Politics of Burka and Niqab Heat Up in Canada

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Muslim Canadian Congress is lobbying to ban the burka and niqab, but authorities say apparel is a matter of individual expression. Young women who have adopted the clothes say they like the modest attire.

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"They don't want a woman to be showing any part of their body. The woman has no choice," she said.

However, Yusuf Badat, imam of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, rejected the notion that women are being pressured to wear the garments in Canada. He noted that different Muslim groups should have the freedom to interpret religious texts however they wish.

Under Islam, it is a religious requirement for women to cover their hair, at minimum, by wearing the hijab, or headscarf, Badat said.

"If they want to extend their modesty and their piety of also covering their face, then that meaning can be understood," he said.

Expression of Faith

Badat said a growing number of young Muslim women in Canada are choosing to wear niqabs as an expression of their faith.

"The younger generation has an inquisitive mind and they want to know the religious aspects," he said.

Cheryfa Jamal, 47, said she began wearing a niqab about 10 years ago and continues to do so outside the home and in the company of men who are not immediate family members.

"Our modest clothes are not oppressive to us," Jamal wrote in an e-mail. "We are free from the distractions and embarrassment of being the focus of the desires of every man who looks in our direction."

Jennifer Gilbert, 26, who became a Muslim more than two years ago, began wearing increasingly modest clothing as she learned more about Islam and because she was appalled by how non-Muslim men objectified women.

"The very idea of knowing that no matter what part of my body shows it creates disgusting things in men's heads made me that much more sure of my decision," she said. "Since wearing the niqab . . . my self-esteem has risen and I fell in love with myself more on the inside than on the outside."

Still, Mohammad Qadeer, professor emeritus at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and author of the book "Pakistan: Social and Cultural Transformations in a Muslim Nation," said while he did not support the idea of government legislation, leaders and women within Canada's Muslim communities should discourage niqabs and burkas because they inhibit face-to-face communication.

"It is signaling 'I don't trust you,'" he said. "For the social cohesion, for Canada as a tolerant society, we should trust each other and we should promote trust."

Wency Leung is a freelance writer in Vancouver, Canada.

For more information:

The Muslim Canadian Congress


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