stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


The niqab: women stand by their choice
Quebec's Bill 62 mandating removal of face veils in some public spaces seen as affront to civil liberty, infringement on love for Islam

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, October 28, 2017 – Page A5

MONTREAL -- They have been shoved, spat on and told to return to their country more times than they can remember. Because they are covered from head to toe, they have been mockingly called "Ninja."

That one, they find funny.

The three women all wear the face-covering niqab. And they have been drawn into the epicentre of the debate over Bill 62, the new Quebec law requiring people to show their faces to obtain public services.

The legislation's rollout has been so shrouded in confusion that no one knows precisely how it will apply. Yet, the women fear they will pay the price for the law. They decided to speak out, worried that women such as themselves will bear the brunt of Bill 62.

The three are confident and wellspoken, busy raising children and driving to the mall. All insist they are not victims, not submissive and not the instruments of their husbands' will.

"People are trying to liberate us, but they're doing the opposite when they're telling us what to do," said Asma Ahmad, 30, who moved to Canada from the United Arab Emirates a decade ago. "Nobody is forcing us to cover ourselves, but this law is forcing us to uncover ourselves."

They met a reporter at one of the women's homes in Montreal's suburban West Island this week, on a street of tidy single-family homes and driveways with vans. They uncovered their faces to a female reporter; they cover up again when they step beyond the door. The women understand that hiding one's face in public makes people feel uncomfortable. They are used to stares and muttered insults.

"I don't mind. If you see anything for the first time, you can be shocked," said Ms. Ahmad, who has worn the veil since age 15, an act of religious conviction and modesty.

"I believe the face is the most attractive part of the body," Ms. Ahmad said by way of explaining why she covers hers. "I'm not getting judged by my looks, by my makeup, or how beautiful I am."

Saima Sajid, a 31-year-old Concordia University graduate, began wearing the niqab as a teenager in Montreal. "I was raised to believe that as a confident individual I can make my own choices, no less than a man," she said.

"My love of Islam made me feel I wanted to take the extra step," Ms. Sajid said. "If you tell me to take my niqab off my face I would feel like I'm walking naked down the street."

Now, the veil is part of her identity. "If you can choose to wear a bikini, why can't I cover myself?

Feminists should support women and the choices they make. Youngsters are so worried about their body images. I don't have to worry about that."

No one knows exactly how many women wear the niqab in Quebec.

Estimates vary from 50 to more than 100; one can spend a year in Montreal and perhaps cross the path of one or two. But to hear the debate over Bill 62, one would imagine the veils are everywhere. They have become a flashpoint in the debate over identity, religious accommodations and Quebec's attachment to secular values.

To some in Quebec, the veils evoke the domination of the Catholic Church and represent a threat to the legacy of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. Others see the veil as a symbol of oppression - what the head of the Quebec Council on the Status of Women once called a "retrograde cultural practice that signifies women are inferior to men."

Some critics also say wearing the veil stems more from tribal practice than Islamic teachings.

"It's a prison for women," said Nadia El-Mabrouk, a Tunisian-born professor at the University of Montreal who belongs to a pro-secularism group. "It's incredible that it's being defended. It's not religious. It's the oppression of women, the erasing of women from the public space."

Yet, research shows that most women who wear the niqab in Canada arrive at the choice themselves - as an expression of their Muslim identity, as a spiritual awakening, or as a personal challenge. They often do so despite the disapproval of loved ones and the larger Muslim community.

"The women do it entirely for their own reasons, and certainly against the will of the community," said Lynda Clarke, a specialist of religion and Islam at Montreal's Concordia University and author of a 2013 study on women who wear the niqab in Canada. "They're not following any authority, and are almost always acting against the will of family and sometimes their husband."

It's still unclear under Bill 62 exactly where or when anyone will be told to unveil. The three women say they are already accustomed to removing their veils for security purposes at the airport, licence bureau and other places where needed.

They fear the law's real impact will be to embolden those who already harbour anti-Muslim feelings.

"It's going to justify some people to say: We didn't like the niqab before, and now the government is on our side," said Ms. Sajid, who arrived in Canada from Pakistan when she was six months old. "It's going to encourage more hate."

The women, with their young children, worry about placing themselves at risk. They worry the law will isolate them and others like them.

One of the three has already had the experience first-hand. Seven years ago, Mahvish Ahmad was attending a government French class in her face veil, eager to learn the language of Quebec after emigrating from India. One day, two Quebec government officials turned up and Ms. Ahmad was told she'd have to either unveil or leave. At the time, Quebec's then-Liberal government was taking a hardening stance on the wearing of religious displays when using public services.

Ms. Ahmad felt she could not remove her niqab. The woman, who says she had been appreciated by her classmates and described as a model student, left the community centre in tears.

She never returned to school. She never learned French.

"I was so traumatized, my selfconfidence was shattered," says Ms. Ahmad, now 33. "It was just a shock."

Quebec's Justice Minister says that under the new law, a person will also have to uncover her face in classrooms for the purposes of communication with the teacher. Ms. Ahmad wonders whether more women like her will stay home.

"You can't judge me just by my looks and what I'm wearing. You have to judge me on the person I am and how I'm being loyal to this country and its people," she says.

"We're not harming anyone. We're not a threat. It's wrong to judge people on their looks, their colour or the clothes they wear."

Rarely has a piece of clothing worn by so few inflamed passions among so many. From behind their veils, the women just ask people to try to understand them.

Associated Graphic

From left: Asma Ahmad, Saima Sajid and Mahvish Ahmad say they have heard snide comments about their niqabs. 'If you can choose to wear a bikini, why can't I cover myself?' Ms. Sajid asks.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Mathew_Ingram Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page