Plain, Niqab, Hijab

Quebec wants to ban the wearing of chador and niqab. That is, they want to outlaw women covering their faces.

Most of us are aware that Islamic custom calls for women to be modest, even to the point where they don’t show their faces. Not many Muslim women who live in the West do this. While many practice the headcovering and modesty of hijab, they don’t feel called to cover completely. The government of Quebec, as well as other places, wants to prevent women from covering to the point of anonymity.

Why does the government think they can legislate religious practice and modesty? It’s just none of their business. If I want to go out in public in a hat with a full net veil, are they going to suspect me of plotting sedition? Western women used to veil under certain circumstances – getting married, wearing widow’s weeds (a long black dress, hat and face veil were common until about eighty years ago) and when they travelled in dusty or contagious conditions. A face veil that partially or fully concealed the features was considered fashionable at certain times.

This singling out of Muslim women is nothing but xenophobia. It is prejudice and hostility toward the religious practices of other cultures. There seems to be an assumption that the woman has no choice in this (according to a columnist here in Ontario) and that women do it because their husbands order them to. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam. Not all Islamic women practice hijab or niqab; not all Islamic men wear the beard or head cover. It is an individual choice. Certainly, some husbands may hypocritically order their wives in hijab or niqab while looking thoroughly Westernized themselves, but that is between the couple and maybe their religious community. Matters of family structure are not public matters unless they cross the line into abuse and violence.

My concern is that those of us who cover in other ways are going to be regarded with suspicion and come under scrutiny. We all look alike to some people, we cover too much of our hair and our bodies; there’s nothing to make us look like individuals. Which is the point. My individuality has nothing to do with my attire, my hair colour, or how much face or ankle I show. It has everything to do with being the person God wants me to be.

Traditional and Plain women need to stand up for their Muslim sisters’ right to choose niqab, the chador, the burkha and hijab. Their rights to religious expression and freedom are just as important as ours. If you want tolerance, you must practice tolerance.