By: Washim Ahmed
I grew up seeing my mother and aunt don the niqab every time they left the house — not because they “had to,” but because they “wanted to.”
My father never had the opportunity to force my mother to wear one because he mostly lived abroad. Moreover, he didn’t believe niqab to be obligatory on women. However, when my mother immigrated to Canada, she stopped wearing the niqab — not because she was suddenly “liberated,” but because she never got the moral support she needed from her husband.
My father was primarily concerned about her safety, but there were other factors he considered — one in particular was being singled out and labelled as an “oppressor.” He did not want to be typecast as the stereotypical Muslim husband who called the shots in his wife’s life, depriving her of the fundamental freedom to make her own choices. Unfortunately, my parents are not alone.
I have had this conversation several times with friends, many of whom I would consider religious and conservative. Surprisingly, I don’t recall any of them being truly comfortable with the idea of marrying a Niqabi. They no doubt admired the religious conviction, but were constantly obstructed by the fear of being deemed as insensitive oppressors. I know many women who wanted to wear the niqab, or are already wearing it, but had to surrender this religious practice because of unsupportive husbands.
There is something fundamentally wrong with how the entire niqab debate is framed. This issue came up again in the recent French-language leadership debate, when NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair accused Tory Leader Stephen Harper of using the niqab to hide his political record. Harper responded saying: “Mr. Mulcair, I will never tell my young daughter that a woman should cover her face because she’s a woman,” to which Mulcair rebutted, “Tackle the oppressor if you believe that there is oppression there.”
On first glance, both leaders seem to hold polar opposite views. But on further scrutiny, both have made the objectionable assumption that a Niqabi woman is oppressed, and that generally the oppressor is the man. Both leaders have not entertained the thought that a Muslim woman can make her wardrobe decisions herself, especially regarding the face veil.
Recently, Ontario Trillium Foundation and Canadian Council of Muslim Women conducted a study among Niqabi women. The research yielded two main reasons for deciding to wear the niqab — to fulfil their religious commitments and to express their Muslim identity. Not a single woman indicated being forced into wearing it.
What baffles me is how depriving a woman of her right to wear what she wants could solve the pertinent issues facing Canadians such as the sluggish economy and unemployment. It is unfortunate to see our political platforms dominated by irrelevant issues such as the niqab, a matter not concerning the vast majority of Canadians.
Moreover, this misleading political debate leads to reverse inequality. Banning the niqab in the name of promoting gender equality actually advocates a system which will not only deprive Muslim women from their freedom to choose for themselves on what to wear, but also infringe on their constitutional right to freedom of religion and expression.
It will be naive to expect that a niqab ban will liberate those “oppressed” women because there is nothing to liberate them from. They are already liberated prospective Canadian citizens. In fact, denying them Canadian citizenship because of what they choose to wear would truly make them more precarious and repressed.
This political debate only fuels the fire of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in society by portraying Muslim men as villainous oppressors. Rather than helping Muslim Niqabi women, this misleading debate will push Muslim men toward becoming defensive and unsupportive to their spouses who wear the niqab.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of MuslimVillage.com.