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Hjiab, Niqab, Burqa …. I should be free to dress the way I want

farheen khan

By Farheen Khan

 (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!

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(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).

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Useful reference: BBC

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  • Suryana

    I agree when you say, “..that wearing the hijab is a choice.., and ..it’s a question of a woman’s rights to live freely and dress, however she wants. And Hijab for me is a part of who I am.”

    But, the choice is based on the belief that hijab is part of an obligatory of shari’a islam. When the choice is based on this belief, truly the choice is part of ibadah. So, wearing hijab or niqab is not just the choice, but it is an obedience form from the ‘abid to God.

    While this obligation is very debatable and very controversial in fuqaha circle.

    So, do not be surprised, when some Muslim is not agree with this wearing hijab, because they belief that hijab is not part of shari’a islam.

    From this, I think, wearing or not wearing hijab is not just a choice. But, mainly is the belief that produce the choice. Thanks

  • Maragaret Taha

    In Canada, this big and beautiful country people are allowed the freedom to wear what pleases them, this goes for anyperson on the street male or female.

    We accommodate other people from many lands, cultures and languages.

    I, myself wear the hijab allam duallah and I have the freedom here to do so, why is such a small piece of cloth demanded such attention. In a way it is good. The catholic church it was many years ago compulsory to wear a scarf but the church changed the rules, when I was little the church taught us Latin this they dropped to perhaps to make it easy for the people ?

    Other people from other lands wear many different and strange items of clothing. But the hijab, Niqab and Burqa are debated about . I see no harm in that but this suject is not as important than poverty, people hungry, people who are sick, people who have no work so there is no shelter, no food in their bellies, no warmth in their physical, mental and spiritual being.
    Somehow the Burqa evolved, somehow the Niqab came about from perhaps MANS
    idea of keeping the woman under cloth but MAN cannot stop the oppressions, the wars, the atrocities that are happening right now. SHAME ON MAN

  • Ghazala Fauzia

    I am totally agree with you that women who observes niqab or hijab, is not oppressed, she does wear because it is her own choice. No one has right to object on it and to label it with oppression.

    I also would like to say that as a practicing Muslim women, I know it is a requirement of my faith, and because Islam is my choice, so I am responsible to abide by its rules and regulations that I believe are for the well-being of human-beings.

  • Subhan’Allah!
    I completely agree sister Farheen. Having been born and raised in North America, I’ve always had pride that Canada is a country strongly rooted in the freedom of expression. It’s completely different trying to reach out to the sisters who are forced into wearing such attire and completely banning it on a public scale. The hijab is not only a piece of cloth which covers our hair, but a veil of modesty which wraps us in clothes of decency. Not only is it a way of expressing one’s ideas and values, but a representation of a Muslim women as ordained by our the Almighty Allah in the Holy Quran. The matter of niqab however is controversial. As someone who wears a hijab, abaya and niqab, I am as much a part of the community as others, and have every right to practice my religion and wear my identity without boundaries!

    PEACE =)

  • Shakeeba

    I whole heartedly agree with what you say. Alhamdolillah I have been a hijabi( muhajiba) and wear Abaya( the long dress) for many many years. I love wearing it. It is my identity in a sense that whoever looks at me knows that I am a Muslim practicing woman. Hijab is my choice BUT mainly a religious obligation on me and all the Muslim women. If I am deprived of this right to dress the way I want, then this is not freedom to express my choice under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

    I hope that the public understand that the politics and the media should be away from the way a woman dresses. It is her choice. Leave her alone!

    Salam!