(October 13, 2009) – In recent days, the issue of wearing the niqab and burqa has been raised in the media and portrayed as a form of oppression of women.
The argument that has been used is that if women are being pressured to wear the niqab (face cover) then it should be banned in all public spaces.
As a Muslim Canadian who wears the hijab (head scarf), I believe that it’s a matter of choice and religious freedom – a freedom of choice that every Canadian has under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
Women who choose specific dress for religious reasons feel that it is a requirement for their religious expression and, as such, a part of their identity.
In my mind, this debate could be about the hijab and other religious attire.
In Canada, when choosing to wear any form of dress for religious reasons, we have to accept that there may be some discrimination; it comes with the territory.
Sure some people don’t agree with the niqab, but it’s not a question of whether you or I agree with it, it’s a question of a woman’s rights to live freely and dress, however she wants.
As a Muslim hijabi and an abaya (long dress) wearer for many years, I can tell you, that I, like many other women, wear it by choice; a personal choice that I have made and a commitment between myself and my Lord (Allah).
There was no religious compulsion by parents or family and moving forward, the choice will continue to be mine.
No matter what the hardship, if a woman freely decides to wear a specific attire, she has made an informed decision and realizes the possible discrimination that may occur as a result of it.
Hijab for me is a part of who I am.
Organizations such as the Maytree Foundation, as well as others, are working hard to integrate diversity into this country.
They have been trying to push people to accept diversity and to develop more than just a tolerance but to reach a level of inclusion that surpasses what we have ever done before.
If we really and truly value the diversity of people, religions and cultures, then how can we ban certain cultural or religious attire?
Familial pressure is one thing but banning it at the state level – is that not oppression in a much larger way?
With regards to women who may be pressured to wear the niqab or burqa, the question we should be asking ourselves is – how do we reach out to them?
I’m happy to say that some organizations such as the United Way of Peel have acknowledged the need to reach out to “marginalized” communities.
An example of this is the work that is being done with the South Asian community through the Community Advisory Council and the establishment of its “Apna Peel” campaign.
There are also many social activists who are working on developing a sense of empowerment and civic engagement for Muslims, including women in Canada.
From running a conference with all female panelists at the Hamilton Convention Centre in November (http://www.engagedcanadians.com), to conducting workshops through various organizations, such as Federation of Muslim Women and Muslimah, to developing a scholarship for Muslim Women in Leadership and finally by becoming writers and voicing our opinions, these are just some ways that we can make a difference.
My book which is set to release in March of 2010 is an inspirational biography titled “From Behind the Veil, A Hijabi’s Journey to Happiness.”
I wrote it to highlight the very fact that wearing the hijab is a choice and, that a hijabi Muslim Canadian, South Asian woman can work towards making a difference.
Finally, proponents of a ban on the niqab and burqa have recently said that by not agreeing to such a ban, we are supporting extremism.
I disagree completely.
It’s hypocritical to think that we should ban the niqab to save women and liberate them, while we may end up oppressing women who are actually wearing it by personal choice and feel that it’s a part of their identity.
Hijab is my choice, my identity and a part of who I am. And no one should have the right to dictate who I am!
(Farheen Khan currently works as a Consultant to create a Community Engagement strategy for the United Way of Peel’s South Asian Advisory Council under their diversity initiative, Farheen is also the President of CAMP Toronto (Council for the advancement of Muslim Professionals). She is a graduate of the CITY Leaders program and sits on the Advisory Board for the CITY Leaders program at the United Way of Greater Toronto and the Maytree Foundation’s “Leader for Change” program).