of centuries-old tradition, they are instead succumbing to it by convincing themselves (and others) that they are embracing the independence of “choice.”

For many of us, who have come from Muslim countries and who have personally witnessed the negative impact of such traditions on women, the defence of such practices as personal choices is both a disappointment and a step back in trying to prevent our countries of origin and their women from descending into oblivion.

Bill 62 isn’t about living in harmony with others, or about respecting secularism. It is clearly about discrimination. But if we separate the rationale for Bill 62 from what the niqab supposedly stands for in the minds of Muslim women, there is a much deeper and possibly darker reality to contend with.

And it is time that we, as Muslim women, looked at this closely and carefully, before widely condemning the curtailment of religious freedom.

Bill 62 affects those living in Quebec and in Canada. But the niqab affects the freedoms of Muslim women all over the world.

Themrise Khan is an Ottawa-based independent professional specializing in global development, social policy and migration. She blogs at www.lamehdood.wordpress.com


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