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Thoughts on Niqab Ban in Canada?

Thoughts on Niqab Ban in Canada?


As-salaam Alaykum, I see that you’re a lawyer mash’Allah. What are your thoughts on the ban of the niqab while taking the citizenship oath in Canada? Should women abide by the law or is this an issue of freedom of religion?

Wa alykum as-salaam,

I’d like to start out by saying that I’m not a lawyer, yet. I have my Masters, but I will be entering law school this fall, Insha Allah. I think you’re referring to an earlier post where I said “my lawyer brain” which I said to describe the way my brain works and why legal studies (the subject of my Masters) is so influential in how I perceive and approach The Qur’an.

I’d like to point out something first, I’m not nearly as familiar with the Canadian legal system as I am with the American one, but, honestly, when looking at this issue, it strikes me as something that is very political. By “political” I mean something that does not actually involve the law, legal principles, or even substantive issues.

That being said, what is curious about this particular issue is the way in which this ban was brought about and its particular scope. The ban is against women from wearing the niqab when they are taking their oath of citizenship. The reasoning is not even remotely related towards the usual excuses of “identification” or “criminals” or other bogus reasons.

Instead, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship (Jason Kenney) explicitly stated that “It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality.” When asked about whether this ruling could infringe upon religious freedoms, he responded that “[i]n my view Canadian law takes precedence.”

The reality here is that “the law” does not really matter here. This is about how you perceive of the law, because for people like Mr. Kenney, the niqab is an oppressive device, one that “holds women down” etc, etc.

Thus, the perception of oppression and equality is the central issue here. The justification for this ban is that the niqab oppresses women, and oppression is bad, so by banning this oppression, we are liberating women. That’s their logic.

It has been a theme in Western approaches towards Eastern women that they (Eastern women) need “liberating.” One of the Western answers towards a woman’s liberation is for the woman to embrace and display her sexuality. Thus, niqab and hijab are huge obstacles towards achieving that goal. However, there are tons and tons of studies that show that women who wear hijab or niqab do not perceive of these garments as symbols of their oppression.

Why? Because they’re not stupid.

I don’t think I have to go into how Muslim women have struck out a new sort of feminism that is distinctly different and unique in its perceptions of rights, aspirations, and expectations. In short, you are all super awesome.

To me, it’s just scary that they are not even pretending to go in the whole “identification” side of things. I mean, there are times when identification is important, like when Souad Saleh, a Dean at Al-Azhar University (who is a baller, ps) says that during exams, she makes her niqabi students take them off (obviously all-girls classes) because “How else can I ascertain the identity of the young woman? How do I know if another individual is sitting in her place.”

So even if this was an issue of identification, no sweat, let a female officer or whatever, go off to the side (another room, whatever), see if the woman with niqab is really that lady, and then move on. However, that’s not what’s happening, and that is what’s disheartening.

As to whether women should abide by the law? I mean, no, they shouldn’t. It’s an unjust law. Mr. Kenney says that “This is a public act of witness in front of your fellow citizens, in front of the law and you should be willing to show yourself in that public act of witness. I think it’s very straightforward.”

So, why don’t we applaud this woman, for showing herself, as she deems fit, to her fellow citizens? She is there, taking the oath, wanting to be part of Canadian society, on her terms, and yet, because she has a piece of cloth on her face, she’s not welcome?

I’m sorry, it’s just not right. To exclude people because they don’t fit your definition is simply prejudicial. It’s also based on faulty assumptions.

This goes beyond religion, I believe, it’s really about attempting to homogenize the identity of a society. Someone like Mr. Kenney cannot fathom a Canada that incorporates people who wear niqab.

Honestly, I’m just at a loss for words. It seems to be yet another petulant ban, that is trying to solve a “problem” that doesn’t exist.

Insha Allah, I hope this answers your question, and if you or anyone else has questions on this or any other topic, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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