Muslim women, Hijab and Niqab

Today I was crossing the Parkdale Plaza parking lot and I saw a woman in a black niqab, covered from head to toe and her face veiled except for her eyes. She came out of Dollarama with, I presume, her husband, and walked to her car. Husband opened the trunk and she put in her purchases. They then got in the car and drove off.  Tell me what was offensive or scary about that scenario, ’cause I just don’t see it.

Whether wearing too little or wearing too much, society is entirely too preoccupied with what women wear.

I’m writing my church history and in the 50s, all women wore hats and gloves to church. In the 60s, “Come as you are” Sundays started the trend of today’s work casual, no hats church attire.

In the 60s and 70s,you did not wear pants to school or work or events. I remember in the 70s when I attended WCI, we were not allowed to wear pants. I felt such freedom when I went to WLU and was able to wear jeans to class.

I also remember when women wearing saris first graced our streets. Some women of my aquaintance and even letters to the editor complained about “these women” wearing foreign dress.  Now at the Focus for Ethnic Women evening, we all bid enthusiasitically on the large number of saris and Indian clothing in the silent auction.

A law banning women from wearing pants is still in effect in Paris, France. The law dates back to the 19th century, but is hardly ever enforced anymore. The law states that women in Paris are not allowed to wear trousers in general, but a woman who does want to wear pants “must present herself to Paris’s main police station to obtain authorization.” The law does allow women to wear pants when horse-riding or biking, however.

This is interesting since, Parisian women wear pants all the time. Times change and now France wants to ban women from wearing a burka or niqab. Wearing a head covering (unless a nun) is already banned in schools. France has a historical problem with religious symbols, perhaps is not a good example.

But there is no historical reason why Quebec lawmakers want veiled women to be ineligible for daycare, language training, social housing or any government service.

I attended the evening about the niqab and the veiled woman said she has no problem showing her face when required by customs and in fact has travelled all over the world and customs officers have always been helpful in taking her to a separate room. She willingly shows her face for identification.

Recently Sudan relented on a flogging sentence for a woman wearing pants after intense international scrutiny, while Egypt’s Mufti Ali Gomaa said pants are permissible, as long as they are “modest.”

 Women wearing jeans and other trousers in Indonesia’s West Aceh will now face Islamic Sharia police, as will clothes vendors selling slacks for women.Those found wearing tight trousers, such as jeans, will have them cut by Sharia police, and will be forced to wear loose-fitting attire.

Should I be banned from wearing a skirt because women in other countries are banned from wearing pants? That’s the reasoning I often hear for why women should be banned from wearing a burka or niqab. Because women in other countries are forced to wear them.

Beside the fact that very, very few women in Western countries wear this garb. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in a burka), we are a free country and women have a choice in what to wear.

Fortunately, the Provincial and Region of Waterloo governments are not interested in a law like that proposed in Quebec.

 BTW, it was interesting at the event that a man of East Asian origin got up and railed at the women for covering up, saying it wasn’t in the Koran. The Koran says women should dress modestly (and men too, frankly)

Interestingly, the Christian Bible says explicitly that women should be modest and cover their head. That is why Old Order women wear prayer caps and women used to wear hats in church.

Articles on the niqab controversy:

As I write this, the Take Back the Night Song keeps going through my head.

Whatever I wear, Whereever I go, Yes means Yes and No means No.    Interesting point of view from Yemeni, where the veil stops street harrassment.

I got the above reference from this site:   What women have to put up with no matter how they dress.


3 responses to “Muslim women, Hijab and Niqab

  1. Jane Mitchell

    Actually, the women have to show their faces at customs or for identification.
    The problem with the proposed Quebec law is that it will mean that a woman in a niqab will not be able to get social housing, welfare, daycare, language training. This will mean that she will not be able to access the tools needed to escape an abusive situation for instance, even though she may be wearing the niqab because she has been taught that is modesty.
    It puts another unnecessary barrier in the way of women.

  2. I agree with you as far as that goes, but the main problem is with facial identification such as ID photos and airport security. The Quebec case about the woman in ESL class who was asked to leave the class had a lot more to it than her outfit: she tried to impose restrictions on the men in the class, where they sat and so on. CBC Radio 1 had a much fuller discussion of it than I found in any newspaper.

    Canadian society, and particularly the Waterloo area, are very unjudgemental about religion-based lifestyles. We have old order Mennonites here, but also consider the case of 81-year old Doukhobor Mary Braun, who burned down a British Columbia school in 2001 and refused to wear clothing at her trial. (The judge compromised on a blanket.) There were no major outcries against her anarchist-arsonist-nudist sect. In fact, there was a great deal of unsolicited support.

    There are differences with the burqa: women are forced to wear them, and the people who are forcing them have also made many public pronouncements that they want to destroy the “decadent” western civilization and replace it with their own system. In Iran under the mullahs, gangs of men roamed the streets beating any women who didn’t comply. There was a news story once about a group of school girls who were beaten. I’m not saying that we have credible fear of becoming a fundamentalist Islamic state, but it changes the story a bit.

    Not that I’m condoning intolerance by any means, and I applaud you for writing about this, but this isn’t the same as when my mother felt she should wear a hat.

  3. Very interesting post. I agree that women should be allowed to wear what they want. But sometimes it is men who set the rules and standards for women and the dress code is enforced against their will. It reinforces their subservience to husbands and men in general. I doubt there are many Muslim girls who have grown up in Canada who would want to wear a niqab.

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